Ears on the Board of Education: March 28, 2019

by Diane Payne

The Board of Education saw its first real pushback at this meeting.  Student protestors, upset at the vote on metal detector policy, took over the meeting.  The Board left the room and did not return, leaving the public participants wondering what was happening. The Board then took an unprecedented action which may have serious legal ramifications.  Democracy is not always neat and orderly. How the Board responds to the messiness of passionate voices will shed a light on how much “local control” really exists under a mayoral-appointed Board.  Details below.

Present

All nine members of the Board of Education were present as well as student representatives Alfredo Pratico and Julia Frank.  (All meeting agendas and materials can be viewed on the SDP website;  videos of previous meetings can be viewed by scrolling down on the BOE homepage and clicking on Watch Previous Board Meetings.)

Ten APPS members were present, but only one had the opportunity to testify.  Seven others were unable to deliver their public remarks to the Board. The room was filled to capacity, and the energy of engagement was palpable.  A total of 48 speakers were registered to speak, but only 12 were able to deliver their remarks.

The meeting commenced with a beautiful student performance from the Central High Jazz Combo.  As usual, the talent and confidence of these student performers was inspiring and a stark reminder that the battle to preserve and improve PUBLIC education is a battle worth fighting.

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Ears on the Board of Education: December 13, 2018

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 )

Superintendent’s Remarks

Nurses

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.

Computer Science

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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Ears on the Board of Education: November 15, 2018

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”.

Superintendent’s Remarks

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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Ears on the Board of Education: October 18, 2018

SB 7-9-18

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.

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