Eyes on the Board of Education: December 9, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik
Why tell a lie when the truth is available?
Almost every day we lose another Philadelphia student to gun violence. Students from Feltonville, Strawberry Mansion, Fairhill and many other neighborhoods have been gunned down while walking down the street or waiting for the bus. Last month, APPS members stood with principals and other members of CASA to call on the district and city officials to act now to save our students. APPS calls on the Board again to curtail or eliminate the Goals and Guardrails session and devote that time to finding a way to protect our students. Start by saying the names of the children we have lost just this month.
Rather than engage in true dialogue with the public, the Board contracts with public relations firms, consultants, and multinational professional services companies such as Accenture. Community engagement now means hiring outside vendors to hold public meetings that are highly scripted, then issuing a report based on selected comments. The Board and its consultants, in this case Brownstone Public Relations, have produced a glossy document rife with corporate language, devoid of educational knowledge or expertise, that looks and sounds more like a stockholders report than one about educational leadership. In fact, the first 17 pages of the 27-page report have nothing to do with the superintendent search. The obvious exclusion of community comments that were critical of the Board and its selection process serves to exacerbate the broken links between the Board and District stakeholders–parents, students, school staff, and the community. Outsourcing public engagement simply widens the divide. Last year, the Board implemented speaker procedures that limit the number of speakers (both student and adult) and shorten the allotted speaking time. APPS members attended many of the “listening sessions” but none of our comments are included–for example, that the Board should not consider any candidates trained at the Broad Academy.
Continue reading for description and analysis of Action Items
by Lynda Rubin
The Neubauer Family Foundation has joined the roster of foundations that support, both politically and financially, corporate disruptor-driven programs and initiatives in the School District of Philadelphia. A closer examination shows that the Foundation has been involved in an increasing number of projects behind the scenes in alliance with the Philadelphia School Partnership, whose growing influence APPS reported in the first installment in this series.
In recent years, The Foundation, with over $50 million in annual revenue and $395 million in assets, has placed itself at the nexus of the school privatization movement, concentrating its efforts in Philadelphia.
Neubauer’s Corporate Background
Serving as its CEO and Board chair, Joseph Neubauer led the growth of Aramark (founded as ARA services) in the eighties and nineties. In May 2012, Neubauer moved from CEO to Chairman of Board; he retired in 2014. Aramark’s website states that it provides food service, facilities cleaning and uniform services to hospitals, universities, school districts, stadiums and other businesses in many countries around the globe. Aramark’s website promotes its “…decades of hospitality experience”, claiming that “Aramark is uniquely qualified to provide an optimal merchandise selection, enhancing the guest experience with precious keepsakes from the 2015 World Meeting of Families to Philadelphia.” Aramark came under criticism for price-gouging lunch packages at the visit of Pope Francis, especially since people inside the area had no access to restaurants or food trucks.
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In 2015, APPS published research reports on the Philadelphia School Partnership in which we looked at board members, donors and political supporters.In the past five years, PSP’s influence has grown along with the organization’s programs. The School District of Philadelphia has accepted millions more in grants, along with the mandates and ideological directions that come with those funds.
White Suburbanites Make Funding Decisions about City’s Schools
When examining PSP’s outsized influence over District policies and practices, including targeted funding of certain schools, we begin with the handful of people making those decisions as PSP board members. PSP has insinuated itself into the District’s operations in a number of ways, including family communication and engagement, teacher recruitment, and training of educators and school administrators. PSP’s Board makes decisions about public schools in meetings that are closed to the public. Thus, the voices of public school families and the larger community are diminished. Until recently, PSP had eight board members, all of whom are white, six of whom live outside the city: Chair Michael G. O’Neill, Bill Marx, William McNabb III, Evie W. McNiff, Megan Maguire Nicoletti, Benjamin Persofsky, Kevin Shafer, and Janine Yass. In April 2020, PSP added two members: Colin Kelton, who is white and resides outside of the city, has worked in finance for 30 years at Vanguard. Sean Vereen, an African-American man who resides in the city, has some education background through Stepping Stone, Inc. Neither Vereen nor Kelton have any experience in classroom teaching. PSP’s Board now consists of ten members, nine white and one African-American; seven of whom reside outside of the city. In 2018, Mayor Kenney appointed Vereen to the Nominating Panel convened for the purpose of selecting Board of Education members.
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by Karel Kilimnik
After holding six community meetings at each of the three schools in the 2018 System of Great Schools (SGS) cohort, the District announced one more at each school during the week of February 4th in which the option for each school would be revealed. APPS members attended meetings at all three SGS School last Fall. Our reports can be found here.
The two possible options for the schools were either placement in the Acceleration Network (formerly the Turnaround Network) or allowing each school to develop its own Academic Improvement Plan (AIP) . The main feature of the first option is the requirement that teachers and principals reapply for their positions in their school. Chief of Schools Shawn Bird told the Board’s Student Achievement Committee that teachers had to reapply so that the District would know whether they were willing to attend the additional monthly and summer professional development. If this is true, then the District changed its policy; it has not been true for the previous two years of this program. But why not just ask the teachers if they will attend the PD? Why would they have to go through a re-application and re-interview process just to answer one question? When questioned by the Committee about this, Bird said he wasn’t sure and would have to check. Who would he be asking when he is in charge of the SGS process? Another last-minute policy change: this year, the AIP option could also include a requirement for teachers to reapply. This was not disclosed until the last meeting at Harrington in answer to a question from APPS. The other school communities, as far as we know, have not been informed of this.
Superintendent Hite waited until the 2017/18 SPR scores were reported until making the final decision on whether Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke Schools would enter the Acceleration Network or develop their own Plan. Ultimately, he decided to place all three schools into the AIP Option. Each school would have a Planning Committee selected by the Principal. No criteria was provided as to how Planning Committee members would be selected, only that the Principal would choose them.
As part of the District’s stated plan to “gather information on school strengths, challenges, and ways to improve”, Temple University was awarded a contract to gather input from parents and community members about the strengths and weaknesses of each school. The “Parent. Family, & Community Input Report” (listed under Download Focus Group Report on the SGS website) noted the extremely limited involvement of families. Given that all three schools list student enrollment at over 400, there was paltry parent attendance at each school. The total for parents/community members for all six meetings came to 29 at Harrington, 23 at Lamberton, and 38 at Locke–fewer than ten at each meeting. Their report does not indicate whether Special Ed and/or English Language learners were part of their sample nor what grades were included.
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