Strawberry Mansion Rallies For Their High School

On May 16th the Strawberry Mansion community rallied to defend their comprehensive high school which Philadelpia Superintendent Hite wants to add to his corporate privatization of public schools agenda. Click the picture to view the video.

For background on the history of Hite’s agenda, see:

Why does Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion High School only enroll 235 out of 2,267 eligible students?


Eyes on the SRC: May 17, 2018

full SRC 4-26-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Community Engagement or Community Exclusion?

We have heard a lot about the importance of community involvement from Superintendent William Hite and his staff. Dr. Hite has expanded the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Office, spoken of the need for “customer relations” (meaning parents, who are not customers but stakeholders), and created “Focus Groups” for his Priority Schools Initiative In fact, Dr. Hite wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer lastweek beseeching the community to “come together” to solve the problem of crumbling, moldy buildings that the district has ignored for years. Yet Dr. Hite continues to pursue his corporate reform-driven plans behind closed doors.

In the struggle to save Strawberry Mansion High School, the district’s two-faced dealings with the public has reached a new low.  The district’s hollow claims of community involvement have been exposed by a group of people determined to thwart plans to close the comprehensive high school and replace educators with vendors. Parents, students, alumni and community members have shown up to speak out at SRC meetings, attended the City’s Listening Tour for new school board members, and contacted City Council members. A commentary on the subject by APPS member Ken Derstine was published in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

In late March, Dr. Hite sent Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoats to SMHS to lead a community meeting, which was well attended despite poor outreach from the district.  In answer to a question from the audience, Becoats admitted that the district’s plans had already moved into the “implementation stage”, thus skipping any planning stage in which stakeholders could add their own perspectives or objections. This meeting’s resolutions draw attention to changes in the mission and future of Strawberry Mansion—at the same time raising even more questions.  Resolution B-15 sends money to one vendor for an alternative education program, while the (B-17) Culinary grant includes Mansion despite the fact that the district has left the Culinary Arts teacher position vacant this year. Dr Hite claims that under-enrollment at SMHS accounts for his closing the comprehensive high school (without actually admitting that this is a school closure).  If there are so few young people in the neighborhood, why has the district opened a new high school?

Note that nearby Robert Vaux High School was closed by the SRC in 2013 due to under-enrollment, then reopened in 2017 as a contract school under the management of Big Picture. A flyer appeared on the SMHS website announcing future plans for the school.  No 9thgraders will be admitted, although  “…current students can continue and graduate from Strawberry Mansion High School”.  For unexplained reasons, enrollment of 9thgraders will resume in 2019 for a project-based high school.

The district selected a small group of SMHS community members to visit The Workshop School in West Philadelphia in an attempt to persuade them to endorse the district plan. The Workshop School has 240 students (less than SMHS), and despite Great School Philly’s projection of an enrollment of 500 by 2015/16, that school is under no threat of closure due to under-enrollment. There has been a systematic erosion of services, staff, and resources in district comprehensive high schools. Feeder schools have been shuttered, thus forcing displacement of students across the city or into charter schools. Bok, Germantown High School, Carroll, University High School, Vaux, Stephen A. Douglas High School, and Lamberton High School were among the twenty-four schools closed by the SRC in 2013. This policy of closing schools comes directly out of the 2012 Boston Consulting Group Report,  paid for with private money and kept secret from the public.

Spring is rerun season for TV viewers—and favored school district vendors. Both The New Teacher Project (TNTP) (Resolution B-8) and Jounce Partners(B-13) return to feed at the public trough. No matter that the district has yet to provide data showing that either program has benefitted students.

The district is awarding a $20 million contract to the Chester County Intermediate Unity to oversee the Philadelphia Virtual Academy (B-3) over the next three years. Why does a virtual school—without the same costs as a brick-and-mortar school—need an additional $6.6 million every year?  Enrollment is currently at 462 students, there are no SPRs, no data. Will Dr. Hite explain why the virtual school has suddenly become so expensive—and why the district has to outsource to another district to manage it?

