Barbara Dowdall’s SRC testimony – January 19, 2017

Click the picture to view the testimony video.

Good evening. I am Barbara McDowell Dowdall, retired English Department Head from Asa Philip Randolph Career Tech High School and a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

Welcome, Dr. (Christopher) McGinley. I have fond memories of serving with Dr. Nancy McGinley on a standards writing committee for Middle Years Humanities in the 1990’s. (Back when we could assume that every school had art and music).

I speak on staff support — support that would be the same as support for schools, parents and communities.

First, get to know them by personal interaction, in-depth acquisition of understanding what is needed in every school and show determination to provide it. Not labeling by test scores, not following a foundation official’s recommendation, not paying a random group to do a slapdash survey.

For a model of how to work cooperatively and effectively with staff, even if unionized (!), I provide a link again to the success story of Union City New Jersey public schools from the New York Times in 2013. 

I am providing you this evening a copy of my remarks from Juneteenth, 2013, with a simple but comprehensive focus: equity.

I would say again that classroom libraries are not school libraries and suggest a field trip to Lower Merion to observe their facilities and staffing.

And again, I commend the SRC for providing signing at each meeting for the hearing impaired. Not all members with this difference are acquainted with signing. My 3 year old grandson and many older youngsters and adults would benefit from your providing closed captioning on the big screen we have here.

*(As best I remember from handwritten notes)

Remarks to the School Reform Commission: Juneteenth, 2013

Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Good evening, SRC members, Dr. Hite and school district staff. My name is Barbara McDowell Dowdall. I am a Philadelphia public school graduate, parent of Penn Charter and Central High grads, retired English Department Head at A. Philip Randolph Tech High School, editor, Philadelphia High School for Girls Alumnae News, and three-time Yale National Teachers Initiative Fellow. I suggest today a one-word mantra that should guide our going-forward: equity.

Equity in resources. If any Philadelphia school, traditional public or charter, has a library with a librarian, then every school should do. Commit to music instruction, both appreciation and performance, visual arts, small class size, cultural enrichment opportunities, playground, playing fields, gymnasium, auditorium and level of cleanliness. If any Philadelphia school, traditional public or charter, has access to supplemental funding be it through parent contributions, alumni groups, foundations, community or corporate adoption, make it our responsibility – as a district, as a school system—to insure that every other school is provided matching resources.

Equity in responsibility. If any Philadelphia school, traditional public or charter, has the right to “counsel out” or re-direct students who represent higher-level challenges in learning styles, first language or behavior, then every school should have that right.

Equity in compensation. School staff, faculty and administration, whether traditional public school or charter, should expect remuneration on an equitable, fairly-negotiated, and transparent scale.

Equity in budgeting. Take as paradigm any Commonwealth school district deemed “successful.” Chart all facets of that district’s operations and model our budget on that paradigm. Adjust for compensatory needs based on assessment of entering students. Insist on city and state funds for this budget.

What can the School Reform Commission and superintendent do to achieve this dream? Insist that persons who placed you in your current position provide the fiscal support to guarantee this result. Absent this proviso, either refuse the appointment or resign in disappointment.

Data-Driven Evidence Validating Equity in Recognition of and Means to Achievement. Philadelphia schools under David Hornbeck outperformed Chicago schools under Paul Vallas. Under Paul Vallas, better-resourced struggling schools in Philadelphia out-performed both profit and non-profit EMO’s. Had this lift in resources been maintained, the need for charter alternatives, the resultant diffusion and confusion of organization and mass closure of schools would have been negligible.

Your commitment to these goals and public trust in that commitment would encourage a mightier citizen effort as we seek increased funding from our city and restoration of funding from state officials. Absent such a commitment, our motivation to support your funding requests is undermined and compromised.

We will, nevertheless, continue to appeal to the mayor, city council, the governor and the state legislature by telephone, testimony, email and office visits. Our children deserve no less.

To quote Susan B. Anthony:

If all the rich and all of the church people should send their children to the public schools, they would feel bound to concentrate their money on improving these schools until they met the highest ideals.

Those of us who send our children elsewhere have the moral responsibility to see that every child is afforded resources and facilities of equitable quality, nothing less.

Thank you.

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