Eyes on the BOE: November 15, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

The nine members of the Board of Education, as government officials overseeing a $3 billion budget, have undertaken the enormous task of trying to understand the workings of the School District of Philadelphia.  The issue of equity remains a crucial one in their decision-making. Parents at Board Committee and Action meetings have expressed their frustrations at not being heard, both as members of their school’s SAC and their Home and School chapter.  One parent of a Northeast elementary school student reported that the principal at her child’s school unilaterally and unexpectedly ejected the Home & School group and ordered them to remove all of their supplies from the parent resource room. Lack of equity rears its head when some Home & Schools can raise large sums (see BOE-33 (Acceptance of Donation from the SLA Home & School Association) to pay for extra-curricular activities and supplies when schools in struggling areas cannot.  BOE-29 (Occupational Advisory Committee Members for 2018-19 School Year) omits Strawberry Mansion from the list of schools to benefit from the District’s newly re-established Culinary CTE Program. Why? The goal of the Hite administration’s Anchor Goal 2 is to have 100% of 8-year olds reading on or above grade level). Does BOE-30 (Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Support Classroom Modernization of Pre-K-3 Classrooms) include every K-3 classroom in the District? Let us not forget that both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said that they expect to close 2 to 3 neighborhood schools a year for at least the next 3-4 years.  In light of this, we need to be aware of all real estate transactions being proposed, such as BOE-20 (Cooperation Agreement with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority for the Sale of Communication Tech and George Pepper Middle School). There are vacant District buildings across the city.  We continue to urge the Board to post either contracts with vendors or provide a link to the actual document so that the public can be aware of exactly what our tax dollars are buying. In August the Board posted a list of modifications to Summary Contracts. We supported that step towards greater transparency, and we need that to be part of all Board meeting materials.

Click here to read the Action Items of Note and APPS Analysis

Eyes on the Board of Education: October 18, 2018

by Karel Kilimnik

As the Board of Education continues threading its path through the thicket of District policies and funding challenges, we are witnessing several changes. There are now four Board Committees working to improve public participation: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, Policy, and Community Engagement. Board members are certainly more friendly and welcoming toward the public than their predecessors on the SRC. In addition, several changes have been made on the Board’s website page, although there have been some glitches. APPS members have met with Board staff and explained how the new format can be more user-friendly, a banner at the top of the page noting the changes and a guide to navigating the site. We appreciate the Board staff meeting with us, noting our concerns, and their assurances that changes will be made. Presently, we have found that clicking on “Action Materials” on the Board page raises a screen with choices between “Online Agenda” or “Download Agenda”. Clicking on Online Agenda provides a document with active links. Selecting Download Agenda provides the list of Action Items followed by their descriptions .  There are only 23 Action Items this month.

The true test of this Board, of course, will be how they vote. Will they continue to question District spending, especially the outsourcing of services and staff? Will Board members listen to stakeholder concerns and act on investigating them?

Click here to read more.

Eyes on the Board of Education: September 20, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Last Spring, at the urging of Superintendent Hite, the SRC approved a 2018-19 School Calendar in which school started a week before Labor Day. Dr. Hite gave little rationale for this, but he did say that June is just as hot a month as August. The first week of school brought days of early dismissals because of extreme heat and the lack of air conditioning in most district buildings. Dr. Hite, in response to public criticism, has created a “calendar committee” to gather data on this issue, which would have been a better idea last Spring. One lasting legacy of the SRC and the Hite administration is the lack of stakeholder dialogue on crucial decisions. Fortunately, the New Board of Education has changed its approach in order to allow discourse on a range of policies and practices. The BOE has established three new committees: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, and District Partnerships and Community Engagement; the Policy Committee was established last year and will continue to meet under the Board. (See our reports on the first two committee meetings.) This structure allows for more dialogue about proposed policies and for raising concerns so that the community will have more than the three minutes allotted to BOE Action speakers.

