Karel Kilimnik testifying to the Education Committee of the Philadelphia City Council – February 29, 2016

Karel Kilimnik City Council 2-29-16

Good morning Councilwomen Blackwell and Gym and members of the Education Committee. I am Karel Kilimnik. I am here to testify about my observations at Wister School. I am a retired teacher, a PFT member, and the co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. I am a concerned community member who has attended almost every district-run meeting at Wister, been a regular participant in the Parents of Wister weekly meeting, and a constant presence at the SRC meetings.

My testimony is based on my own observations as well as conversations with parents and teachers at the Wister School.

I am simply listing my concerns that I hope you will take into consideration as you hear from the superintendent and the School Reform Commission.

The District has lied since the beginning of this process to turn Wister into a Renaissance Charter School. They gave parents, school staff, and community members the wrong location for the very first meeting held by the district. They did this at Cooke and Huey as well. Parents were not given a choice. They were told their choice would be in which charter operator to select.

From the first meeting Mastery was represented. A parent from Mastery Cleveland attended the first district run meeting. A Mastery parent was at every meeting to talk about why they thought Mastery was a good choice for Wister.

Mastery has saturated the Wister community from making phone calls to knocking on doors, to handing out literature to both adults and children in the schoolyard. One parent said a door knocker asked for her name and then told her that she had already signed the petition to turn Wister over to Mastery. She was outraged but the person disappeared before she could do anything. Mastery has hired people to make calls and knock on doors. They are called consultants. Mastery has hired a media relations firm. The first district run meeting held at Wister was one to introduce Mastery. All other meetings were held off site.

The district held a lottery to select five parents to serve on the Evaluation Committee. There were no school wide meetings to share information. There was no accountability of the Evaluation Committee to the Wister community. Two community members were selected but no one knows what that process was. Parents gave Mastery low ratings and still the superintendent said they got high marks. More lies and deception. Where is the final report of the Evaluation Committee?

The district run meetings were all held off site. The first meeting actually held at Wister was when Mastery made their pitch. They flooded the auditorium as if they had already received the contract. The sign in sheets had no identification at the top. When I asked who was collecting the sheets the people at the desk went silent.

Scott Gordon, Mastery CEO, reached out to parent leaders of Parents of Wister because he wanted to know what colors they should paint the school and what kinds of books are needed at Wister.

Dr. Hite took Wister off the Renaissance Charter list because it was shown that the district used the wrong data. Wister has made over 50% progress.

On Wed. Jan. 20th, the night before the SRC meeting, the district held the second of their sessions to listen to parent, teacher, & community ideas for doing an “internal turnaround of Wister.” The Mastery Turnaround folks were present, led by a Mr. William Jackson who proclaimed himself a Wister parent. He stated that he was president of the Kelly SAC. There is no SAC at Kelly and his children do not presently attend Wister. Since tha become public knowledge he has disappeared from the spotlight. That meeting was totally disrupted by the Mastery people including a man dressed in an orange jumpsuit with a pair of handcuffs and chains dangling around his body. He went into a tirade about how we, women, needed to listen to him. Eventually he was escorted from the auditorium. Present Wister parents tried to speak but were drowned out. The district staff could not manage this group and the meeting broke up with no ideas generated.

The next night the same group attended the SRC meeting. Only one Wister parent showed up. This is when commissioner Simms made her motion from the floor to put Wister back into the Renaissance Charter program. Wister parents did not feel a need to attend because the superintendent had decreed them out of the Program.

I hope that you will get some answers to the issues I have raised.