by Diane Payne
On August 24,2021, the Board called a special session to vote on one item: a resolution requiring vaccination mandates for all District staff. President Joyce Wilkerson announced this meeting at last week’s August Acion Meeting; she did not explain why this one item was not on that agenda. This meeting was held one day after staff returned to school buildings and just one week before children return. The Delta variant was first reported in the U.S. back in March of this year–5 months ago. Why does the District again seem to be a day late and a dollar short? Vaccines and other mandates are standard in school communities to protect children and the population at large from harm, yet the District plays brinkmanship with children and staff during a pandemic.
The Board spun its speaker wheel and came up with 50 adults and 20 students permitted to testify–on one Action Item.
Seven of the eight Board members attended, along with both student representatives and Dr. Hite. Board member (and pediatrician) Maria McColgan was absent. (No word on when Mayor Kenny will begin the replacement process for resigned Board Member Angela McIver.) Added to the agenda just before the meeting was a presentation from Acting City Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole. District Medical Officer Barbara Klock attended but did not speak.
Ears on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021
by Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin
For the first time in APPS’ 9-year history, not one of our members was permitted to attend or to testify at a District Action Meeting. Lisa Haver signed up to speak on Action Item 44, YouthBuild Charter Renewal; Lynda Rubin to speak on Action Item 2, an $800,000 grant over ten years from the University of Pennsylvania for a kindergarten teacher at Penn Alexander School. Both were notified that they would not be permitted to speak; thus, the Board deliberately blocked public testimony before voting on those action items, another blatant violation of the state’s Sunshine Act. Of course, there is no way to know how many other parents, students, educators and community members were not allowed to speak. When Board President Joyce Wilkerson attempted to justify the Board’s dismantling of its speaker policy last year, she contended that those policies were preventing a variety of voices from being heard. At every meeting, General Counsel Lynn Rauch reads a statement that the Board wants to “prioritize new voices”. But the Board’s actions belie these claims. The Board no longer limits speakers on a given topic, pro or con; it is strictly first-come, first served. At this meeting, 10 adult speakers, ⅓ of those permitted to speak, addressed one topic–school reopenings. Are we to believe that no parent wanted to address the new bell schedule, which generated several news stories, or the amended 2021-22 calendar that moves professional development half-days from Fridays to Wednesdays? The Board allowed testimony on only six of the forty-eight Action Items. That means fewer perspectives heard on fewer issues. The Board crossed the line at this meeting, however, not just allowing corporate lobbyists and executives to take the limited speaker slots, but actually recruiting them.
The Board could no longer sustain the optics of holding remote meetings while sending students and staff into school buildings at full capacity. They held a “hybrid” meeting at which only Board members, District staff and registered speakers would attend in person; there were about 25 people in a room that holds almost 300. The Board has used the COVID crisis to shield itself from District stakeholders who have criticized not just their speaker suppression but their disregard for the needs of students and families. Their solution: keep those voices silent by keeping them off the speaker list and out of the room.
by Karel Kilimnik
The August Agenda continues the ten-year spending spree of the Hite administration that sends money out of the District and into the coffers of consultants and contractors. This agenda includes a $175,000 contract with Old Sow for a School Leader Coach (Item 43); a $371,000 contract with Partners in School Innovation (Item 40); and a $129, 870 contract with SupportEd, LLC. The services enumerated in Item 40–professional development, teacher coaching services, school leadership development—used to be provided by in-house staff. Central office staff have been systematically diminished, along with knowledge of curriculum and ability to provide consistent, informed, and relevant support. In the past, people rose through the ranks into top administrative positions. Some started as parent volunteers and classroom assistants before gaining college degrees. Others rose from teacher to principal to regional supervisor but came up within the District, not imported from elsewhere. Teachers and other school staff spent decades in one school, forging bonds with families and each other. Today, increasing staff turnover, following the corporate model of disruption for disruption’s sake, continues to destabilize school communities. Is this really what we want for our students and our District? These two contracts for professional development may seem small, but they represent the ongoing commitment by this administration to undermine the experiences, education, and knowledge of educators. Given what we continue to experience as we make our way through this pandemic, instability and erosion of trust undermines academic progress. Years ago there was robust professional development in the District provided by teachers, principals, and other school staff familiar with both the District and the city. College credits were often granted, sometimes stipends given to purchase resources to be used in classrooms. Philadelphia is home to a wealth of museums, archives, libraries, environmental centers, and nature preserves. Decades ago, this helped to create the original Parkway School, a place where students engaged in hands-on learning. Instead of nurturing educators to grow and share, there is now a full-fledged thriving business sector. One recent example: the District contracted with consultants eager to create financial opportunities instead of hiring local educators from the Melanated Educators Collective and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee who are already offering anti-racist work in schools.
by Diane Payne, June 24, 2021
Philadelphia Collegiate Charter School for Boys
by Barbara McDowell Dowdall, June 24, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik, June 24,2021
by Ilene Poses, June 24, 2021
by Lisa Haver, July 15, 2021
Eli Broad types believe school districts should be more like businesses
by Lynda Rubin, July 15,2021