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) continues its financial support of schools of its choosing, this time with a $116, 000 grant to Science Leadership Academy Middle for two more teachers.  Multi-million dollar renovations slated for both Motivation High School and Roosevelt ES (A19) both raise questions about the co-location of Motivation with the KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory CS and will hopefully provide some relief for the beleaguered Roosevelt School community. There is an ongoing issue of Our Schools Are Not Charities as staff is hired at Parkway West (B1) and money allocated to the Fund for the SDP for a staff position (A9).

For this meeting, there are 53 Resolutions  which send $34,381,750  to vendors and contractors including TNTP, Jounce, One Bright Ray, and the  Chester County Intermediate Unit.

What If…?

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Why does Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion High School only enroll 235 out of 2,267 eligible students?

The following article was published by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
Due to space limitations the Notebook article was limited to 800 words.
Below is the full 1217 word version of the post.


by Ken Derstine
May 8, 2018

At the School Reform Commission Meeting on April 26th, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite stated that of 2267 students in its catchment area only 235 students are enrolled in the Strawberry Mansion High School. His theme echoed a flyer the School District has circulated in the Strawberry Mansion community “Envisioning the Future of Strawberry Mansion High School”. The premise is that the Strawberry Mansion community is not supporting the comprehensive High School and therefore it must be phased out and replaced with a yet to be defined “Education Complex”.

The very first paragraph of the flyer is titled “Strawberry Mansion is NOT closing.” Apparently this is to reassure the community that Strawberry Mansion will not become an abandoned building, thereby contributing to a downward spiral like so many seen in so many low-income communities that have lost their community school, but, after it has been emptied of students and community control, it will be replaced with such corporate entities such as what Hite called in his SRC statement the Energy Performance Pilot School. (Note the corporate company Hite keeps to bring this about.)

The next claim is that current students will graduate from Strawberry Mansion. The District has already announced that there will be no ninth grade next year so that is not true for all students since what would have been the ninth graders will not graduate from Strawberry Mansion.

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APPS News 2018


by Karel Kilimnik
May 7, 2018

Lame-Duck SRC Continues Spending Spree

The lame-duck SRC, moving towards its final day on June 30th, continues to hold fast to its worst practices of lack of transparency and public notification.  After several emails from APPS to SRC Commissioners, the Resolution List for the April 19thmeeting finally appeared on the district website on April 12.  According to the negotiated, court-ordered settlement between the SRC and APPS on the district’s pattern of violations of the PA Sunshine Act, Resolutions must be posted at least 14 days before the meeting. It is truly baffling as to why this occurred for this particular meeting as this was posted: The heading on the Description simply states:  “This meeting of the School Reform Commission is a Budget Hearing for the purpose of hearing public comment on the FY19 Budgets. There are no action items. The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the FY19 Budget at its Action Meeting on May 24, 2018.”  We expect the incoming School Board to do a better job of informing the public without having to be reminded.

As Diane Payne reportedin the April 26 edition of Ears on the SRC, “Part-Time Commissioner” Bill Green arrived an hour and a half after the meeting began.  Despite missing staff presentations on the two charters up for a vote (Eastern University and Franklin Towne Middle CS), as well as almost all public speakers, Green voted on all resolutions, including one to approve the deeply flawed Franklin Towne Middle Charter School’s “revised” application. Despite the Charter Schools Office report citing almost thirty instances of FTCMS failing to address concerns in the original evaluation, and despite CSO Director DawnLynne Kacer stating that there were few “substantial” differences in the revised application, the SRC voted 3-1 to approve “with conditions”, with Commissioner Marge Neff voting to deny. The actual revision came from the SRC, who took it upon themselves to come up with almost twenty conditions, most of which were not read into the record and were not revealed to the public until the day after the meeting.

What none of the commissioners ever told the public was WHY they felt the need to go to such lengths to approve this new charter. It seems they are sending a message to other charter applicants: Denied at the first charter school application hearing? No problem. Submit a barely modified revised application and you can count on us to approve, with no justification or explanation, and guarantee your CEO and investors years of funding.  So far, Philadelphia Hebrew Charter and APM Charter have submitted revised applications to the SRC; they will probably be voted on in May.

Strawberry Mansion High School Supporters Fight Back

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