District’s System of Great Schools Decision Leaves Many Unanswered Questions

by Karel Kilimnik

After holding six community meetings at each of the three schools in the 2018 System of Great Schools (SGS) cohort, the District announced one more at each school during the week of February 4th in which the option for each school would be revealed.  APPS members attended meetings at all three SGS School last Fall. Our reports can be found here.

The two possible options for the schools were either placement in the Acceleration Network (formerly the Turnaround Network) or allowing each school to develop its own Academic Improvement Plan (AIP) . The main feature of the first option is the requirement that teachers and principals reapply for their positions in their school. Chief of Schools Shawn Bird told the Board’s Student Achievement Committee that teachers had to reapply so that the District would know whether they were willing to attend the additional monthly and summer professional development. If this is true, then the District changed its policy; it has not been true for the previous two years of this program. But why not just ask the teachers if they will attend the PD? Why would they have to go through a re-application and re-interview process just to answer one question? When questioned by the Committee about this, Bird said he wasn’t sure and would have to check.  Who would he be asking when he is in charge of the SGS process? Another last-minute policy change: this year, the AIP option could also include a requirement for teachers to reapply. This was not disclosed until the last meeting at Harrington in answer to a question from APPS. The other school communities, as far as we know, have not been informed of this.

Superintendent Hite waited until the 2017/18 SPR scores were reported until making the final decision on whether Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke Schools would enter the Acceleration Network or develop their own Plan. Ultimately, he decided to place all three schools into the AIP Option.  Each school would have a Planning Committee selected by the Principal. No criteria was provided as to how Planning Committee members would be selected, only that the Principal would choose them.

As part of the District’s stated plan to “gather information on school strengths, challenges, and ways to improve”, Temple University was awarded a contract to gather input from parents and community members about the strengths and weaknesses of each school. The “Parent. Family, & Community Input Report” (listed under Download Focus Group Report on the SGS website) noted the extremely limited involvement of families. Given that all three schools list student enrollment at over 400, there was paltry parent attendance at each school. The total for parents/community members for all six meetings came to 29 at Harrington, 23 at Lamberton, and 38 at Locke–fewer than ten at each meeting. Their report does not indicate whether Special Ed and/or English Language learners were part of their sample nor what grades were included.

Click here to read the rest of the report

SGS Findings and Feedback Meetings: November 2018


By Lisa Haver

Public meetings for the three SGS schools have concluded. Six meetings were held at each of the three schools—Harrington, Lamberton and Locke.  Four of those meetings—the parent/community focus groups—were not informational meetings. They were facilitated by Temple University professors and graduate students for the purpose of finding out what members of each school community felt were the schools’ strengths and weaknesses and what additional resources the schools needed in order to improve student performance. An initial informational meeting was held where District staff narrated a power-point presentation and answered audience questions.

The sixth and final public meeting was held in order to present “Findings and Feedback”.  Although the report refers to its findings as “data”, the report includes mostly anecdotal information gathered from 15-minute classroom visits and answers to questions posed to students during those visits.

For the first time in the process, meeting participants heard about a “planning committee” which would review the reports and make recommendations about which option should be imposed upon the school. Conflicting information was given about who would serve on the committee and whether it would be only District administrators or would also include any community members or teachers.

Chief of Schools Shawn Bird presented the SGS Findings and Feedback report to the  Board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee at its December 7 meeting. Committee members Angela McIver and Julia Danzy both asked Bird to clarify this statement from the report:

“Not all instruction was aligned to grade level expectations.”

McIver said that because these schools are struggling, we would not assume that all children are learning on grade level. (Of course, it is a fact that not all children are learning in the same way at the same time at any school.)  Committee member Julia Danzy also asked what “grade level” applied to–the student or the instructor?  Bird replied that the statement about grade level was based on “what the student is doing”, even though the report says “instruction”, not “understanding”.

Mallory Fix Lopez told Bird that she attended the Harrington meeting and that it was not clear to her that the community knew what the potential recommendations were.  It was good to hear a Board member come to the same conclusion we have: that the District did not provide the parents and community members at any of the three schools with sufficient information about the possible options, how they would be decided on and by whom, or whether teachers and staff would have to reapply for their positions.

