Board Must Act to Alleviate District Racism

Ears on the Board of Education: May 27, 2021

by Diane Payne

Just two days before this meeting, two more District students were felled by gunfire.  Several others had been killed in recent months. Yet the only acknowledgement made by President Joyce Wilkerson was one part of this sentence:  “Before we begin today, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of two of our students yesterday due to gun violence and while we acknowledge this tragic event, I don’t want to lose sight though that we have things to celebrate within the district as well.”  She then went right into  graduating seniors’  accomplishments. Wilkerson failed to honor the slain students by name, and she failed to note that one of the slain students himself was a graduating senior. These students did not “pass”. They were murdered.  Why did Wilkerson spend so little time honoring these fallen students? Neither she nor Dr. Hite addressed the trauma of the surviving classmates, teachers, and families or what, if anything, the District is doing to help them. The rest of the Board remained silent. Board Action Meetings should open with a reading of the names of students we have lost and a moment of silence to remember them.  Say their names now: Nasir Marks.  Kanye Pittman.  Please give them a moment of your silent reflection.

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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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Will Board of Education Act on Public Demands?

Special Hearing:  May 20, 2021

by Diane Payne

When District governance returned to the local Board of Education in 2018, the amended Philadelphia Home Rule Charter required the Board to hold at least two annual public hearings for the sole purpose of hearing public testimony. No voting on any official Item takes place. The Board has now held both even though the year is not yet half over.  All members of the Board, both student representatives, and Dr. Hite attended.  The Board changed the speaker rules again, allowing all who signed up to speak and allotting them three minutes. Next week, at the official Action Meeting, when the Board conducts official business, we expect the Board to reinstate its speaker suppression policy with a limited number of speakers, all cut off at two minutes. Technical problems that appeared to be outside the District’s control delayed the start of the meeting for almost half an hour. The Board added a zoom link to the website because the TV channels were not broadcasting and announced that via social media. Unfortunately, families that did not have the required technology were not able to observe or attend.

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