Eyes on the Board of Education: September 20, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Last Spring, at the urging of Superintendent Hite, the SRC approved a 2018-19 School Calendar in which school started a week before Labor Day. Dr. Hite gave little rationale for this, but he did say that June is just as hot a month as August. The first week of school brought days of early dismissals because of extreme heat and the lack of air conditioning in most district buildings. Dr. Hite, in response to public criticism, has created a “calendar committee” to gather data on this issue, which would have been a better idea last Spring. One lasting legacy of the SRC and the Hite administration is the lack of stakeholder dialogue on crucial decisions. Fortunately, the New Board of Education has changed its approach in order to allow discourse on a range of policies and practices. The BOE has established three new committees: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, and District Partnerships and Community Engagement; the Policy Committee was established last year and will continue to meet under the Board. (See our reports on the first two committee meetings.) This structure allows for more dialogue about proposed policies and for raising concerns so that the community will have more than the three minutes allotted to BOE Action speakers.

Ongoing Outsourcing

We often feel like the proverbial broken record as we continue to track money spent on outsourcing staff and services instead of rebuilding the internal District structure. There is an untold wealth of professional wisdom among those with years of experience in our classrooms and offices. Teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, and other staff have devoted their lives to working with students. They have created curriculum, projects, and other educational materials based on their knowledge and understanding of the students in their classrooms and schools. This administration needs to acknowledge and support these efforts across the district, not just in selected schools. For example, instead of sending more money into the coffers of vendors such as In-Class Today,Inc (Action Item A-15), the District could reinstate the School-Home Liaison staff. The District employed Nutrition Educators (B-2) until outsourcing their jobs to Catapult Learning,LLC last year. Every time this happens the District abdicates its responsibility for accountability to students and parents; private companies are not accountable to the public. Whenever District services are outsourced, and whenever a school is closed or charterized, the Superintendent should return a portion of his salary, as he is no longer responsible for overseeing that service or that school. We need Board members to question these expenditures as the SRC did not. Who benefits – our children or vendors?

This Year’s Model

Every year Superintendent Hite announces some new model of transforming schools that will “turn around” underperforming neighborhood schools. Over the past two years, he has targeted 17 schools as part of his “System of Great Schools” (or “Priority”) program. This has created tremendous uncertainty and instability as teachers and principals worry about whether they will have to re-apply for their positions simply to stay in their school, while parents fight to keep teachers and administrators who have dedicated themselves to those schools. In keeping with the Hite administration practice of rebranding positions and programs, an indication of how the corporate mentality has infected the district, this initiative is now referred to as “Focus Schools”. Unlike in previous years, there has been no resolution or action item approving contracts to consultants for this program. APPS has learned that Cambridge Education, who was paid $300,000 for obviously inadequate reports, will not return for another serving of District money.
However, Temple University will again be facilitating community engagement. The District has entered into a contract with Temple, but since for some reason it was not approved by the SRC or the BOE, the public has not been informed of the details or the amount. We have found it very difficult to find current information on the District website, so we are posting a link to the page. The three Priority schools this year are:
Avery D. Harrington Elementary School (K-8), 5300 Baltimore Avenue
Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School (6-8), 7501 Woodbine Avenue
Alain Locke Elementary School (K-8), 4550 Haverford Avenue

Last month we applauded the posting of Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries in the Action Item Summary. As of the date of this edition of Eyes, those Summaries have yet to appear. We also urged the BOE to list vendor contracts that enables the public to view the negotiated terms.

Charter Chains Move to Consolidate Power

Will the new Board members continue their predecessors’ tradition of bending over backwards to ensure that well-connected charter schools find a home in the District? Some SRC Commissioners even made a point of advising applicants whose charters had been denied to reapply—which they did, when they were then approved. Public schools need the Board to set a new course. That means not simply rubber-stamping inadequate charter applications without acknowledging the impact on neighborhood schools. MaST is simply one in a string of charters with connections to enlarge their realm at the expense of every student in the District.

If in October the Board approves the application from MaST charter to consolidate its governing boards, it will become the first Multiple Charter School Organization in the city and the state.  We have seen no coverage about this in the local press, but the public needs to understand how this could affect the District in many ways, including financially.

What If…?

…instead of spending $ 384,000 (Action A-15) on outsourcing Attendance Services, the District brought back the School-Community Liaisons? Developing and maintaining relationships with students and families not only improves attendance but helps to prevent or resolve other issues as well. That money would not only work towards building better Home-School relations but also create jobs in low -income neighborhoods by hiring community residents.


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

Board Holds Student Achievement and Support Committee Meeting

by Diane Payne

The Board of Education’s Committee on Student Achievement and Support held its first meeting on Thursday September 13. Eight members of APPS attended this meeting; seven testified. There were several presentations by district officials: Superintendent William Hite, Head of Schools Shawn Bird, Director of Academic Support Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks, Director of Early Education Diane Castlebuono, and Interim Director of the Charters Schools Office Christina Grant. (You can view all BOE committee meeting presentation materials at the SDP website.)

