by Lynda Rubin
Association Puertorriquenos En Marcha is a non-profit agency located in North Philadelphia (19122) that provides an umbrella of services to the community, including housing, financial, neighborhood development, and mental health services. APM is applying to open the APM Community Charter School (APMCCS) under the community school model at 405-07 E. Roosevelt Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA, 19120. If approved, APM Community Charter School would open in the 2018-19 school year as a K-4 serving 312 students, with plans to add a grade each year until the school reaches K-8 with 624 students in 2023-24.
The APMCCS application states that its target communities are zip codes 19122, 19133, 19140 and 19120. Their application states it wishes to complement the current public schools in those zip codes: Hartranft (19133), McKinley (19122), Morrison (19120) and Munoz-Marin (19140). On the same page, however, the application provides negative information about each school indicating that APM sees those schools as competition, not partners.
I have concerns about the negative impact the opening of this school will have on any students it enrolls as well as these surrounding schools.
- APM has no experience in organizing or running a K-8 school.
- Their proposed principal has never been a principal in any school.
- While APM does have an educator and former principal on its own Board, Alberto Rivera-Rivera, Ed.D, Ms Acevedo, prospective principal, will not be supervised by Dr. Rivera, but by Dr. Donald Price. Price has no public education or any non-business-related education experience.
- Although APM does run pre-schools, and frequently states that parents have urged APM to open its own school, APM has stated to the School District hearing officer that it does not intend to give its own pre-school students any preference.
- APM does not even seem to have a plan to provide the services that a community school is designed to provide to their own students. Further, during its application hearing, APM was asked about financial misstatements and connections between APM non-profit and the Charter School itself.
Below is my written testimony to the SRC and School District requesting that the APM Community Charter School be denied:
Testimony regarding APM Community Charter School Application
To: All Members of the School Reform Commission
From: Lynda Rubin, Community Member
Date: January 30, 2018
I write as a community member to urge you to deny the application for establishing the APM Community Charter School. As you may know, I am a retired School District employee after 41 years, 3 years as an elementary school teacher and 38 years as an elementary (K-8) school counselor.
Along with reviewing available materials, I attended the opening hearing at which APM gave an overview and answered questions about their application.
What stood out to me at this hearing is that this organization that provides a wide variety of services to their community put forth an application with so little understanding of what defines a community school and seemed to have given such little thought and planning to actually meeting those needs.
- APM does not seem to know or understand that a community school does not involve simply referring students out to agencies in the community, and admittedly did not budget for such services in the building itself.
- APM does not seem to understand that the services of a community school lean heavily on integrating basic health, mental health, etc., not as stand-alone services, but within the educational program itself to support a child’s ability to attend school more ready and able to concentrate and learn.
- When asked about the community school provisions, Ms Acevedo, proposed principal, touted a partnership with Temple University, which, upon further questioning, referred mostly to Temple’s support on “the development side” of the after-school program only. Dr. Price, VP of Education at APM, cited APM as a full service provider and would be available to students and families “for referral”. Ms Acevedo said there would be a doctor on site and “consultants.”
- When Hearing Officer Allison Petersen asked specifically what was being provided by the charter school itself on-site, Ms Acevedo replied: “rigorous curriculum, safe environment, parents as volunteers, and a teaching/learning environment where all feel safe.” Dr. Price then responded that the school would provide access to several providers off-site with the non-committal “we’re inviting community partners to come into the school.” Dr. Price referred to “financial counseling” as he seemed to be dipping into existing APM services, but stated that “other services were largely through referral and not in the school budget or on-site.”
I am also concerned about seeming misstatements that had to be corrected after follow-up questions by Ms Petersen.
- Ms Acevedo initially stated that the after-school program was at no cost to families, but when pressed about the source of the funding for that program, Dr. Price changed their testimony to: “actually a charge of $100/per month.”
- There were conflicting answers about the extent of the use of blended learning during the day and the degree to which its use in the school was adequately communicated to the community.
- APM claims the idea of creating a charter school was prompted by the requests from “hundreds of parents” of children in their pre-school. Later, under questioning, it was revealed that there would be no preference given to current APM early childhood enrollees. Also, it was pointed out that their “single card per family” lottery system could actually diminish family access chances. It seems the school plans to seek city-wide open enrollment without neighborhood preference.
- There appears to be a troubling lack of separation between APM, the charter school and APM, the management company; that is a situation that has resulted in financial difficulties, even improprieties, by several other charter operators.
- In addition to many concerns about budgeting for staffing and attendant costs, Ms Petersen had several questions about financial concerns including why APM would get 12% recompense for services it doesn’t provide as well as reimbursements for “extraordinary costs” without any explanation or citation as to what constitutes “extraordinary costs”.
