Eyes on the SRC: December 14, 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik

Alert: The SRC posted its resolution lists and summaries on Monday December 4. On Friday afternoon, they added three additional items: renewal votes on Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson, and a vote on the revocation of Khepera Charter. These items are not formal resolutions, as they provide nothing other than the topic of the resolution—they do not state exactly what the SRC will be voting on. That is a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act. After having postponed renewal votes on Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson for a year and a half, the SRC is now poised to take a vote of some kind on these schools. The SRC’s Charter School Office, citing failure to meet academic, organizational and financial standards, recommended non-renewal for Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson in April 2016. Stetson’s charter expired in June 2015, Olney’s in June 2016. APPS has asked the SRC several times in the past nineteen months for an update on these renewals; the SRC has refused to tell APPS or the public what its intentions were. We don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Aspira Inc. submitted applications for two new charters last month. Given the SRC’s history, we expect the SRC to rush through the votes on these schools without any explanation or deliberation. In fact, we fear that the SRC will be doing this on many issues in the six months before its official dissolution. It is crucial that parents, community members and elected officials keep a close watch on the SRC between now and July.

Last month we celebrated the beginning of the end of the 16-year reign of the state-appointed School Reform Commission. This month we continue to work with the communities of the six Priority Schools as Dr. Hite is expected to announce his decision on their fates in January or February. Both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said the district intends to close even more neighborhood schools. At the same time, nine charter companies, including Aspira and Mastery, have submitted applications to open new charters or expand existing campuses. Will these announcements occur during the busy holiday season?

The march of the Edu-vendors continues as more “partners” market their professional development and data collection wares. The board of the Philadelphia School Partnership has chosen to give more money to an SLA school; no question the SRC will approve without discussion of why private organizations have the power to decide which schools receive additional funding. Dr. Hite is making good on his 2013 promise to outsource Head Start services to private vendors. The district is proposing to sell the Beeber Wynnefield Annex for a song twenty years after its closure.

While keeping an eye on all of these issues, we await Dr. Hite’s announcement of which schools will be closed this year or next. Elementary schools Sheppard and EM Stanton were slated for closure in 2012 but remain open today. Why? Strong and sustained organizing of parents, students, community, and the school partners who showed that it is possible to fight back and win. Kenderton parents did not give up fighting for their school after Renaissance provider Young Scholars abandoned them. They came to the SRC, met with the superintendent and other administrators, and refused to stop fighting for their children and their school. This year Kenderton has additional faculty and staff, a veteran principal, and lower class size in k to 3rd grade. The district didn’t try to sell the idea—as they are to communities of this year’s Priority schools— that all the school needed was (yet another) outside company, like Jounce Partners or ISA, to “turn around” the school.

What If…?

…that $800,00 from PSP were used to restore extracurricular activities in schools? Is the Hite administration ever going to bring back the after-school activities, the interesting and innovative electives, the drama/journalism/art/photography clubs?

Next SRC meeting: Thursday December 14 at 4:30 PM. Please call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday December 13 to register to speak.

Resolutions of Note

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Eyes on the SRC: November 16, 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik

 We Did It!

 On Thursday, November 2, Mayor James Kenney gave an address in City Council chambers in which he asked Council to support his decision to call for an end to the SRC. The response was overwhelming approval. Council Education Committee Chair Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill to place a referendum on the May 2018 ballot to amend the City Charter so that, for the first time, Council would have approval power over the Mayor’s choices for a 9-member school board.

APPS members have attended every School Reform Commission meeting for the last five years, including special meetings, emergency meetings and Policy Committee meetings. Some of us have attended since the first meeting of the state-imposed board in 2001. No one is happier than we are to witness the dissolution of the SRC and a return to local control. But let’s keep our eyes on the ball and examine the realities behind it.

