Deborah Grill – School Reform Commission Testimony – September 17, 2015

Deborah Grill SRC 9-17-15

Good evening. My name is Deborah Grill. I am a retired teacher and school librarian as well as a concerned community member.

Dr. Hite, in your Philadelphia Public School Notebook interview you dismissed last month’s testimony of retired teachers and stated that you need, and do, hear from currently employed District teachers. You have heard from a few of them today. I hope you listened.

I also meet with and listen to Philadelphia school teachers. I hear that their schools have been under-resourced and under-staffed for over a decade. I hear that many of their students, especially those in neighborhood schools, have experienced traumas that make it difficult to learn. I hear that their schools don’t have the counselors, nurses, assistant principals, librarians, NTA’s and other support staff they need to meet their students’ needs. I hear that the current substitute crisis has traumatized both the children and the teachers in our schools even more.

I am afraid that many of these resource-starved schools will be labeled “low performing.”

It upsets me that the District would consider labeling schools that have been consistently starved of resources as failing when in actuality, it is the District and our state legislators that has failed them.

Over the summer, Dr. Hite, you expanded the number of learning networks from 8 to 13 and hired new assistant superintendents and deputy chiefs. While I am concerned that that the money spent on the organization and staffing of the new networks and offices is money that is not going directly to the classrooms where it is so desperately needed, I am more concerned about the function of the Turnaround Network.

Action 1.b of Action Plan 3.0 describes the District’s goal of dramatically improving the lowest performing schools by creating a Turnaround Network comprised of District-run evidence based turnaround models (which usually require the removal of at least half of the faculty contributing to more student trauma), proven external provider-run models and Renaissance charter turnarounds.

I am concerned that rather than concentrating exclusively on providing these “low-performing” schools with the resources they require to meet the needs of their students and their community, the District would give up its responsibility by turning these schools over to an external provider model or to a charter organization as a solution.

No only would this take away more funding from District schools resulting in further cuts to resources, but it would put public money into organizations that are not required to be fiscally transparent and, therefore, not open to public scrutiny.

In light of the lax charter oversight by the state of Pennsylvania, the over-saturation of charter schools in Philadelphia, and the most recent revelations concerning the waste of taxpayer money on the bond debt interest and consultant fees incurred by two Philadelphia charter organizations (that we know of), I don’t see how you can even consider turning another school over to a charter organization.

But, I am afraid that you will. So, I would like to know:

  1. Do you already have plans to expand the number of Renaissance charters?
  2. If so, when do you intend to make that public?
  3. Where do you intend to publicize it?
  4. When you will schedule meetings for public input?