Educational concerns include, but are not limited to:
- Ms Acevedo, the proposed principal, received her principal certificate last May, has never served as a principal or performed any administrative position above two years as an instructional coach and does not hold Instructional II certificates. (Ms Acevedo’s reply was that she never submitted the paperwork.)
- APM’s VP for Education, Dr. Price, will be Ms Acevedo’s supervisor. Dr. Price’s vitae on LinkedIn indicates that his experience is in “envisioning” programs, developing business plans, and overseeing program development as well as providing turnaround executive services to nonprofits. There was no mention of K-12 experience of any kind. In fact, when Ms Petersen asked why Dr. Price would be supervising Ms Acevedo, she was told it was for “managerial purposes”.
- Charter Schools Director DawnLynne Kacer noted concern about the lack of detail regarding the school meeting the needs of diverse learners, special education students and even ELL learners, including questions about the number of staff, especially experienced staff, hired or planned to be hired.
- An overall vagueness, if not unfamiliarity, with how a K-8 school actually operates was apparent. There was a reliance on laying out curricular procedures on paper without experience in, or employment of staff experienced in, producing actual academic outcomes.
As a counselor for 38 years I have had extensive interactions with mental health and community service agencies on behalf of my students. What I learned was that these agencies tended to approach their clients from a different perspective than do public educators, by necessity. Among these differences is the reliance on insurance reimbursements and limitations thereof to dictate the extent or type of services available, a tendency to see need and planning based on a social service perspective as opposed to an educational and classroom perspective. There is a difference. The lack of a hands-on educational perspective is evident in this application. The mere desire, however sincere, to add another service to APM’s extensive umbrella of services for housing, financial and credit, homelessness, neighborhood advisory groups, family therapy, etc. does not seem to be sufficient to support their ability to teach themselves how to run a fully-functioning K-8 school with academic success as well as manage the behavioral challenges endemic whenever large numbers of children interact.
I, therefore, request and implore the SRC to deny APM’s application to open a community charter school, or a charter school of any kind. APM may do good work in the city, but that doesn’t mean they are capable of initiating this new lane of operations with any degree of success.
Our public school children can no longer be pawns in the start-up company craze of education businesses that are rampantly siphoning public dollars under the name of “reform”. The country and our city are increasingly littered with failed and/or abandoned charter schools because entrepreneurs either weren’t versed in actual educational delivery or couldn’t make the money they had expected they would at the start. Young Scholar’s abandonment of Kenderton Elementary last year is the most recent example.
There are very few precious dollars available to public education, and the need for truly educating our children is great. We are responsible to teach future generations to read, to think critically and creatively, to prepare themselves for higher learning and financial stability, as well as to learn the history of our country and a citizen’s responsibility to it if we are to sustain our democracy. Much of what we do in public education relies on our adherence to moving forward as a society, not just as business interests. I’m not saying that there isn’t a financial component to running a public school district, especially a large public school district. However, the main construct under which businesses run is profit motive. With profit they can expand and make more money. However, some “businesses” do better under a society-driven metric than a professional business one. Public education is one of them.
The charter school concept started as individual laboratories for experimentation with the expressed intent to return successful practices to existing public schools. However, the charter chain movement backed with Big Business methods of bigger is always better, has subverted that innovation intent. Frankly, charter schools are bleeding the public schools dry. They want students with the least expensive needs to enable them to succeed more easily. This is a luxury the public schools just don’t have. We take all comers.
Charter school companies in Philadelphia resist oversight by the SRC (or any new Board), complain about, and, in fact, ignore conditions that they agreed to in negotiations with the SRC (and/or new Board). They rely on what has been dubbed, “the worst charter law in the country” to enable them to defy being held accountable for student progress or fiscal management procedures. They seek only the dollars that come with the student, then play by different rules regarding accountability to the District or the students and families themselves.
By continuing to divert large funds to charter companies, we compromise the education and resources of our neediest students. So many schools have foundered under the loss of staff, resources, physical plant needs, etc. The continued outflow of cash from District coffers to charter chain management companies diminishes the District’s ability to properly fund the education of these children. With every charter company approval, particularly those whose applications are woefully deficient, you contribute to the under-education of existing Philadelphia students.
I understand the frustration some on the SRC have with this system. To do your due diligence is to incur their wrath and watch them flout your authority. But by giving in to such pressure you lose credibility as administrators of good faith. I urge you to take a stand for what’s right for our City, our schools, our children, and our society. We, and our public school children, cannot afford to open or expand any more charter schools.