New Charter Applications Hearing: December 20, 2022
by Lynda Rubin
Four charter applicants, all of whom are currently operating charter schools that have failed to meet academic and other standards, have applied to the School District of Philadelphia to operate more. The opening hearing is a pro-forma “public” event in which charter representatives are each given 15 minutes to explain the mission of their proposed schools, with the district providing technical support for the on-screen presentations. Members of the public, on the other hand, are given only two minutes each to state their positions for or against the creation of new charter schools. The Board of Education seems to have gone out of its way to exclude the public from this hearing. They posted the legally required notice, in very small print, in the classified section of the Philadelphia Inquirer, but they posted no notice on the district’s website in any banner on the board’s page nor the charter schools page. APPS members and others with previous knowledge of this process hunted through the website, finally locating a small notice in the board’s calendar. Despite the fact that all board meetings have been held in person for over a year, and that all district schools and offices are open, the board is holding all charter hearings via zoom. Why? In-person meetings have always been considered more informative, since presenters to a live audience are more engaging for all. They also provide an opportunity for people on both sides of the issue to organize and bring a unified message, as members of the Kensington Health Sciences Academy did in 2019. Their actions garnered community support and media attention. When the Board decides arbitrarily not to have fully public hearings, they are using yet another means to impose their speaker suppression policies. Our December 15 letter to the Board asked for fully public hearings: “Consideration for charter applicants and operators should not take precedence over the rights of the community to be fully present and to express their support or opposition to new charter applications as both individuals and organizations.” The Board has not replied.
Ears on the Board of Education: December 15, 2022
by Diane Payne
Students, educators, parents and community members who attended this action meeting waited in vain for the Board to discuss solutions for problems that had been in the news in the past few weeks: unsafe conditions at district schools, in particular Dobbins High school. Neither Board President Wilkerson nor Superintendent Tony Watlington mentioned the developing crisis. The Board stayed silent on the Dobbins crisis at its November 17 meeting, even after a Philadelphia Inquirerstory published just the day before. A December 9 Inquirer article quoted several district teachers about the administration’s failure to keep them and their students safe. Why won’t Board members and the superintendent discuss these crises at public meetings?
This meeting saw a change in Board leadership, with Reginald Streater taking the reins as Board President. In addition, Deputy Superintendent Uri Monson, the district’s CFO for years, has been tapped by PA Governor-elect Josh Shapiro to serve as his Budget Director; this was his last Board meeting. Watlington has increased central administration staff to address “customer service” (a term steeped in a corporate, product-oriented mentality rather than public service). Maybe the Board and Watlington could begin to address improved communication with a “no-cost” effort to publicly address concerns like those mentioned here as a first step to engagement and transparency.
Eyes on the Board of Education: December 15, 2022
by Lisa Haver
Irony, apparently, is not the Board of Education’s strong suit. After imposing a number of speaker suppression policies, with no notice or explanation to the public, the Board now proposes hiring a firm for $70,000 to expand the district’s “capacity to engage families, students, staff and the overall Philadelphia community in authentic two-way engagement efforts.” Are the Board’s action meetings not authentic enough? The Board clearly wants to hear from a very limited number of families, students, staff and community members, and only for two minutes at a time. The Board eliminated three of their four public committees, including the Parent and Community Engagement Committee, venues that were supposed to provide opportunities for more dialogue about issues of concern. The one remaining committee, the Policy Committee, now meets only twice a year. The Board’s Policy page does not even mention that there are meetings. Governance by invitation is not a substitute for true public engagement.
Continue reading here.
Ears on the Board of Education: November 17, 2022
by Diane Payne
A Philadelphia Inquirer article published the day before this meeting told of the crisis at Dobbins High School and the ongoing danger to both students and staff. To longtime observers, it came as no surprise that Superintendent Tony Watlington, Sr., in his opening remarks, made no attempt to address the charges of administrative failure leveled by Dobbins parents, nor did any Board member ask him to address the safety issues raised in the article. Not a word was heard until Dobbins’ parent Antoine Little testified and demanded action. Like his predecessor, Watlington responded by asking a district staffer to speak to the parent outside rather than address the issue openly.
Ironically, the Guardrail discussed at this meeting was Guardrail 1, Safe and Supportive School Environment. Once again, the Board opted to hash out obscure data rather than deal with the lived reality of the students and staff at Dobbins.
Continue reading here