Pandemic Push-Out Stifles Public Engagement

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?
Langston Hughes

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.

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Board Needs Transparency in Search for new Superintendent

Eyes on the Board of Education, October 28, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” James Baldwin

Will the Next Superintendent Be an Educator or a Business Manager?

Searching for a new superintendent opens a world of possibility in a District starved for transparency and genuine community involvement. Selection of the last superintendent occurred in a cloud of secrecy hidden from the public until the final two candidates selected by the SRC were unveiled. There was great hope as we transitioned from state rule to local control a mere three years ago but this Board has deflated those expectations as they instituted Speaker Suppression and continue rubber stamping whatever Items Dr. Hite presents. The Mayor’s selection process for appointing Board members also hid behind a brick wall. Transparency and public participation were blatantly missing. The Board could step out of their box, be bold and listen to the public.  Will they actually listen to the public or will shadow donors continue to pull their strings in this selection process? 

 For the past ten years the District has been led by a superintendent committed to balancing the budget no matter who suffers. Teachers and school staff, students, and parents have been traumatized as schools were closed; counselors,nurses, and teachers were shifted around the District like pawns on a chessboard; ongoing remediation of unhealthy buildings was ineffective. We need a leader with a vision for rebuilding what we have lost, restoring trust, and listening instead of mandating. Someone who has at least ten years experience in a school and has not roamed the country climbing their career ladder. Is the Board up to this responsibility or will we simply have another business oriented superintendent? 

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Eyes on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

The August Agenda continues the ten-year spending spree of the Hite administration that sends money out of the District and into the coffers of consultants and contractors. This agenda includes a $175,000 contract with Old Sow for a School Leader Coach (Item 43); a $371,000 contract with Partners in School Innovation (Item 40); and a $129, 870 contract with SupportEd, LLC. The services enumerated in Item 40–professional development, teacher coaching services, school leadership development—used to be provided by in-house staff.  Central office staff have been systematically diminished, along with knowledge of curriculum and ability to provide consistent, informed, and relevant support. In the past, people rose through the ranks into top administrative positions. Some started as parent volunteers and classroom assistants before gaining college degrees. Others rose from teacher to principal to regional supervisor but came up within the District, not imported from elsewhere. Teachers and other school staff spent decades in one school, forging bonds with families and each other. Today, increasing staff turnover, following the corporate model of disruption for disruption’s sake,  continues to destabilize school communities. Is this really what we want for our students and our District?  These two contracts for professional development may seem small,  but they represent the ongoing commitment by this administration to undermine the experiences, education, and knowledge of educators. Given what we continue to experience as we make our way through this pandemic, instability and erosion of trust undermines academic progress.  Years ago there was robust professional development in the District provided by teachers, principals, and other school staff familiar with both the District and the city. College credits were often granted, sometimes stipends given to purchase resources to be used in classrooms. Philadelphia is home to a wealth of museums, archives, libraries, environmental centers, and nature preserves. Decades ago, this helped to create the original Parkway School, a place where students engaged in hands-on learning.  Instead of nurturing educators to grow and share, there is now a full-fledged thriving business sector. One recent example: the District contracted with consultants eager to create financial opportunities instead of hiring local educators from the Melanated Educators Collective and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee who are already offering anti-racist work in schools. 

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Board Must Fund Educators, Not Consultants

 Eyes on the Board of Education:  May 27, 2021 

 by Karel Kilimnik

“Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.”  Mary McLeod Bethune

The Board proclaims its commitment to public engagement, but its actions say otherwise.  The Board ignores letters from elected officials, public testimony and even legal action, holding fast to its speaker suppression policies. They shut down all of their monthly committees. And every month, the Board subjects the public to 1 ½ to 2 hours of data analysis aka Goals and Guardrails, always on the agenda before the registered public speakers. For three years parents, students, teachers and staff, principals, and community members have told the Board what our students need to succeed: more support staff, toxin-free buildings, smaller class size, restoration of school libraries with Certified Teacher Librarians.  How did the Board respond? Not by solving the most pressing academic and infrastructure problems, but by creating an elaborate, data-driven, test-score dependent maze. 

Many of May’s Action Item descriptions are confusing and bereft of details. The Board voted to table last month’s Item for a $6.5 million contract with Renaissance and Illuminate Education, citing a lack of information from the Administration. This month, Item 19 has been revised to include that information. It is the Board’s responsibility to demand that all official Items have the necessary details.  The SRC’s agendas had more comprehensive Resolution descriptions. The Board oversees the Administration, not the other way around.

Private entities play an ever-expanding role. The Hite Administration has contracted with KJR Consulting to provide professional development for three years. Item 17 proposes yet another contract extension for $550,000. GaileyMurrary, LLP offers brand-building (Item 20 Contract with GaileyMurray, LLP – Communications Consultant $100,000) at a time when teachers and students need more classroom supports.

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