Alain Locke Elementary Focus Groups 1 to 3

Alain Locke Elementary Focus Group: October 11, 2018

by  Cheri Micheau

Present were SGS Director Chris Davies (very briefly at the beginning of the meeting); two Community School staff (Locke was designated a Community School in 2017); two FACE staff; four community members including three from the Bangladeshi community; Mr. Abu, the Bangladeshi Bilingual Counselor  Assistant (BCA); nine parents; Professor Lori Shorr and two Temple graduate students. No members of the Board of Education attended. There were very few details provided about the two options available to Locke School. Shorr said more than once that the school would get a lot of money, and she intimated that the parents would be able to help decide how to spend it. One participant stated that Locke has had academic and climate problems for years.  He asked why the facilitators were spending time “brainstorming” since everyone at Locke knows what the problems are. Shorr’s response was that they wanted parents’ “powerful words” to emphasize the needs of the school. This participant responded by saying “people at 440 are afraid of parents, especially vocal parents who might ’gang up’ on them, if they come to a meeting.”

One of the major themes discussed was school climate and the lack of safety for children. Parents think that conditions are declining. They described incidents of bullying;  chaos in the halls, cafeteria, playground (one parent’s child lost teeth in an incident there recently); and stealing. Parents felt that teachers and staff are not strict enough and rules are enforced inconsistently. They complained that there was too little punishment for bad (and possibly dangerous) behaviors. Several Bangladeshi community members said more immigrant families would send their children to Locke if the safety issue were resolved. There were reports of bullying causing children to not want to go to school. Incidents included a child having food smeared in her hair, juice poured on another child’s head, and food being thrown at children. Parents said there are few routines, including not lining up for admission in the morning, so that students start the day in chaos. Parents felt that understaffing, lack of NTAs and other security staff, as well as a lack of an effective assistant principal, contribute to the violence. One parent complained that the adults are not in control at Locke. Despite all the issues around climate they raised, parents expressed an interest in actively engaging in helping at school, including volunteering after school and helping in the cafeteria and playground. A number of parents noted that many children at Locke come from difficult home circumstances and these problems are not addressed. Parents in attendance discussed a lack of parental involvement by many parents. They said there is a SAC but it has not met this year. The FACE staffer promised the first meeting will be in November.

Parents felt that there was an effective and well-respected dean and a great school police officer but a much less effective principal. Some felt that she was stressed and  needed more auxiliary staff, while others felt she was not consistent in making and enforcing the rules. Several parents felt that teachers are not able to handle Locke students or are even afraid of them. They also bemoaned the lack of structure and discipline in some classrooms. Parents emphasized the need for after-school activities such as basketball or track (and also volunteered to help run them). Parents said that children need to “redefine” their bad behavior by having success in something like a sport. Others seemed more interested in after-school academic activities. Several parents complained, when asked about academics,  that there was little differentiation for students who are more or less advanced. Others commented on the need for more books being sent home for extra reading. There was general desire for more elective teachers (music,art,etc). Parents agreed that they would like people (especially parents) who know the school, the neighborhood, the families, and the students making the decisions about improving the school, not outsiders who are not familiar with the challenges they face.

What Parents want:

  • Consistent discipline
  • Consistent routines implemented (lining up in schoolyard for admission)
  • Stop bullying
  • Need NTA or other security staff
  • Embrace immigrant families
  • After-school activities
  • Books that can be sent home
  • Challenging work
  • Parents and community want to be involved in deciding how to improve the school
  • Strong behavioral health component
  • Parental involvement needs strengthening
  • Up-to-date books and other educational materials


Locke Elementary Focus Group: October 17, 2018

by Ilene Poses

Dr. Lori Shorr and Julius Brewington from Temple University facilitated the second focus meeting at Locke at 4 PM. Food was provided: salad, sandwich wraps, cookies, drinks.

Attendees included nine parents, most of students in lower grades. One parent who identified as a Democratic committeeman has sent his children to other district schools including Greenfield Elementary at 22nd and Sansom Streets in Center City; three parents spoke Bengali; one parent had also attended the first focus meeting on October 11.

District staff included Linda Maldonado from the District office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE), “Ms. Toni” who works to improve family engagement at Locke, Pam Evans from the Mayor’s Office for Family Engagement.  District SGS Director Chris Davies arrived close to the end of the meeting. Child care was provided for parents attending the meeting. None of the members of the Board of Education attended.

The classroom we met in was air-conditioned classroom and had brand new desks and chairs, a Smart board, and a classroom library. Locke has no school library. There is no SAC at Locke. No one mentioned a Home and School Association at the school.

No handouts about the SGS process were given to participants; on one table, there were a few copies of the power-point given at the September 27 meeting.

Temple representatives recorded the meeting; most questions were directed at parents.  Shorr said that Temple staff would look at recurring themes and use quotes from parents but not identify any speaker. She said that  “…Locke was chosen because it needs extra help and the school would receive $750,00 to $1,000,000 over 3-5 years.”