APPS has documented the devastation wrought by the unelected, unaccountable SRC for the past five years: the rampant privatization of services and staffing; the attempted cancellation of the PFT contract; the outsourcing of Professional Development, transportation services, and Special Ed programs; the forcing out of teachers in schools deemed to be “underperforming”; the annual charter expansion while evidence of that model’s failure mounts; the permanent closure of almost thirty neighborhood schools. We have called out more than one Commissioner for conflicts of interest. The list goes on.

One year ago, several community groups and unions including APPS, POWER, NAACP, Parents United for Public Education, Reclaim Philadelphia, the WE caucus of the PFT, the 215 People’s Alliance, Media Mobilizing Project and a number of local unions formed the Our Cities, Our Schools Coalition (OCOS), calling for a return to local control. OCOS organized several rallies at City Hall and district headquarters at which City Council members and community leaders spoke. OCOS held a public forum to discuss the issue (all SRC commissioners were invited; none attended). OCOS collected thousands of signatures online calling for an end to the SRC.

Mayor Kenney campaigned two years ago on a promise to return the district to local control, but flipped after he took office. He said repeatedly that it wasn’t the right time, and claimed that the district would lose funding from Harrisburg if we gave up state control. OCOS kept up the pressure on the Mayor for a year—calling his office, challenging him at neighborhood town halls, and writing commentaries in local newspapers. Contrary to the story line in recent articles and editorials in the local media, the Mayor did not wake up one day and decide to end the SRC. Resolution SRC-3 is the culmination of strong grass-roots organizing. It is the first step on the path to creating an elected school board in Philadelphia. We applaud Mayor Kenney’s decision to accede to the will of the people. But the battle for true community control is far from over.

Click here to read the full Resolution Summary for the November 16th SRC meeting.

Local Universities Enable SRC Agenda

November’s resolutions reflect the growing influence of local universities in district business. Resolution B-5 accepts “the donation of services and resources” from Temple University for “Transforming School L.I.F.E. (Leadership, Instruction, and Family Engagement) for English Learners” resurfaces . This $2.7 million grant from the federal government appeared in the October Resolution List for approval, but had to be postponed due to the absence of Commissioner Bill Green. Commissioners McGinley and Wilkerson had to abstain as they are both employed by Temple. Will Commissioner Green be absent again (as he has been for all or most of five meetings this year) and delay the vote again? If this grant went directly to the district, this problem would not exist.

Drexel University’s role continues to expand with Resolutions A-12 Categorical/Grant Fund: $250,000 Ratification of Grant Acceptance from the Promise of Strong Partnership for Education Reform; and Resolutions B-3 and B-4 for the newest SLA addition –SLAMS. Last year, Drexel was authorized to administer a $6 million federal grant in the Mantua Empowerment Zone. This Zone seems to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone created by Geoffrey Canada in NYC. At one point, the fifth grade scores in his charter school were so low that Canada simply removed the entire fifth grade class. When outside organizations, even universities, become “partners”, they make these kinds of decisions, not district stakeholders.

More Outsourcing

Resolution A-14 continues the trend of outsourcing services formerly performed by district employees to out-of-state vendors: providing professional development, decreasing truancy, and funding staff positions. Dr Hite is a graduate of the non-accredited Broad Superintendents Academy, which advances an ideology of outsourcing, privatization, and union-busting.

Please keep in mind that both Dr Hite and Mayor Kenney have said they intend to close two neighborhood schools per year for at least the next five years. School closing announcements are usually made around this time in the school year; perhaps the news of the SRC dissolution will push it back a month or two. Dr Hite will also be disclosing his decision on the fate of the six Priority/SGS Schools in February. New charter school applications submitted in the next month will be voted on by the SRC in February 2018. The next few months will be turbulent ones—stay tuned.

What If…?

…the Hite administration took the $522, 582 earmarked here for private vendors and spent it on bring back 20 Parent Ombudsmen? Or NTAs? Parents at Priority schools meetings have said that providing these services would provide an invaluable service to the children at those schools.

