Board Needs Transparency in Search for New Superintendent

Eyes on the Board of Education, October 28, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” James Baldwin

Will the Next Superintendent Be an Educator or a Business Manager?

Searching for a new superintendent opens a world of possibility in a District starved for transparency and genuine community involvement. Selection of the last superintendent occurred in a cloud of secrecy hidden from the public until the final two candidates selected by the SRC were unveiled. There was great hope as we transitioned from state rule to local control a mere three years ago but this Board has deflated those expectations as they instituted Speaker Suppression and continue rubber stamping whatever Items Dr. Hite presents. The Mayor’s selection process for appointing Board members also hid behind a brick wall. Transparency and public participation were blatantly missing. The Board could step out of their box, be bold and listen to the public.  Will they actually listen to the public or will shadow donors continue to pull their strings in this selection process? 

For the past ten years the District has been led by a superintendent committed to balancing the budget no matter who suffers. Teachers and school staff, students, and parents have been traumatized as schools were closed; counselors, nurses, and teachers were shifted around the District like pawns on a chessboard; ongoing remediation of unhealthy buildings was ineffective. We need a leader with a vision for rebuilding what we have lost, restoring trust, and listening instead of mandating. Someone who has at least ten years experience in a school and has not roamed the country climbing their career ladder. Is the Board up to this responsibility or will we simply have another business oriented superintendent? 

Entities such as the Philadelphia School Partnership, the Neubauer Family Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation have skillfully woven themselves into power through funding numerous projects ranging from individual school programs to teacher recruitment. According to the Superintendent Search page the Neubauer Family Foundation and its offshoot, the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, are listed as “hosting #PHLSuperSearch Listening Sessions and/or collecting survey responses”. Will these powerful voices have more weight in deciding who the new Superintendent will be? Unfortunately we may not know until the choice is made. The Board advertises that 50+ Community Organizations & Agencies have been engaged. However, current listings come nowhere near that number. APPS asked for specific names and were referred back to their website. What is clear is that through Item 3 (Ratification of Acceptance of a Donation of Services – The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia) the Board accepts a grant of $200,000 from The Fund for the District that was donated by the William Penn Foundation to hire a Public Relations firm to run this Search.

Item 4 – (Contracts with Various Vendors (TBD) – After-school Enrichment Opportunities and Tutoring Services, $50,000,000), raises numerous questions and concerns about its implementation. Our students benefit from both before school and after-school enrichment activities but how will this be managed with transparency and accountability. On one hand the District signs a contract with CASA (Item 20 – Ratification of Collective Bargaining Agreement with Teamsters Local 502, CASA) that supports internal professional development and on the other hand still continues supporting Relay and Urban Teacher. That hamster wheel keeps spinning as Relay (the fake graduate school of education according to former Board member Chris McGinley) and another vendor, Urban Teacher garner contracts alongside local universities, Temple and Drexel, for Teacher Residencies (Item #9. Amendment to Authorized Contracts with Drexel University, Relay Graduate School of Education, Temple University, and Urban Teachers – Teacher Residency Program $1,487,500).

The District continues to shower corporate entities with contracts. Accenture (derived from “Accent on the future”), based in Ireland where they failed to pay taxes, receives another contract to track Covid-19 testing of contractors (Item 21- Ratification of Contract with Accenture LLP for Development of a Contractors COVID Tracking System).

What If…..the Board was truly transparent with the Search for a new Superintendent? What if they linked Notes from each Listening Session onto the website so the public can read the actual comments instead of reading a summary? What if the Philadelphia Home and School Council was invited to join the11-member Superintendent Search Advisory Committee (SSAC)? 

November Action Meeting: Thursday November 18, 2021 at 4 PM. Check the District website for updated information on attendance and how to sign up to testify.

Find the full List of Action Items here

Action Items of  Note

Foundation Money Funding Board Superintendent Search

Action Item 3 – Ratification of Acceptance of a Donation of Services – The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia

Value of donation: Up to $200,000

Description: The Fund procured services of Brownstone Public Relations for the express benefit of the Board of Education and School District. The Fund’s donation to the School District was made possible through a grant by the William Penn Foundation and The Fund. Brownstone Public Relations will provide the Board of Education with support in the search for a new superintendent by building multiple inclusive and accessible communications and engagement opportunities that bring internal and external stakeholders into the search process. This work has been made possible through a grant by the William Penn Foundation.

