by Karel Kilimnik
Unofficial SRC Watchdogs Going Nowhere
For the past five years, APPS has acted as the unofficial watchdog of the School Reform Commission. Our members have attended every Action Meeting, as well as Policy Committee meetings and the Strategy, Policy, and Priorities (SPP) meetings (until they were abruptly discontinued without explanation two years ago). Our first edition of Eyes on the SRC debuted August 2015, and Ears on the SRC appeared in November 2015. We have written articles about many of the vendors hired by the district, including Relay Graduate School of Education, Cambridge Education, The New Teacher Project, and now Jounce Partners. We have questioned the SRC’s propensity to hastily approve contracts, with no public deliberation, including: a $10 million contract with Catapult Schools to take over the troubled Wordsworth Academy students; contracting out the highly valued Nutrition Educators who were PFT members, also given to Catapult; almost $1 million to Educational Testing Services for teacher training at the Priority/SGS Schools; the $8 million and counting to outside legal firms. This list is but a snapshot of how the District, with SRC oversight, spends its limited funds.
As a member of the Our Cities Our Schools Coalition, we joined forces with labor unions, faith-based groups and other public education advocates to lobby Mayor Kenney and Governor Wolf to return our School District to local control.
The research and writing posted on our website as observed, recorded, and analyzed decisions by the SRC proved to be invaluable in crafting our message. How did the people of the city know how destructive state control under the SRC has been? By hearing the testimonies of APPS members at SRC meetings, by reading our commentaries in the local media, by talking to our members at countless community forum first-person accounts on our website. This return to local control is a huge victory, but we will continue to fight to end the disenfranchisement of the people of Philadelphia until we have the right to vote for an elected school board—as all other Pennsylvanians do.
Victory for Philadelphia: SRC Votes to Dissolve
In the November 16 edition of Ears on the SRC, Diane Payne describes the joyful celebration that erupted when the SRC voted to dissolve itself.
On November 2, Mayor Kenney had addressed City Council, saying that his administration was calling for the end of the SRC. The Mayor will announce the names of those who will serve on the 13-member nominating panel in December. The panel will provide the Mayor with three names for each of the nine positions on the School Board; he will make his final choices for the Board in March. The SRC’s last day will be June 30, 2018, and the Board will be the official governing body for the School District on July 1.
Priority Schools 2017: Parents Want Resources, Not Consultants
Parents, teachers, and community members at this year’s six Priority/SGS schools expressed similar frustrations, not just about lack of resources but a lack of voice in district decisions. Several APPS members, in their testimonies, contrasted the Hite administration’s approach to the Priority schools to that of the resources it provided to Kenderton Elementary earlier this year. Kenderton became a Renaissance school four years ago when Young Scholars was given control of the school. Young Scholars abruptly pulled out in June 2015, saying that the cost of educating students with special needs was too high. For months, Kenderton parents appealed to the SRC and to Dr. Hite to do something about the condition of the school. Finally, the district appointed a veteran principal, along with six climate managers, additional teachers and support staff, another counselor, and class size of 20 or less in K-3 classrooms. These remedies are reminiscent of those provided by the now-defunct Office of Restructured Schools (ORS). From 2002 through 2005, ORS served as a reform model for under-performing schools that were not privatized during the EMO period in the early days of the SRC. Instead of being turned over to an outside vendor such as Edison Schools, Restructured Schools were given extra supports including additional staff and coaching. A study by Research for Action (RFA) and RAND found that student gains in the ORS model outpaced gains in both district schools and those managed by outside providers.
The Hite administration continues its outsourcing of leadership training and professional development. The latest beneficiary is Jounce Partners, co-founded by former New Orleans TFA teachers Bobby Erzen and Paul Dean, who have less than five years teaching experienced combined.
Without degrees in Education or School Administration, they developed an intensive teacher-training program, currently in use at McDaniel Elementary, one of the 2016 Priority schools. Here is one example of their coaching technique. Needless to say, the school community at McDaniel was not consulted before the program was implemented. Imagine having to perform this task—or having your child witness it:
- After giving feedback and monitoring to the point of automaticity, have teacher(s) turn toward a wall in the room to practice the skill 10-20 more times (primarily used for multi-teacher PD sessions).
- Frame as optimal practice because greatest number of reps can be achieved this way.
- Emphasize the importance of every rep being executed perfectly and with exaggeration of nuances.
Jounce has worked for a number of charter schools including Wissahickon and KIPP. In September 2018, Jounce Partner Logan Blyler will become the School Leader of the Deep Roots Charter School. Blyler is a former TFA corp member with a total of four years teaching experience. The SRC voted not to approve the application, saying that the application was inadequate for a number of reasons. Just a few months later, with the public encouragement of Bill Green, Deep Roots submitted the same application, which the SRC voted to approve.
- Thursday December 7: SRC Policy Committee, 10:30 AM at 440 N Broad Street.
- Wednesday December 13: Call 215-400-4180 by 3:30 to sign up to speak at the SRC Action Meeting.
- Thursday December 14: SRC Action Meeting 4:30 PM at 440 N Broad Street.
- Thursday January 18 2018: SRC Action Meeting (call 215-400-4180 by 3:30 Wednesday January 17)