Ears on the Board of Education: April 25, 2019

by Diane Payne

Last month’s March 28th Action Meeting ended abruptly when the Board left the room after a hasty vote to recess.  Sponsors and students from the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) had disrupted the meeting after the Board voted to pass a policy that mandates metal detectors in all high schools.  PSU had testified at Action and Committee meetings over the past the past three months and had met with District administrators to discuss the issue. (See APPS March 28th Ears for that report.) The Board never returned; without notice, they reconvened in another room and voted on the remaining Items there.  Thus, many public speakers did not get to give their testimony. The Board had said that those people could go first at the April Meeting, but  APPS members asked that they get their three minutes from March in addition to their three in April. Board President Joyce Wilkerson agreed to our request.  A total of 78 speakers were listed.

Present

All members of the Board were present for this meeting.  Seven members of APPS attended; six testified in defense of public education.

Prior to the start of business, the Board read a tribute to longtime education activist Marciene Mattleman, one of the founders of the After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP), who passed away in March.  Students from the various clubs who have participated in local and national competitions came with their trophies. Tributes were read by Board member Angela McIver, the current ASAP director, and Mattleman’s daughters. The importance of these non-athletic activities was later the subject of testimony by those who came to advocate for funding for their various clubs, including Chess, Scrabble, and Debate.

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Eyes on the Board of Education: April 25, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Board Rolls Out Red Carpet to Charter Operators

Spring has arrived along with the annual crop of charter school amendments and renewals. Renewals come due when charters’  five-year terms are up. Amendments requests–for enrollment increases, name changes, relocation–can be submitted at any time, but often at the time of renewal.  Incredibly, charter schools who have refused to sign renewal agreements have still been granted amendment requests. First, let us deal with Renewals. Presently on the Charter School Office (CSO) website is the 2018/19 cohort of 12 schools–with no active link for any school, so no way to see the renewal evaluation report.

Of the 18 schools in the 2017/18 cohort, one link is not posted ( Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School). The April 25 Meeting Agenda lists two Charter Amendments under consideration. Laboratory Charter School is requesting a change of location (Item 3). Laboratory operates one school across three separate campuses in three different neighborhoods–a K-5, a 5-8 and a K-8.  Now Laboratory wants to consolidate all three into one location in East Falls at 3300 Henry Avenue. The District’s School Profiles page gives information on the Northern Liberties campus but not the other two; our written request for explanation has gone unanswered. The CSO Mid-Cycle Charter Amendment Evaluation Report specifically cites lack of community outreach about the relocation,  yet still recommends approval of their request.  The CSO page states that the Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not require districts to consider amendments: “The Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus the Charter Schools Office (CSO) of the District is not required to review amendment requests from charter schools.”  This may provide a legal basis for denying this request. Why is the Board in such a rush to grant this charter school’s amendment?

The Board has made several pronouncements about making community engagement a key part of its mission. It has created a District Partnership & Community  Engagement Committee along with a Parent & Community Advisory Council. It is incomprehensible that they would consider approving this Action Item while excluding the community from the process.

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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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