In answer to my question, Shorr said that there would be a “two-pronged” approach:  District staff will go into the classroom to assess instruction and climate; Temple will ask questions of parents and community members in the four focus groups. Ms. Toni said that the meetings were announced, flyers were sent home, and a large poster hangs outside the visitor entrance advertising the focus meetings.  She also said that flyers were translated into Bengali.

Shorr said that there were only two options for the schools in the SGS program:

parents and community could come up with an individualized school plan, or the school would be placed in the Acceleration Network Plan, an “out of the box” model. Placement in the Acceleration should result in the school getting an Assistant Principal, an additional counselor, and “School Improvement Support”. Shorr did not mention that all of the staff would have to reapply for their jobs if Locke went into the Acceleration Network.

I spoke to Chris Davies after the meeting and asked about whether teachers had to reapply if they went into Acceleration; he answered that they would.  I asked who would decide on which of the two options; he told me Dr. Hite. I asked who gets to choose the option for Locke, but the answer was confusing—principals have to weigh in, but the final decision will be made by Superintendent Hite.

Some of the fathers asked how a plan developed by the school community would come about.  Ms. Shorr said that last year’s six Focus schools have their plans listed on the website and that parents could look them up. She did not volunteer to bring any of that information to the next meeting.  Some parents asked why the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent didn’t come to speak directly to them. Ms. Shorr responded that parents could attend one of the monthly Board of Education meetings. (Assistant Superintendents do not usually attend Board meetings.) She did not address the issue of why no District representative with the necessary information was there, or why Temple did not open Focus Groups with an explanation of the SGS process.

When asked about Locke’s climate, parents mentioned that teachers had good relationships and communication with parents and students. Some parents complained that not enough teachers came early or stayed late; not all agreed with that.  Some negative aspects mentioned were not enough tutoring, not enough after-school activities, no PTA or SAC or Home and School, need for more discipline and safety. Students curse without consequence. There needs to be more staff in the yard in the morning and at dismissal. In general, the parents felt that the school needed more “structure”.

When asked about leadership, some said they liked the principal and even had her personal email, others said they don’t see her very often. The committeeman who sends his children to Greenfield said that Locke “needs a stronger principal like the one at Penn Alexander”.

With regard to academics, some parents wanted more project-based learning and more book reports. Some complained of too much homework; others thought there was not enough. Parents wanted more tutoring, more mentoring programs, a Math Tournament, more sports programs.

One community member said that there were plans to start  an Episcopal After School program with 90 slots for students; no one from the District or Lamberton was present to verify that.  Most activities would help improve academics. Locke already has a Dean of Students, 4 climate personnel, and school social worker, perhaps because they are a Community School.

What Parents want

  • Consistent Discipline with consequences
  • Tutoring
  • Mentoring Program
  • Math Tournament
  • Sports Programs
  • PTA, SAC, Home & School
  • Staff – monitoring playground


Locke Focus Group: October 23, 2018

By Deborah Grill and Ilene Poses

Attending this 8:45 AM meeting: Lori Shorr and two Temple graduate students, SGS Director Chris Davies, Ms. Toni from Community Engagement at Locke, Linda Maldonado from FACE, five parents, and two community members.

Chris Davies gave some introductory remarks, then left.  He said that Locke was chosen to receive additional funding and supports because the SPR (School Progress Report) score has been at 15 or less for three years.  He stated that Locke would not know whether the supports from being a Community School made any difference in the school’s academic levels until January, but he did not explain how that information would be made public. The District’s position that being named a Community School is not an academic intervention is questionable, since the goal is for children to have the resources they need to learn.

Davies distributed copies of the original Power Point and said there were two options for the SGS schools:  Acceleration Network or the Individualized/Customized Plan. The Acceleration model combined many best practices: an assistant principal, School Improvement Support, counselor, social worker, computers.  Ilene Poses asked about staff having to reapply for their positions. Deboran Grill asked who would help parents create a school-based plan; Davies said that he would help parents write a plan.

One parent of an autistic student wanted an occupational therapist to work with her child and wanted to see his class go on more trips to help acclimate with the outside world. Another parent felt that the school failed to get information to parents in a timely manner.  One parent felt that the staff didn’t work hard, but another parent who had worked on the SAC said the principal and teachers work extremely hard and that she was concerned that teachers would have to reapply for their jobs. Deborah Grill told the parents that when the staff has to reapply for their jobs, teachers will often apply to other district schools since they have no assurance that they will be hired back to this school. Parents were distressed to hear this.  One parent said that the school had many children from homeless shelters and needed support services for them.

Most parents agreed that Locke needs:

  • More staff to address trauma and work with children who have behavioral issues
  • More staff in the lunchroom
  • More tutors in classrooms
  • Reading specialists to work with students individually or in small groups
  • The use of positive behavioral practices
  • Full-time parent liaison
  • An additional counselor to work with high school selection as well as emotional issues
  • More extra curricular activities, e.g. sports, plays, music, drill teams, chess club, learning another language
  • Professionally trained classroom assistants in all K-3 classrooms
  • Occupational therapist to work with autistic students.
  • Supports for students experiencing homelessness