Eyes on the Board of Education: December 15, 2022
by Lisa Haver
Irony, apparently, is not the Board of Education’s strong suit. After imposing a number of speaker suppression policies, with no notice or explanation to the public, the Board now proposes hiring a firm for $70,000 to expand the district’s “capacity to engage families, students, staff and the overall Philadelphia community in authentic two-way engagement efforts.” Are the Board’s action meetings not authentic enough? The Board clearly wants to hear from a very limited number of families, students, staff and community members, and only for two minutes at a time. The Board eliminated three of their four public committees, including the Parent and Community Engagement Committee, venues that were supposed to provide opportunities for more dialogue about issues of concern. The one remaining committee, the Policy Committee, now meets only twice a year. The Board’s Policy page does not even mention that there are meetings. Governance by invitation is not a substitute for true public engagement.
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Eyes on the Board of Education: January 27, 2022
by Lisa Haver
The January Action Meeting had been billed as a remote one until members of the community raised objections on social media. The Board reopened all District school buildings this year despite the lack of personal protective equipment, timely Covid testing, and adequate ventilation in classrooms, where there is no social distancing. Yet the Board, with a couple of exceptions, continued to hold only virtual meetings, with some Board members in the auditorium and others at home. Last month it was not clear whether Board Member Cecelia Thompson was present in any way as neither her image nor her name ever appeared. Every once in a while her voice was heard. Ms. Thompson spoke at a rally in Harrisburg earlier this month. There is no reason for her not to attend the Board meeting in Philadelphia. APPS expects all Board members to attend the January meeting in person. The auditorium provides more than enough space for safe distancing.
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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.
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Eyes on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
The District’s Pandemic Push-out affects everyone in the District: parents, students, educators, community members. When we had no choice but to stay home, meetings were virtual and human contact was minimized. The Board took advantage of our isolation by continual minimizing of public participation. Instead of becoming more inclusive and more committed to listening to the District’s stakeholders, the Board and the Hite Administration have used the quarantine as a means of putting more distance between their directives, procedures, and policies.and those affected by them. When we won the battle in 2018 to abolish the School Reform Commission, we had great hopes for a School Board, albeit an appointed one. The Board increased community engagement with the establishment of four committees: Finance and Facilities; Student Achievement and Support; Policy; Family and Community Engagement. After two meetings, the Board disbanded the Community Engagement Committee. Last year, they disbanded two more, leaving only the Policy Committee, which met only four times a year (APPS found out last month that Policy will now only meet twice a year). In an December 2020 article Board members told Chalkbeat last year that Board meetings will look different, with more public engagement and discussion of data. In truth, there has been much less public engagement and much more data analysis–up to two hours at every action meeting. Only when APPS members complained did the Board allow public speakers to be placed ahead of the Goals and Guardrails session. In January, the Board implemented Speaker Suppression procedures capping the number of speakers and cutting speakers’ time.