The final decision for all three schools will be made by Dr. Hite and announced in late January or early February.  We will then see whether the concerns and wishes of the school communities align with the options chosen.

Click on the links below to read the Feedback and Findings report for each school:

Harrington Elementary School

Lamberton Elementary School

Locke Elementary School

Will District Listen to Parents and Community for Solutions at SGS Schools?

by Lisa Haver

For the third consecutive year, the Hite administration has placed several neighborhood schools into its “System of Great Schools” (SGS), to be redesigned according to a set of apparently predetermined outcomes.  The District once again went through the motions of providing community engagement in a series of poorly designed parent focus groups. These featured the simplistic questions asked of participants and the lack of informed District personnel to provide information or answer relevant questions about possible outcomes.

Although millions will be spent, the fate of three schools will be determined, and the future of the children and staff at the schools may change significantly, there has been no press coverage.

APPS members have attended 15 of the 16 focus group meetings at Locke, Harrington and Lamberton, all elementary schools in West Philadelphia. [See links to the individual reports below.] APPS members also attended all three of the SGS kickoff meetings. Despite pronouncements from District officials about changes this year as a result of “lessons learned”, the process so far has been a replication of the last two:  the same rationale, the same power-point presentation, the same misrepresentation of the process and possible outcomes. What remains to be seen: whether there will be the same disregard for the stated wishes of the parents and community members. Unfortunately, none of the members of the Board of Education came to any of the 15 meetings. Although they might see the reports, they did not hear firsthand from parents and community members.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

Priority School Updates


Do Communities Truly Have a Say in the Future of Priority Schools?

by Lisa Haver

In mid-September, just weeks after the start of the new school year, Superintendent William Hite announced this year’s list of schools targeted for some type of turnaround through his “System of Great Schools”: Rhoads Elementary, Steel Elementary, Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, Penn Treaty Middle/High School, Gideon Elementary, and Wagner Middle School. This is the second year the district has engaged in a months-long process of data collection, choice of schools, community hearings, in-school focus groups, and determination of the fate of these schools. The district has again contracted with Cambridge Education for consulting services, this year for $100,000, to conduct focus groups with teachers and students. Temple University has been hired for $70,000 to conduct the public outreach and facilitate meetings.

Last year, eleven schools were designated Priority Schools. After the hearing and focus group period, three schools forced out principals and most faculty after being placed in the district Turnaround Network. Two other schools developed internal turnaround plans which mandated that teachers reapply for their jobs.

Some schools, including Harding Middle, have put into place an all-blended learning curriculum in which students spend a significant amount of time learning on the computer rather than interacting with the teacher and other students. The district hired ISA (Institute for Student Achievement) to be embedded year-round for intensive professional development and teacher coaching at Fels, Overbrook, and Kensington Health Sciences Academy high schools. [The resolution approves a contract with Education Testing Service (ETS) as ISA is now a subsidiary of ETS.]

The district also contracted with Jounce Partners (see Resolution B23 at the bottom of the page) for similar intervention at McDaniel Elementary.

The plans implemented at many schools ignored the stated wishes of the parents who attended the community meetings. At both Blankenburg and KHSA, principals were removed over the objection of the parents and educators. At none of the hearings we attended did parents call for the reconstitution of faculty. No district representative mentioned the contracting of outside consulting companies.

Community members who attended last year’s meetings are experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu at this year’s meetings. The district is using the same Power Point presentation, with the same disclaimer that the schools are not performing “despite investments” made in them. Again, the district does not explain what the options involve unless specifically asked by community members. The district has attempted to place the onus on the public to give them information without any explanation of what could happen to the school.

As defenders of public education, APPS members are attending community meetings and posting reports from each school.

These are updates (at the end of each report) of previously posted reports on Priority School meetings. We will be updating information on the Priority Schools as some meetings continue and when Dr. Hite makes his decision.

APPS reports on Priority School meetings
(To read the updates scroll to the end of each school post.)

The Growing Influence of Jounce Partners

Gideon Elementary School

Penn Treaty Middle/High School

Rhoads Elementary School

Wagner Middle School

Steel School