Ongoing Outsourcing

We often feel like the proverbial broken record as we continue to track money spent on outsourcing staff and services instead of rebuilding the internal District structure. There is an untold wealth of professional wisdom among those with years of experience in our classrooms and offices. Teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, and other staff have devoted their lives to working with students. They have created curriculum, projects, and other educational materials based on their knowledge and understanding of the students in their classrooms and schools. This administration needs to acknowledge and support these efforts across the district, not just in selected schools. For example, instead of sending more money into the coffers of vendors such as In-Class Today,Inc (Action Item A-15), the District could reinstate the School-Home Liaison staff. The District employed Nutrition Educators (B-2) until outsourcing their jobs to Catapult Learning,LLC last year. Every time this happens the District abdicates its responsibility for accountability to students and parents; private companies are not accountable to the public. Whenever District services are outsourced, and whenever a school is closed or charterized, the Superintendent should return a portion of his salary, as he is no longer responsible for overseeing that service or that school. We need Board members to question these expenditures as the SRC did not. Who benefits – our children or vendors?

This Year’s Model

Every year Superintendent Hite announces some new model of transforming schools that will “turn around” underperforming neighborhood schools. Over the past two years, he has targeted 17 schools as part of his “System of Great Schools” (or “Priority”) program. This has created tremendous uncertainty and instability as teachers and principals worry about whether they will have to re-apply for their positions simply to stay in their school, while parents fight to keep teachers and administrators who have dedicated themselves to those schools. In keeping with the Hite administration practice of rebranding positions and programs, an indication of how the corporate mentality has infected the district, this initiative is now referred to as “Focus Schools”. Unlike in previous years, there has been no resolution or action item approving contracts to consultants for this program. APPS has learned that Cambridge Education, who was paid $300,000 for obviously inadequate reports, will not return for another serving of District money.
However, Temple University will again be facilitating community engagement. The District has entered into a contract with Temple, but since for some reason it was not approved by the SRC or the BOE, the public has not been informed of the details or the amount. We have found it very difficult to find current information on the District website, so we are posting a link to the page. The three Priority schools this year are:
Avery D. Harrington Elementary School (K-8), 5300 Baltimore Avenue
Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School (6-8), 7501 Woodbine Avenue
Alain Locke Elementary School (K-8), 4550 Haverford Avenue

Last month we applauded the posting of Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries in the Action Item Summary. As of the date of this edition of Eyes, those Summaries have yet to appear. We also urged the BOE to list vendor contracts that enables the public to view the negotiated terms.

Charter Chains Move to Consolidate Power

Will the new Board members continue their predecessors’ tradition of bending over backwards to ensure that well-connected charter schools find a home in the District? Some SRC Commissioners even made a point of advising applicants whose charters had been denied to reapply—which they did, when they were then approved. Public schools need the Board to set a new course. That means not simply rubber-stamping inadequate charter applications without acknowledging the impact on neighborhood schools. MaST is simply one in a string of charters with connections to enlarge their realm at the expense of every student in the District.

If in October the Board approves the application from MaST charter to consolidate its governing boards, it will become the first Multiple Charter School Organization in the city and the state.  We have seen no coverage about this in the local press, but the public needs to understand how this could affect the District in many ways, including financially.

What If…?

…instead of spending $ 384,000 (Action A-15) on outsourcing Attendance Services, the District brought back the School-Community Liaisons? Developing and maintaining relationships with students and families not only improves attendance but helps to prevent or resolve other issues as well. That money would not only work towards building better Home-School relations but also create jobs in low -income neighborhoods by hiring community residents.

Click here to read the Action Items of Note and the APPS Analysis

Eyes on the Board of Education: August 16, 2018

SB 7-9-18

by Karel Kilimnik

Welcome back from summer vacation. School starts later this month with a new governing body at the helm. The new Board of Education will be steering our District through the Straits of Unequal Funding. They will have to reverse the lack of trust in the District, with decisions imposed without stakeholder participation, and start rebuilding District staff and student supports, which will mean stopping the shoveling of money into the pockets of outside vendors. A significant change in this month’s Action List Summary indicates a first step in increasing transparency: for the first time in memory, the District is publishing Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries. What we still need to see posted are the contracts for vendors receiving contracts this month, including One Bright Ray, Camelot, EBS Healthcare, Progressus, and Lakeside Global Institute.
At the inaugural Board meeting last month, many new BOE members declared themselves staunch advocates of transparency and community involvement. We look forward to their implementing policies and practices that reflect their words. Thus far they have set up four committees: Finance and Facilities (meeting monthly); Student Achievement and Support (meeting monthly); Policy (meeting quarterly); and District Partnerships and Community Engagement (meeting quarterly). Thus far, only the Finance Committee has announced its first meeting (September 6 at 10 a.m. at 440). For a description of each committee’s responsibilities, scroll down the Action Item Summary. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has posted committee co-chairs along with members.

