Board Must Reject “Gag Order” Policies

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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Consultant’s Report Does Not Reflect Community’s Priorities

Eyes on the Board of Education:  December 9, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

Why tell a lie when the truth is available?
Dionne Warwick

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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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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