Angela McIver and Chris McGinley serve as co-chairs; Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, and Maria McColgan are members of the Committee. Also present for most of the meeting was BOE President Joyce Wilkerson.

The meeting was scheduled for an hour and a half, but adjourned after two hours due to the number and length of staff presentations. At meeting’s end, the Co-chairs acknowledged that the number and length of presentations will have to be reconsidered in an effort to be respectful of time and to allow for public discussion. The 3-minute speaker rule was invoked due to time constraints, and although some went over, no speaker’s mic was shut off.

Staff presentation topics included: Read by 4th literacy initiative, teacher recruitment and retention, System of Great Schools (SGS) procedure and public hearings, and multiple charter school organizations (MCSO). (As noted above, all power points can be viewed on the SDP website.) During the presentation, Committee members asked thoughtful questions that challenged the status quo. For example, in response to Shawn Bird’s presentation on SGS, McGinley told him that “there are elements of the model that I vehemently disagree with.” McGinley added that the Committee would be following up for more information as the hearings on the year’s cohort of targeted schools proceed. The SGS schools this year are all in West Philadelphia–Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke. In response to another presentation, Fix-Lopez asked what other indicators were used besides standardized tests to determine whether graduating seniors were “career and college ready.” McColgan, Fix-Lopez, and Wilkerson expressed concerns around equity in the administration of grants and donations.

Click here to read the rest of the post

Board of Education Holds Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting

by Diane Payne

The new Board of Education held its first Committee meeting on Thursday September 6 as part of an effort to have more community engagement and information before the Board votes on Action Items. Three members of APPS attended the first meeting of the Facilities and Finance Committee; two testified. This Committee will meet on the first Thursday of every month, unfortunately the 10:00 AM meeting time is impossible for many parents and SDP staff. Several speakers asked the Committee to consider changing the time.

The meeting was co-chaired by BOE members Lee Huang and Leticia Egea-Hinton; Joyce Wilkerson and Wayne Walker are Committee members. Present in the audience were Board members Angela McIver and Chris McGinley. A representative from State Senator Vincent Hughes office was also in attendance.

The Co-chairs acknowledged that the Committee is a “work in progress.” For now, they are not setting a three-minute timer for speakers; they asked that speakers be mindful of time. The Action Items that pertain to Finance and Facilities will be available before Committee meetings in the future but they were not available before this meeting.

There were two staff presentations. Chief Financial Officer Uri Munson gave an overview of the budget process along with a manager’s report. Chief Operating Officer Danielle Floyd gave a facilities renovation and remediation report. In addition, Sylvie Gallier Howard, the City’s First Deputy Commerce Director, gave a presentation on Keystone Opportunity Zones. All of these power points are available on the SDP website under the BOE’s Committee menu.

Munson noted that all budget information can be accessed through the SDP website as well as every vendor who is paid $100,000 or more. In answer to a question from Ms. Egea-Hinton, Munson said a teacher vacancy update would be available by October or November after staff leveling is completed. Floyd’s presentation included information on: paint and plaster stabilization, renovation projects, environmental projects (asbestos abatement and mold remediation), and preparing buildings for school openings.

Click here to read the rest of the post

Ears on the Board of Education: August 16, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Diane Payne

Present

All nine board members were present for the second meeting of the new Board of Education (BOE). The Board consists of President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice-President Wayne Walker, Members Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix-Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, Chris McGinley, and Angela McIver. Six members of APPS were present, four of whom testified in support of public education. (To see the APPS members’ testimony, click here.)

This meeting began with a musical presentation by the Rush Arts Remixers Vocal Ensemble from the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School. Their talent and presence were amazing and it was a delightful way to begin this meeting. Especially moving was their tribute to Aretha Franklin, who died earlier that day.

The Board has established four committees to guide their decision-making at monthly action meetings: Finance and Facilities (meeting monthly), Student Achievement and Support (meeting monthly), Policy (meeting quarterly), and District Partnerships and Community Engagement (meeting quarterly). President Wilkerson announced that the Finance and Facilities Committee will meet on September 6th, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at 440 N. Broad Street in the BOE offices; this committee will meet the first Thursday of each month. The Student Achievement and Support Committee will meet on the second Thursday of each month; the first meeting will be held on September 13th, 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the BOE offices. President Wilkerson encouraged public participation at these meetings. (All BOE information can be found on the SDP website at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/.)

Superintendent’s Remarks

Superintendent Hite’s remarks were characteristically upbeat and optimistic. He cited facility readiness, 600 newly hired teachers, and improved academic prognosis for this school year. BOE members must hold Dr. Hite to his promises as the SRC did not, and students, families, and community members must make sure the BOE knows about what is and is not happening at their schools. New teachers stay, and students succeed, when facilities are safe and healthy and when supports, services, and supplies are available and consistent. What Dr. Hite touts has not been the reality in many buildings, Mayfair and Strawberry Mansion being the most recent examples.

Click here to read the rest of the post