by Lisa Haver
On Wednesday, June 24, APPS sent an email to Board of Education member Angela McIver, copied to Board President Joyce Wilkerson, about possible conflicts of interest arising from McIver’s math curriculum business Trapezium. District parent and teacher Zoe Rooney, active with APPS and Parents United for Public Education, had posted a thread on social media after she discovered recent interviews with McIver on Good Morning America and in a business magazine in which McIver spoke about her business and the struggle to maintain it during the quarantine. APPS members attend all Board Action and Committee meetings, and none of us could recall her ever publicly mentioning, since her appointment two years ago, that she operated any type of education business. In our letter, we asked that McIver respond to questions not about the social media postings but about comments made by her in those interviews. (See the letter below. As of this posting on June 29, we have received no reply.)
Before giving her report Thursday as Chair of the Student Achievement Committee, McIver read a prepared statement (time stamp 1:21:58) in which she described a social media thread about her business activities as “incredibly misleading” and “highly inaccurate.”
Without naming Rooney, McIver stated that the “author” of the thread conveniently leaves out one piece of critical information–”that I am Black.” McIver went on to say, “She erased my blackness.” Actually, Rooney’s social media posts included links to both the video segment in which McIver appeared and the news article which prominently featured her picture. McIver accused Rooney, who identifies as biracial, of perpetrating “an insidious form of racism” with “the unspoken belief that our children are not capable of achieving.” She attributed motives to Rooney, saying that her posts were “deliberately designed to advance an agenda that will keep students from achieving at the highest levels.” McIver did not mention that parents pay almost $600 to participate for one day each week in her semester-long after school program. She did not explain how this is not a conflict or why she never mentioned it in her two years on the Board.
In response to McIver’s statement, Lisa Haver responded in her testimony that because the Board is not elected, and the selection process is conducted completely behind closed doors, the public has no way of questioning nominees about possible conflicts of interest. Did McIver disclose her entrepreneurial activities to Mayor Kenney’s Nominating Panel? We have no way of knowing, except perhaps to file a Right to Know request with the Mayor’s office.
Rooney also responded to McIver when she was called to testify:
Before I begin my planned testimony, I would like to address accusations that were leveled against me in this meeting by someone who has a much wider platform and a position of power that I don’t have. I put out the series of tweets that Dr. McIver referenced earlier, and I will state that here in the record because I will not bend to an attempt to shame me for asking valid questions publicly. In her statement, Dr. McIver accused me of racism and intentional misinterpretation of an article about her.
I find it ironic that she accused me of erasing her race, when in her comments she did just that to me. There were plenty of assumptions in her remarks about me that are inaccurate. That’s ok though, I know what I stand for.
None of what I wrote was about her personally. It is disturbing to me that she can use her platform to make her own accusations against me without directly contacting me, clarifying anything beforehand, and when I can’t engage back. Even in saying this now, I know that she will have the chance to respond once my three minutes are up and I am cut off from further participation.
Dr. McIver’s comments show a complete misunderstanding of the concerns in my series of tweets, in which I wasn’t talking about her personally at all, and in which I wrote specifically about the demographics of Penn Alexander School and of Central HS.
I talked about the disparities between Penn Alexander and the district as a whole. If there are problems with the article I was discussing, take it up with the author of the article. I cited all of my sources, and my primary concern is actual equity across schools, and getting rid of practices in math such as reliance on racist standardized tests.
Below, in full, is the letter APPS sent to Dr. McIver.
Dear Dr. McIver,
The issue of your role as an education entrepreneur while serving as a member of the Philadelphia Board of Education has been raised this past week on social media. As founder of Trapezium Math, you were featured on Good Morning America earlier this month, and in March you were interviewed for a feature article in a business magazine. Serious questions have been raised, and we ask that you address them.
You told the reporter from The Story Exchange that wherever her children would be attending school, the math education would be subpar because the curriculum for elementary schools in the U. S., based on standardized test scores, is “really bad.” Your solution to that, however, has not been to pursue that issue as a member of the Board or as Chair of the Student Achievement and Support Committee. Your apparent solution has been to sell your product to parents at more affluent District schools so that their children have a better chance of attending special-admission and magnet schools.
A selling point mentioned in The Story Exchange was that the only Penn Alexander students accepted into advanced math at the city’s top magnet school were Trapezium graduates. The story did not mention whether the program was sold to parents at less affluent schools, although the price would be prohibitive for most District parents. Do you consider this a conflict with your responsibility to carry out the Board’s mission to promote equity across the District?
Whether justified or not, some may wonder whether your silence on perceived deficiencies in the District curriculum may be linked to a possible concern that if the curriculum improved, there would be less demand for your product.
Your relationship with the parents at Penn Alexander is not just as a fellow parent but one of business owner and customer. That raises the issue of whether they have additional access to you in your role as Board member. As you are aware, the first principle of the Board’s Ethics Policy is that “Board Members shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” and the appearance in this case does raise concerns.
The most serious ethical question is the apparent marketing of your product at a District school. Your letter to parents in the March 2, 2020 Penn Alexander newsletter says, “Math Club has served as an incubator for developing engaging activities that build confident, fearless math learners”. This indicates that you were given access to the students in the school and that access was significant in selling the product to District parents. It is not clear whether the students in that math club were paying customers or they had access to it as an elective or after-school activity approved by the Penn Alexander administration.
The information we cite here was gleaned from a variety of sources. We believe that you have a duty to explain your role as an entrepreneur in education while serving on the Board of Education. We ask that you do so in a timely manner.