Benjamin Franklin High School’s first focus group was held at 6 p.m. on November 2nd, the second day of the SEPTA strike. Chris Finn of Cambridge Education conducted the meeting; pizza was provided. Also present were the principal; two representatives from the district, one of whom who was taking notes; a woman from Ardent Credit Union, a nearby business; Dawn Lynn Kacer, the chief of the district’s Charter School Office and a resident of the community; Tonya Bah and I. There were no BFHS parents.
Mr. Finn remarked that he had been at the school all day, and that the SEPTA strike had significantly affected attendance. I asked whether Cambridge was planning to schedule more visits and public meetings when the strike was over. He replied that it was a good idea, but he did not know whether it would happen.
Mr. Finn asked what we thought the school’s strengths and challenges were and what we would recommend to improve the school. Strengths included the school’s CTE program and its partnership with Community College. Kacer said that she has tutored students from Ben Franklin in her home. She said the students have many different needs and the school had no robust system of meeting their needs. She said the students she tutored had a close relationship to their teachers, but felt less connected to other students. While community members thought the school looked good from the outside, Kacer said she thought the parents didn’t feel welcome. She didn’t say how she knew this or how many parents she spoke to. She felt that charters did a better job of making the community feel welcome.
I recommended that the district restore all of the programs, resources and staff that had been taken away: Non-teaching assistants, libraries with certified school librarians, classroom aides, etc. Tonya said that the district needed to give teachers more than two days training on a curriculum they didn’t introduce until August. When Mr. Finn tried to summarize that statement as just “needs more professional development”, Tonya corrected him and made clear that she meant that the district should have introduced the curriculum in a timely manner and given teachers the appropriate time to master it. Tonya talked about the disadvantage of turning neighborhood schools into charters that have more leeway to choose students.
.There was another focus group earlier in the day. That was by invitation only to parents and members of the Home and School Association.
Submitted by Deborah Grill
November 6, 2016