APPS Analysis: Parent, advocate, and community input has plummeted during the Hite years and hiring a Public Relations firm to lead Listening Sessions and send out surveys is not going to fix public participation. Under Dr Hite’s leadership contracts to public relations firms has become standard whenever there is a new initiative such as Ring the Bell. GaileyMurrayLLP was the recipient of a contract for $ 100,000 (May 2021 Eyes on the Board ) to “support a range of communications activities designed to advance key District initiatives and strengthen public engagement in major annual campaigns”. Now the Board has hired another public relations firm to”support the search for a new superintendent”.  A private funding organization, the Fund for the School District, funnels money from a private foundation, the WilliamPenn Foundation, for a private consulting company, Brownstone Public Relations, to oversee the work of the  Board’s Search Advisory committee which will meet in private. All while the Board claims “we want to hear from you.” The Search for a Superintendent should not happen on the shoulders of a Public Relations firm.

Needed: Transparency in Action

Action Item 4 – Contracts with Various Vendors (TBD) – After-school Enrichment Opportunities and Tutoring Services ($50,000,000)

 Description: As part of its vision for public education in Philadelphia, the Board of Education adopted five academic goals and four guardrails or non-negotiable conditions that must exist in each school. Guardrail 2 states that every student will have a well-rounded education with co-curricular opportunities, including arts and athletics, integrated into the school experience. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and through the use of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ARP ESSER), the District seeks to accelerate work to improve student academic outcomes and make progress toward the Board’s Goals and Guardrails by expanding access to after-school enrichment programs, training and resources for teacher-led enrichment programs, and tutoring services that are integrated into the school experience. 

To scale after-school enrichment programs for K-12 students, the District will: 

  • Contract with current Out-of-School-Time (OST) and other existing after-school programs to increase capacity; 
  • Contract with vendors to provide training and resources to teachers to initiate new teacher-led enrichment programs to further increase after-school enrichment opportunities; and
  • Identify new vendors to provide after-school enrichment programs in school communities where there remains a need for programming. 
  • Specifically, after-school enrichment programs will provide:
  • Robust opportunities for youth to explore their interests and creativity;
  • Age-appropriate programming that is hands-on and aligned with educational standards;
  • Learning environments that support social and emotional learning; and
  • Emphasis on youth choice, engagement, and making learning fun.
  • Click here to read the rest of the description and a list of prospective providers.

APPS Analysis: Students need before and after school enrichment programs that capture their interest, support them emotionally and socially, enhance academics, promote learning, and are fun. This Item raises numerous questions and concerns about its implementation given the District’s present abysmal track record on competency, transparency, and accountability.  District leadership has created one disaster after another this Fall from changing school start times, to trash removal from schoolyards, and failure to supply a school with meals.  Neglecting to engage parents and school staff has been a hallmark of this Administration. Sending orders down the chain as if schools were a corporation simply results in the fiascos we have recently witnessed. Trust is a low point. There needs to be a clear, transparent system for determining which schools get funds and for what programs. The school community needs to have input on which programs will be offered at their school. It is essential to implement a transparent and detailed accounting of how the money is used. Requiring inclusive programming for both ELs and students with a range of disabilities must be built into the application process. These students must not be excluded but embraced. Some proportion of these funds should be earmarked for 1:1 assistance and any other support staff to enable children with disabilities to fully participate.  Included in the description is language that calls out for the reinstallation of school libraries with a Certified Teacher Librarian when it states there is a need for “Learning environments that support social and emotional learning”. Previously school libraries were the launchpad for a wide range of afterschool activities including chess and Scrabble programs, literature circles, and journalism clubs. Use this as seed money to reopen school libraries and staff them with professionals not volunteers. School libraries provide space for these enrichment activities to occur throughout the school as well as after school.

Another Contract with Relay and Urban Teachers

Action Item 9 – Amendment to Authorized Contracts with Drexel University, Relay Graduate School of Education, Temple University, and Urban Teachers – Teacher Residency Program ($1,487,500)

Description:Why is this contract needed? The Office of Talent seeks to increase the maximum number of residency seats from 75 to 100 based on increased capacity of our four partners to recruit and place teacher residents in the District. The District has enrolled 67 teacher residents for the current school year. We intend to increase the number of seats in the following year.

The Teacher Residency Program has trained teachers for high-need content areas in the District, including: middle and secondary grades math, science, English/Language Arts, and Spanish language teachers.  The 2021-2022 cohort also includes 14 teacher residents training in special education, a critical need for the District. Given changes in the certification process for special education teachers initiated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, offering this content area moving forward will provide a pipeline to teaching for current District employees who support special education students.

