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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Eyes on the Board of Education: April 22, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

Despite being in an earth-shattering pandemic rocking the entire world, District leadership, with Board approval, continues to implement corporate practices into the administration of our School District. April brings more administrative requests for contracts instead of a commitment to rebuild its own infrastructure. Board Member Lisa Salley questioned this practice at last month’s action meeting.  Teachers, principals, and other school staff are moved around like pieces on a chessboard instead of consulted for their knowledge and experience in working with students and families. The Board creates Advisory Committees and Councils to mask the Board’s actual quashing of the voices from school communities. The Board has refused to rescind its regressive speaker policies limiting both the number of speakers and restricting everyone to two minutes, down from three. Both student and adult speakers were barred from speaking in February and March.  APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, has sued the Board in Common Pleas Court. We have sent letters to all City Councilmembers urging them to speak out and to direct the Board, over whom Council has some oversight, to end the silencing of the public. We have also created a petition urging the Board to rescind these speaker procedures.

The Board abolished three of its four committees, significantly lessening the public’s opportunity to be heard. The last time a report was presented by a member of the Parent and Community Advisory Council was almost six months ago. Earlier this month the Council hosted a “Conversation Session”, but the April 22 action meeting agenda has no item for any report from that session. 

Trust in both the District and Board erodes further during the several botched attempts to open school buildings and the delays in posting a dashboard to track covid cases in buildings with students and staff present. The Hite administration failed to disclose to anyone–parents, students, educators–that only students returning to buildings would be taking standardized tests.  Since only 30% of parents opted for hybrid learning, what is the rationale for administering PSSAs to only those students? Who does it benefit other than the powerful testing companies?

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Eyes on the Board of Education: March 25, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

Spring is here, and as more people become vaccinated, we begin to see a light at the end of the quarantine tunnel. Unfortunately, the light of public engagement has been increasingly dimmed by the Board of Education and their ever-changing rules for public speakers, which only erodes trust in the Board and the District. Philadelphia is the birthplace of Democracy, and public education is the foundation of a democratic society.  This incremental silencing of community voices represents a failure of leadership by Mayor Kenney, the Board members chosen by him,  and Superintendent Hite.  The 133 students, parents, teachers, principals, and community members who signed up to speak at the special March 18 meeting proved the need for the Board to lift all constraints on public speakers.  The Board must reverse its regressive speaker policies. 

This agenda is like a closet full of empty suits: cryptic descriptions devoid of information; new and extended contracts to vendors in line for their next helping at the education buffet;  the growing legal firms  slush fund.  Will the Board ever halt this diversion of public money to private vendors? We need leadership determined to rebuild the staff and resources lost from Dr. Hite’s devastating 2013 Doomsday Budget. 

The March Action meeting agenda devotes another mega-block of time to Goals & Guardrails™, the glossy scheme designed by people unfamiliar with education and pedagogy. It reflects a slick attempt to codify education and boil it down to testing results with data as the driver, not the real needs of Philadelphia’s students.

Educator and blogger Peter Greene writes:  “Education has been overrun by the Cult of Data….Data is not magic, and educators should not bow at the data altar.” 

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