Click here for the November 3rd APPS Bartram High School Priority Schools Community Meeting report.
by Lisa Haver
December 22, 2016
This meeting was held December 12, 2016 at 5PM in the school’s auditorium. Present were Principal Damond Warren, District Superintendent Deborah Carrera, Cambridge representative Trevor Yates, district Chief Talent Officer (HR) Louis Bellardine , one Bartram parent, one Home and School member, and APPS members Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin. Halfway through the meeting a man arrived who, when asked, identified himself as a representative from the PA Department of Education. He did not speak.
Ms. Carrera repeated some of the features of the presentation given at the first meeting: the pockets of excellence map, the school quality review done by Cambridge, Dr. Hite’s vision of having a great school in every neighborhood. She showed Bartram’s School Performance Review rating which the district cited as the main reason the school was chosen as one of the eleven Priority Schools. She said that much of the SPR was based on students’ Keystone exam scores: Algebra taken in freshman year; Literature taken in 10th grade, and Biology taken in 10th grade. I questioned the district’s decision to use the Keystones, as they were considered so flawed that the state was no longer using them as a graduate requirement. Ms. Carrera said that the SPR only used each student’s highest score; students are permitted three tries for each subject. I pointed out that students are supposed to have the option of doing the Project-Based Assessment (PBA) in place of the test for the second or third try, but that the district was not making the PBA available to all students in all schools. In addition, the district has failed to offer any remediation courses, which all other districts have, for students who failed the test. Ms. Carrrera did not dispute any of my remarks.
Mr. Yates explained that he conducted the School Quality Review over the space of two days. That included focus groups with teachers, students, and parents; site visits in 22 classrooms, and reviewing surveys from parents and students. He stated that he looked at the quality and culture of learning, curriculum and assessment, leadership and accountability, and community and family engagement. The Cambridge conclusions were based on classroom visits, statements made by teachers and students, observable features of the school, and documentation. Although the district’s October press release, as well as the initial presentation, also included neighborhood canvassing, no mention was made of that as part of the SQR.
Yates cited factors which he concluded were supported learning, based on conversations and surveys. However, Yates admitted that there were so few survey responses from parents that they could not be used for data purposes. I asked how they would be used, and he said they could only be used as “anecdotal” information. Those factors included the students’ saying that there was an improvement in school climate over the past year. Teachers and parents said that the school was now a safe and welcoming place. There is a positive relationship between the principal and his leadership team and, a vibrant alumni association works with the principal and teachers. Most students and parents said adults show care and respect for them.
All of the factors which Yates concluded were limiting learning focused on the teachers. He said that he did not see teachers using a variety of assessments, that teachers were not making use of student data, that there was a lack of effective planning and “one-size-fits-all” teaching. There are different students with different needs, but he said that teachers were not addressing these needs. He stated that there is a lack of rigorous instruction, that teachers’ expectations for students were too low, that the work was too easy for the students, and that the students were not being exposed to challenges. When I pressed him on what he based that last conclusion on, he said it was the response of one student. He quoted one student as saying that the teacher just gives them a worksheet, then sits at her desk and does something on her computer. Yates said that “maybe she was on Facebook.” Lynda pointed out that it was not possible to access Facebook on school computers. I asked how many classrooms he visited in which the teacher was not presenting rigorous lessons; he said he couldn’t give me a number. I asked him to give me an estimate; he would only say “too many”. Lynda and I both pointed out that Yates’ assertion that some teachers were not checking to see whether students were learning the stated objective was a big leap to stating that students only had to complete worksheets on a regular basis.
We asked how many classrooms Yates visited; he answered 24 over two days. That would mean that he did not stay for the full lesson. (At the Benjamin Franklin High School focus meeting, the Cambridge rep said that the classroom visits only lasted 15 minutes. The Cambridge contract also indicates 15- minute visits.)
Yates did cite one student survey which expressed frustration that teachers have to spend too much time with disruptive students and didn’t have more time to spend with students who were doing the work. One parent survey said her child complained that the bathrooms were often unusable because they weren’t cleaned often enough. Also cited by stakeholders was the need for more after-school tutoring, CTE-relevant courses, and a live person to answer calls to the school so that parents did not have to wait for a return call to get important information.
The Alumni Association member noted that the student/teacher ratio was high and that teachers were not given resources to address the many student academic levels.
Principal Warren said that parents wanted more communication from teachers than just what was sent home on report cards. I asked why Bartram was not using Interim Reports. He admitted that teachers did send them, but by that time “it was too late”.
Since no mention had been made of the five options presented at the first meeting, I asked that they be reviewed, since not everyone there had attended the first meeting in October. Ms. Carrera gave an overview of the five options. Lynda asked her to explain what a “contract school” is and whether that was being considered for Bartram. Ms. Carrera responded that the district could contract with a company that provided services that the district did not have, and gave Jounce Partners and Big Picture as two examples of companies the district might contract with. (The SRC has just approved Big Picture to reopen Vaux High School, which they closed in 2013, as a contract school in Fall 2017.)
The one parent in attendance said that she didn’t understand why her daughter, who is on the honor roll, was in classes with students whom her daughter saw as “failing students”.
One comment made by the principal seems to reflect the change in the districts’ terminology and priorities: “I’m a customer servant.” That is, parents are considered recipients of service rather than active members of the school community.