Ears on the Board of Education: November 15, 2018

by Diane Payne

Eight of the nine Board members were present as were the two student representatives.  Member Chris McGinley was absent. Once again, the Board failed to provide adequate copies of written materials including the Action Items to be voted on;  a few copies were available at the back of the room, on a separate table, in binders. Board President Wilkerson displayed on the large screen how members of the public can view meeting information on their smartphones or tablets. Even if community members have the technology, which many do not,  attempting to view pages of material and attachments is close to impossible on a small screen. When the Board is spending millions and making decisions affecting students and staff, all members of the public should be able to have easy access to all meeting materials. APPS members sent a letter to the Board after the October meeting asking the Board to address these and other issues.

The Board approved minutes from the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.

The meeting opened with a lovely student performance from a Frankford High School musical group.  Six student musicians and their teacher went to considerable effort to perform at this meeting which took place during the first snowstorm of the season.  Most surrounding public school districts dismissed early in order to ensure the safety of students and staff in treacherous conditions. Not only did the District fail to dismiss students early but made the questionable decision not to postpone this meeting, despite dangerous travel conditions being reported on TV and radio. Even more disturbing was the Board’s decision not to send the student musicians home. Couldn’t they have been rescheduled for the December meeting?  President Wilkerson’s attempt at humor fell flat when she commented about getting the meeting started so that everyone could “begin their 3-hour commute home”.

Superintendent’s Remarks

Dr. Hite’s remarks began with extolling the expansion of the arts programs in schools. Since 2013, he said, there have been steady increases in arts programs in the schools; there are  450 art teachers, and every K-8 school now has instrumental music. Hite stated that all students now have access to “the arts” and that research supports the importance of this to student achievement.  Remember that 2013 was the year of the “Doomsday Budget” when the Hite administration cut art and music, librarians, counselors, secretaries, NTAs, and foreign languages from schools across the district. Is it really an accomplishment that 5 years later some of that was given back to our students?

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Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting: November 1, 2018

by Diane Payne

Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang co-chaired the meeting; also present were Committee members Wayne Walker and Joyce Wilkerson. Board members Julia Danzy and Chris McGinley attended as part of the audience.  The Committee approved minutes of their last meeting. (All committee meetings are eventually posted on the Board’s web page. The agendas and PowerPoints are also available online. APPS members were not present for the meeting but several members viewed the livestream.)

There were four reports from District staff: Termination Pay Process Update, Guaranteed Energy Savings Agreement Project Status, Surplus Property Plans Update, and Facilities Renovation and Remediation Update.

Huang announced nine “North Star” guiding principles the Board will follow:

  • Safety
  • Quality in Service
  • Efficiency
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Reality
  • Community
  • Dignity
  • Advocacy

    The complete report may be read here.

Student Achievement and Support Committee: November 8, 2018

by Lynda Rubin

The Student Achievement and Support Committee was called to order by Co-chair Angela McIver.  Also present were Co-chair Chris McGinley and Committee members Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix-Lopez, and Maria McColgan. Non-voting Student Board Representatives Julia Frank and Alfredo Praticò sat in.  Members of the public who had not signed up to speak were invited to do so at the beginning of the meeting. The Committee voted to adopt Minutes for the last two meetings, September 13, 2018 and October 11, 2018. (Approved minutes are posted on the District website.) Dr. McIver announced that the next meeting of this Committee will be held December 6, 2018 at 5 PM, one week earlier than previously posted.

Focus Topic: Proposed District-wide Comprehensive Plan  

Chief Schools Officer Shawn Bird presented the District’s Comprehensive Plan, a 3-year plan that will be in effect from 2019 until 2022.  The Plan is posted for public review and feedback. You can access the Plan and the feedback forms here: https://www.philasd.org/teachingandlearning/2018/11/06/districts-comprehensive-plan/

Dr. McGinley asked whether district staff was notified of the Plan.  Dr. Bird responded that the district sent letters to all district staff for their review and response; they have 16 responses so far.  Dr. Bird said that the letters went out late so additional time will be given for staff to respond. McIver asked where the feedback is housed.  Bird replied that it is housed on a Google document that is not visible to the public. He said he would send a link to the document to the Board members.

Three district teachers narrated a power-point on “The Curriculum Engine and the Instructional Core” and discussed how to use it to plan instruction.  Teachers can access standards, resources and curriculum maps using the Curriculum Engine.

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Eyes on the BOE: November 15, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

The nine members of the Board of Education, as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget, have undertaken the enormous task of trying to understand the workings of the School District of Philadelphia.  The issue of equity remains a crucial one in their decision-making. Parents at Board Committee and Action meetings have expressed their frustrations at not being heard, both as members of their school’s SAC and their Home and School chapter.  One parent of a Northeast elementary school student reported that the principal at her child’s school unilaterally and unexpectedly ejected the Home & School group and ordered them to remove all of their supplies from the parent resource room. Lack of equity rears its head when some Home & Schools can raise large sums (see BOE-33 (Acceptance of Donation from the SLA Home & School Association) to pay for extra-curricular activities and supplies when schools in struggling areas cannot.  BOE-29 (Occupational Advisory Committee Members for 2018-19 School Year) omits Strawberry Mansion from the list of schools to benefit from the District’s newly re-established Culinary CTE Program. Why? The goal of the Hite administration’s Anchor Goal 2 is to have 100% of 8-year olds reading on or above grade level). Does BOE-30 (Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Support Classroom Modernization of Pre-K-3 Classrooms) include every K-3 classroom in the District? Let us not forget that both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said that they expect to close 2 to 3 neighborhood schools a year for at least the next 3-4 years.  In light of this, we need to be aware of all real estate transactions being proposed, such as BOE-20 (Cooperation Agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for the Sale of Communication Tech and George Pepper Middle School). There are vacant District buildings across the city.  We continue to urge the Board to post either contracts with vendors or provide a link to the actual document so that the public can be aware of exactly what our tax dollars are buying. In August the Board posted a list of modifications to Summary Contracts. We supported that step towards greater transparency, and we need that to be part of all Board meeting materials.

Click here to read the Action Items of Note and APPS Analysis