Resolutions of Note

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Eyes on the SRC: September 14, 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
September 10, 2017

As students flock back to school this September we see a more modest list of resolutions. The list may be small but the implications loom large. How does a large district ensure that every school has what it needs? These resolutions illustrate the chasm of inequality among the city’s schools. Some are chosen to benefit from private funders such as the Philadelphia School Partnership while others still lack the basics of a stable workforce of teachers and principals. This is in no small part due to a Broad-graduate led administration that promotes a portfolio of options instead of ensuring every school has what it needs.

Please keep in mind that for the past five years, Dr. Hite has announced his latest transformation/turnaround plan in October. He has stated, at SRC meetings and in City Council, that he wants to close three schools a year over the next five years. A resolution usually pops up in October which indicates in some way, usually not in detail, his plans to close or “transform” a school. Internal turnarounds, however, do not have to be approved by the SRC; those always result in forced transfers of most faculty and often principals. That includes Transformation, Redesign, and others that are placed in the Turnaround Network. Last year Hite targeted eleven schools as “Priority Schools” causing much transition and confusion as teachers and principals were forced out of their school communities. The only resolution put before the SRC was one to approve a $200,000 contract with Cambridge Education for writing a report after holding meetings and performing nominal site visits. The previous year Hite placed three schools into the Renaissance Charter School program over the wishes of parents and community members. Three years ago, parents at Steel Elementary in Nicetown and Munoz-Marin in Fairhill voted down Hite’s move to give their schools over to charter providers. Who is on his hit list for the 2018-19 school year? APPS has prepared a tip sheet for how to protect your school. Start organizing now.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP – A3) continues to feed at the public trough. How much more money is going down this rabbit hole to support a private company using faulty data and flawed research ?

Artwork (B9 ) swiped from district schools over 10 years ago by then-CEO Paul Vallas is now on display at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown through January 12, 2018. This artwork was bought decades ago for the students in this district, and it still belongs to them. The SRC should vote to return it to the district schools as soon as possible.

The Camelot company (A17) gets a really good deal on renting space at the former ES Miller School to operate a program for “over-aged middle school students”. According to community activist Alicia Dorsey, there was an effort to insert Camelot into Strawberry Mansion High School without any notification to the school community. At their request, APPS members attended a meeting called by Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoates at the school in August. Becoates refused to answer a question put to him several times: Is Camelot moving into Strawberry Mansion?

(See the August 17th Ears: Parent(Pseudo)Engagement) Former Strawberry Mansion High School principal Linda Cliatt Wayman, in her August 17 SRC testimony, thanked Dr. Hite for not putting Camelot into her former school. Hite made no response either confirming or denying. The question now: Is the program at ES Miller the one intended for Strawberry Mansion or is it simply a coincidence?

WHAT IF…?

The district stopped giving contracts to TNTP for unnecessary and redundant professional development and turnaround training and instead used that money to restore certified school librarians to the district?

Next SRC Action Meeting: Thursday, September 14, 4:30 PM. To testify, call 215-400-4180 before 3 PM the day before.

Click here to read the entire post.

Eyes on the SRC: August 17, 2017

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by Karel Kilimnik
August 14, 2017

The August resolutions include contracts and grants for over $14 million in district spending. A regular feature of Eyes is showing the history of spending on one program or company. The public’s ability to know about these issues has been compromised by the district’s decision to erase the history of SRC resolutions, minutes, amendments and actions on charters prior to last year. For reasons yet to be explained, the Communications Office put up a new website with missing information, but has not kept the previous website up (and since the Director and Assistant Director of that office went on vacation just after the change, answers have been in short supply). This is a simple technological matter. The City of Philadelphia has done exactly that so that the public still has access to public information. We do wonder whether the replacement of the previous website with an incomplete one signals a decision by the SRC to limit public access to district information. The SRC must rectify this matter and make sure that the people of the district can find all of the information they need.

