by Diane Payne
All members of the Board were present with the exception of Leticia Egea-Hinton. Seven APPs members were present; five testified on behalf of public education. Edison High students gave a beautiful performance of Christmas music. In a very touching ceremony, honorary diplomas were awarded to two World War II who enlisted before they graduated. The student violinist played Pomp and Circumstance as they walked down the aisle. (All Board meetings can be viewed on the District website at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/ scrolling down and clicking on Watch Previous Board Meetings )
Dr. Hite acknowledged the dedication and work of school nurses, particularly Ben Franklin High Nurse Santos. She had attended to a student in cardiac arrest until the ambulance arrived; she undoubtedly saved his life. The student is recovering. This incident illustrates the crucial role of school nurses and shows that the District should never let budget cuts, or any circumstance, undermine the safety and well-being of our students. Many remembered the termination of 50 school nurses in December 2012. In June 2011, nurses positions were decreased due to attrition leaving District children’s health and safety in a precarious position.
Hite reported that the district is increasing its computer science offerings including expanded digital learning experiences for both elementary and high school students. Without further information, it is hard to decipher whether this is increasing computer literacy using technology as a tool or there is an increase in “personalized learning”, a misnomer if ever there was one. This model places children in front of screens for algorithm-driven programs in lieu of classroom teachers. Technology, as a tool, is useful; algorithm-driven programs need close inspection. Our students are not guinea pigs to be used for the benefit of edu-vendors.
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by Diane Payne
Eight of the nine Board members were present as were the two student representatives. Member Chris McGinley was absent. Once again, the Board failed to provide adequate copies of written materials including the Action Items to be voted on; a few copies were available at the back of the room, on a separate table, in binders. Board President Wilkerson displayed on the large screen how members of the public can view meeting information on their smartphones or tablets. Even if community members have the technology, which many do not, attempting to view pages of material and attachments is close to impossible on a small screen. When the Board is spending millions and making decisions affecting students and staff, all members of the public should be able to have easy access to all meeting materials. APPS members sent a letter to the Board after the October meeting asking the Board to address these and other issues.
The Board approved minutes from the October 18, 2018 Action Meeting.
The meeting opened with a lovely student performance from a Frankford High School musical group. Six student musicians and their teacher went to considerable effort to perform at this meeting which took place during the first snowstorm of the season. Most surrounding public school districts dismissed early in order to ensure the safety of students and staff in treacherous conditions. Not only did the District fail to dismiss students early but made the questionable decision not to postpone this meeting, despite dangerous travel conditions being reported on TV and radio. Even more disturbing was the Board’s decision not to send the student musicians home. Couldn’t they have been rescheduled for the December meeting? President Wilkerson’s attempt at humor fell flat when she commented about getting the meeting started so that everyone could “begin their 3-hour commute home”.
Dr. Hite’s remarks began with extolling the expansion of the arts programs in schools. Since 2013, he said, there have been steady increases in arts programs in the schools; there are 450 art teachers, and every K-8 school now has instrumental music. Hite stated that all students now have access to “the arts” and that research supports the importance of this to student achievement. Remember that 2013 was the year of the “Doomsday Budget” when the Hite administration cut art and music, librarians, counselors, secretaries, NTAs, and foreign languages from schools across the district. Is it really an accomplishment that 5 years later some of that was given back to our students?
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by Lynda Rubin
Eight of the nine Board members and the two student Board representatives were present. Leticia Egea-Hinton was absent. The meeting began with a beautiful performance by the Central High School String Quartet, with string specialist Matt Roberts, under the direction of Ben Blazer.
General Counsel Lynn Rauch announced that the Board met in executive session on October16 and October18 to discuss the following: “personnel and employment matters, purchase or lease of real property, investigations, quasi-judicial proceedings, privileged and confidential matters and information and strategy about litigations”. She then cited the legal matters by name and docket number.
Superintendent’s Report Addresses Community Concerns
Superintendent William Hite’s report indirectly addressed concerns about barriers to parental involvement raised prior to the meeting by email and phone call and reflected in the number of speakers on the issue. He encouraged parents to join SACs but did not directly address parents’ specific concerns until later in the meeting. There is some contradictory and confusing language on the District website that implies that parents and community members have to provide clearance information in order to attend meetings at their schools.
Dr. Hite also addressed the District’s solution to the lack of full-time nurses and substitute nurses. He stated that three of the four vacancies had been filled and that the District was now using Kelly Services, the same company the District contracted with two years ago when it outsourced substitute teacher services. Dr. Hite said that his administration intended to hire additional companies to find substitute nurses. In fact, Action Item 16, later passed by the Board, contracts with Bayada Services to fill per diem and long-term nursing substitutes. In response to strong lobbying by nurses and parents, the District will now give access to the medical information of the students they are serving on any day, whether permanently appointed to one school or not.
by Diane Payne
All nine members of the Board of Education (BOE) were present. Eight members of APPS attended; five testified on behalf of public education. Mayor Kenney came to welcome the students who were chosen as non-voting BOE representatives. Of 54 applicants, two students were selected by a Board committee to serve as non-voting student representatives. Julia Frank of Northeast High School and Alfredo Pratico of J.R. of Masterman High School were sworn in and seated. They will alternate attendance at future meetings and will bring student voice to issues before the Board.
City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown spoke to welcome the Board and to advise them that City Council was there to support and monitor district operations. She noted three main areas of concern: school health and safety, suspensions, and African-American studies in the district’s high school curriculum. Also in attendance for part of the meeting was Councilwoman Helen Gym. Gym has been outspoken against the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) and was the only No vote on the issue earlier that day in Council. The Board’s agenda included a vote on the current list of KOZ properties (more on this below).
The meeting began with a lovely musical performance by Universal Language, a group of Franklin Learning Center students. It was inspiring to hear the beautiful voice and stellar musical accompaniment of these student musicians.
Superintendent William Hite addressed the District’s upcoming open enrollment process. The timeline has been moved, but the total number of days to complete the application process is the same. Applications can be submitted from September 21st through November 2nd. There was a question about counselors having a difficult time due to the new timeline conflicting with Early Admission College Applications (EACA). Dr. Hite said that only 5 high schools were possibly affected but research indicated really only one school would be affected. They were assured by that school there was no problem with conflicts impacting the EACAs.
Board Reverts to Business as Usual
The official BOE agenda included an extensive visual presentation on the Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) properties from First Deputy Director Sylvie Gallier Howard and Senior Deputy Director Duane Bumb of the City’s Commerce Department. (The power-point can be viewed here.) The PA General Assembly created KOZs in 1998 as a program designed to spark development in blighted, vacant, or underutilized properties that might not otherwise be developed. This program abates a long list of both state and city taxes as the lure for investment and the projected economic improvement, particularly job creation. The hook for the School District is that by law these properties must make Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) that amount to 110% of the 55% that would come to the District in real estate taxes. These PILOTS are paid annually and are based on the previous year’s property assessment. By law, both City Council and the BOE must approve the list of properties submitted by the Commerce Department before the applications can proceed to the state. (These properties can be viewed on the above mentioned powerpoint.)