Benjamin Franklin High School is a 9-12 school in Network 3, located at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, now an area of high-end real estate development. It has developed an extensive CTE program and is partnered with Community College.
When two APPS members arrived just before 6 PM, the only people there were the district’s Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt, Network 3 superintendent Sonia Harrison, Principal Abdul-Mubdi Muhammad and a representative from the Office of Family Engagement. Eventually, Director Hiram Rivera and 3 students from the Student Union arrived, as well as one parent who lives in Fairmount and works for The New Teacher Project (with whom the district just entered into another contract), Jacob Waters from Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners (the lobbying arm of PSP), and 3 other adults. Chris Finn of Cambridge Education, the company contracted to do the School Quality Review, came after the meeting began, but he did not speak. Handouts explaining the options for the school were available on a table at the entrance to the auditorium. Mr. Muhammad conducted the meeting. His power-point presentation included the school’s SPR for the years 2012 through 2015, which were below 15 all three years. He presented the timeline for the process:
- November 2916: SQR and feedback from students, parents and teachers
- November – December 2016: District review of feedback
- January 2017 : Decisions and recommendations announced by Dr. Hite
Principal Muhammed described the options available to Ben Franklin and emphasized how important it was for parents to come out to support the school. He said that he has put information about the meetings on the school’s website, implemented phone blasts, posted on Twitter and asked students to bring parents to the meetings. He stressed the importance of parent involvement and said he was working on getting his students to get their parents involved.
I spoke to one of the students from the Student Union who attends Ben Franklin. He said that the school has gone through so many changes in the past few years, and he would just like to see some stability. He said that the school has had to accept students from Vaux and William Penn after they were closed; this has created problems, as students from the three schools have not always gotten along. He said his parents were not told of the meeting until the night before via a phone call. On of the other students said he had not heard of the meeting until that morning. It was clear that the district did not make a real effort to inform the parents or the public about the meetings. That, along with the speed with which this is being done, is an indication that this is just another dog-and pony-show. When you remember how the district conducted “community engagement” last year when they targeted Cook, Huey and Wister for placement in the Renaissance Program, you can understand why someone would believe that the district has already made its decisions on these eleven schools. Unless the parents at each school get organized and speak with one voice the district is going to do what it wants.
Principal Muhammed, assigned to Ben Franklin this year, was very optimistic about the process and felt that the school has a lot to offer. When it was time for questions, Karel Kilimnik pointed out the importance of maintaining stable relationships between students and teachers and that most of the proposed strategies involved getting rid of at least 50% of the faculty. The principal said that he feels strongly that Ben Franklin could come up with its own evidence-based plan which ould build on the CTE programs that started at the school last year and would retain its teachers. I pointed out that two years ago teachers at Blaine Elementary School developed their own turnaround plan, then were told after it was accepted by the district that the entire faculty would have to reapply for their jobs, with no more than 50% retained. When we spoke to the principal after the meeting, he expressed his concerns that other schools may be interested in merging with Ben Franklin due to the school’s location.
Two public focus group meetings for Ben Franklin are scheduled for November 2 and November 10, both at 6 p.m.The principal said that there would be a special focus group on November 2, but that that was by invitation only. No other school has said, at least publicly, that any meeting was be invitation only. He did not say who would decide who could attend or what the criteria for being invited was.
Submitted by Deborah Grill
November 3, 2016