As a rule, the SRC simply accepted any information presented by Superintendent Hite, whom they hired in 2012. The SRC renewed his 5-year contract before his initial term expired. At the July BOE meeting, representatives from several school communities testified about being informed about decisions made by Dr. Hite after the fact. There had been no community meetings and no way for the community to have a say in major decisions affecting students and parents. There has been ongoing pushback by Strawberry Mansion High School supporters since learning of Dr Hite’s decision to effectively close this neighborhood comprehensive high school after years of starving the school of programs and staff. Across town, parents of kindergarten and first graders at the Mayfair School were shocked to learn, in May, that their children will be bused to Austin Meehan Middle School beginning in August and for the foreseeable future. They have major objections and concerns for the safety of their young children, both on the bus and being housed in a middle school in desperate need of repair. The latest voices came from public school parents in East Mt. Airy after the SRC approved Resolution SRC-8 in May to allow Ad Prima Charter School to relocate from Frankford to East Mt. Airy—without informing neighbors. Ad Prima was denied this request to relocate a year before due to a lack of community involvement. Yet the lame-duck SRC saw fit to approve this move without telling the very people to be affected. (APPS member Lisa Haver asked the SRC in May why the East Mt. Airy community was not informed or given any opportunity to testify about the proposed move. Commissioner Bill Green answered that as long as the charter parents were OK with the move, the District had no obligation to inform the E. Mt. Airy community.) The dominoes began to fall, thus enabling the deeply flawed Deep Roots Charter School to open in the newly vacant former Ad Prima building. Ad Prima deemed it unsatisfactory—but there was no explanation of why it would be suitable for Deep Roots students.

Will this Board listen to stakeholders instead of simply rubber-stamping decisions made by the Hite administration about the restructuring of the District? His six-year tenure has opened District doors to vendors marketing their product—such as TNTP and the unaccredited Relay Graduate School of Education. The BOE must question the practice of targeting schools for the Turnaround Network (now renamed the Acceleration Network), forcing out teachers and principals and creating unnecessary trauma for the students. BOE members must attend the next round of Priority School community meetings; maybe then the parents and students will actually be heard about what their schools need, instead of ending up with outside contractors and consultants. APPS members have attended every Priority School meeting for the past two years. We have heard teachers, parents, and students ask for what their schools actually need—more teachers and staff, smaller class size, fixing crumbling and toxic buildings—then witnessed the imposition of entities such as ISA and Jounce upon school communities that never asked for them.

Strawberry Mansion Community Continues Fight to Save High School

Teachers and staff return to school on August 20 with students following a week later. At the July 31 community meeting, District staff, once again, were unable or unwilling to answer questions raised by concerned stakeholders. Action Item A-15 refers to one of those unanswered questions: when One Bright Ray’s Daytime school (co-located on the fifth floor of Mansion) would admit and dismiss students daily. With less than a month before school opens, the Hite administration also failed to provide a tentative roster, to address the concerns around high school students co-located with overage students, or even acknowledge that there are still five teaching vacancies. How does this create stability in an under-resourced school? (Action Items A-18 and B-8 also deal with SMHS issues.) The BOE should take a step back and revoke the SRC decision to eliminate the 9th grade and ensure that ninth graders are admitted the following school year to attend the already existing comprehensive high school. Every time there is pushback, District representatives—first the “Strawberry Mansion Task Force”, now the “Strawberry Mansion Planning Committee”—respond with another attempt of appeasement.

Hopefully the BOE will provide opportunities for all school communities to be included in the initial planning stage of any significant change.

BOE Must Reverse Outsourcing Trend

Before the BOE agrees to further outsourcing (Action Items A-2; A-8 ) it must consider the following: whether a business whose job it is to make money can do better than a public system with no profit motive, and the fact that companies usually pay less than the District as well as forbid workers from negotiating fair salaries and benefits and safe working conditions.

The SLA network continues to grow as the original school prepares to move into Ben Franklin High School in 2019/20 and SLAMS relocates to another Drexel-based location. CEO Chris Lehman oversees three schools that receive generous donations from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). (See Action Items A-11and B-13).

Next BOE meeting:

Thursday September 20, 2018 at 5 p.m. Call 215.400.4180 by 3p.m. the day before in order to register to speak.  Please consider attending even if you are not speaking to support defenders of public education.

Click here to read the Action Items of Note and the APPS Analysis