Since his arrival five years ago, Superintendent William Hite has been implementing many of the corporate reforms taught at the unaccredited Broad Academy where he received his training. He has overseen the consistent shift of public positions to private companies, along with the requisite union-busting policies. The local media rarely holds him responsible for the shortcomings of the district he leads, even after disasters such as last year’s outsourcing of substitutes.

This Resolution Summary (83 as of August 10) exemplifies the rush to turn the district over to vendors whose primary purpose is not the education of all of our students but the expanding of their bottom lines. This flood of money into outside pockets only stops when there is enough pushback from stakeholders, politicians, and the media. We have a lot of work to do to reclaim our district.

Just some of the devastating actions of the Hite administration:

  • Shutter 23 neighborhood schools in 2013 (with plans to close 12-15 more)
  • Designate WD Kelley and Blaine elementary schools “Transformation Schools”, forcing all teachers to reapply for their positions, among other changes dictated by a grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership (2014)
  • Attempt in 2015 to turn two district schools over to Mastery Charters and Aspira, Inc; his efforts were thwarted by organized opposition from parents, teachers and community members
  • Place three more elementary schools— Cooke, Huey and Wister—into the Renaissance program over the wishes of most parents in 2016
  • Place four schools into The Turnaround Plan, forcing both principals and teachers to reapply for their positions, so that children came back in September to an almost entirely reconstituted faculty
  • Target eleven neighborhood schools—elementary, middle, and high schools—as “Priority Schools” in 2017. After spending $200,000 on a contract with Cambridge Education which provided no data and little useful information, the district forced teachers and principals at some of these schools to reapply for their positions.

Hite’s policies create churn and destabilized school communities as both teachers and principals are forced to leave their schools and students behind, some after serving in these communities for many years. Hite has presented no research showing this destabilization improves academics or school climate. In fact, news reports have detailed the problems Blaine and Kelley continue to face.

Each attempt to destabilize schools has resulted in intense public pushback, but rather than reassess the wisdom of the policies, Hite just changes the name and tweaks some of the details—from Renaissance to Redesign to Transformation to Priority. Fierce resistance to placing Steel and Munoz-Marin Schools into the hands of charter operators caused him to simply place Cooke, Huey, and Wister into the Renaissance Charter Program rather than allowing parents and community members to vote on it. Hite had to back down from turning Cooke over to the Great Oaks Foundation after City Councilwoman Helen Gym published a scathing report which clearly showed the company’s inability to run an elementary school.

We have witnessed an endless outsourcing of district services and resources to private vendors. Professional Development has taken a hit as vendors line up to provide Blended Learning and other packaged PD; transportation services have gone into the hands of private companies resulting in numerous complaints from parents as to incompetent services.   Favored vendors include Cambridge Education, Catapult Learning, The New Teacher Project and Relay Graduate Education.

A proposed contract for $150,000 to Cambridge Education to “conduct high quality and objective third-party reviews of school quality in a number of schools that have been identified as under performing” was actually voted down 4-1 (Commissioner Jimenez voted Yes) at the June 15 SRC meeting. Earlier this year, the district paid Cambridge Education $200,000 to hold meetings and gather information on the eleven Priority Schools. APPS members reported on the woeful shortcomings of both the methodology used and the report itself. So why is Cambridge back just two months later with its hand out for another $100,000 (Resolution A-8)?

WHAT IF…?

Instead of spending this $14 million allocated to vendors for questionable experimental programs like blended learning or redundant teacher training from non-educators, the SRC spent this money on lower class size and more classroom aides?

Or instead of spending over $7 million in lawyers fees in one whistleblower case they should have settled years ago, the SRC had spent that money on preserving school libraries and bringing back certified school librarians?

Next SRC Meeting: Thursday, August 17, 4:30 PM at 440 No. Broad Street. Call 215-400-4010 before Wednesday 3:30 PM to sign up to testify.

Click here to read Resolutions of Note and the APPS analysis of them.