This work seeks to increase the pool of teachers who join the District in support of Goals 1, 3 and 4, as well as Guardrail 4. Specifically, the Teacher Residency Program seeks to increase our pipeline of strong middle and secondary school math, science and English content teachers.  Additionally, as one explicit commitment for the residency program is a diverse teaching workforce, this work supports a goal of having a teacher workforce more representative of our student population. 

Click here to read the rest of the item description.

APPS analysis: Groundhog day continues as the District persists in funding the unproven Relay or as former SRC and Board member veteran educator Chris McGinley characterized it “the Relay Fake Graduate School of Education”.  Relay has been receiving contracts since 2017 and are still unaccredited in PA. One legacy of Dr Hite’s is his expanded awarding of contracts to out of state entities such as Urban Teachers. In 2018 the Teacher pipeline included Temple University, Drexel University, Relay Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, and New York University.  NYU and the University of PA have disappeared as Urban Teacher was added. There are nationally recognized Colleges of Education here that have educated aspiring teachers for years but under this administration newly minted uncertified,unqualified entities such as Relay and UrbanTeachers are being handed contracts. More reliance on out of town entities . Both Relay and Urban Teachers are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton Family Foundations. Relay was founded by three “No Excuses” charter school leaders (KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools)  seeking a supply of “high quality” teachers. 
Urban Teachers lists faculty for Baltimore, Dallas/Fort Worth,and Washington,DC. No one is listed for Philadelphia.  This is the second contract they have received from the District and there is nothing on their website to indicate any presence in the Philadelphia School District.

Accenture Returns For Another Contract

Action Item 21 – Ratification of Contract with Accenture LLP for Development of a Contractors COVID Tracking System ($160,000) Added 10.15.22

Description:The Board of Education (Board) voted to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all staff effective August 25, 2021. The School District of Philadelphia (District) must be prepared to monitor COVID-19 conditions and identify additional health and safety measures to support the mitigation and spread of the COVID-19 virus, to help protect the health and well-being of everyone in the schools and offices of the District.

Accenture LLP is familiar with the District and is a proven supplier who set up a robust COVID-19 testing program. Accenture will create a plan for all District contractors to adhere to new District and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines; collaborate with District leadership to create a comprehensive tracking system to ensure vaccine mandate compliance requirements by District contractors; establish program governance, including reporting risks and issues, develop and implement project plan, develop and administer survey instruments, create comprehensive list of all District contractors, monitor survey responses; and develop contractor tracking dashboard and provide daily analytics reporting.

APPS Analysis: Accenture is certainly familiar with the District as they helped produce the glossy but imprudent Reopening Plan entitled Advancing Education Safely( SY 2020-2021) back in July 2020. Accenture’s plan included what anyone familiar with the District would have seen as impossibilities for an underfunded district with older buildings, many of which contain asbestos and mold, ventilation systems in need of repair, windows that don’t open, and a lack of cleaning supplies. This is another example of the District’s propensity to contract with international business firms clueless about our realities. (Eyes on the Board 10/22/2020)

Another reach into the corporate world to solve a very local problem with little to no input from the people directly impacted. Their website lists the Industries they work with such as Automotive, Banking, Capital Markets, and Chemicals with no  mention of Education. The description states that Accenture ‘is a proven supplier who set up a robust COVID-19 testing program.” However, there is no evidence of this on the District website. We sincerely hope they do a better job with everything stipulated in this Item.

A Victory for Professional Development

Action Item 20 – Ratification of Collective Bargaining Agreement with Teamsters Local 502, CASA (Added 10.15.21 Pending)

Resolved, that the Board of Education of The School District of Philadelphia hereby ratifies the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators for the period of September 1, 2021 to August 31, 2025, and authorizes the President of the Board of Education or her designee, and the Superintendent to execute and deliver this Agreement on behalf of The School District of Philadelphia.  A copy of this Agreement will be filed with the minutes of the Board of Education.

APPS Analysis: CASA president Robin Cooper joins the many voices calling for rebuilding District infrastructure when she states “You don’t always need outside vendors to do what can be done right here in the city”. APPS has said this for years and finally the District has included this in a union contract allowing principals to have professional development provided by their peers. There is a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience in our District that is not being used let alone recognized. The administration needs to call on principals, teachers, and other school staff to provide Professional Development  instead of filling consultants’ wallets.