Ears on the SRC – April 28, 2016

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The Philadelphia School Reform Commission – April 28, 2016

By Diane Payne

May 6, 2016

 How We Got Here

Looking back over all of the shenanigans we have witnessed over the past six months, when Superintendent William Hite announced his intention to place Cooke, Huey and Wister elementary schools into the Renaissance program, we see how the parents and community were shut out of the process from the beginning. Months later, Dr. Hite reversed his recommendation to place Wister on the chopping block citing improved performance data (which was revealed by APPS member Coleman Poses).   But Commissioner Simms threw a curve ball with her surprise motion from the floor to return Wister to the chopping block, expressing her “pent-up emotions” after meeting with parents advocating for a Mastery takeover. None of the other SRC members ever explained why, in this case, the data was not driving their decision.

In the case of Cooke Elementary, City Councilwoman Helen Gym’s office sent data-rich information and questions regarding the competency of Great Oaks Charter, especially since that company has never managed a K-8 school. This report called for a moratorium on the entire process. 

Gym’s office submitted another data-rich document, questioning the supposed cost savings of Renaissance schools overall.

Finally, another shady district maneuver surrounding the entire process was discovered when APPS co-founder Lisa Haver requested the evaluation reports which Superintendent Hite touted as part of the parent involvement component to his top-down decision.  No reports were to be found anywhere; in fact, it appeared no one even knew what Lisa was requesting…including Dr. Hite himself.  So much for that “community engagement” stuff. 

More Of The Same

Many charter school advocates in matching tee shirts filled the auditorium.  The meeting time was moved up to 4:00 from the usual 5:30 start time to accommodate the lengthy list of speakers.  That didn’t prevent some charter schools from bringing busloads of students and families at 3:00 p.m.  What time do the charter schools dismiss?  If a traditional public school packed a bus with students before dismissal and transported students and families in matching tee shirts and with packaged dinners, would the expense and loss of instructional time be questioned by the authorities?

The People Speak

Because of the SRC’s questionable decision to decide the fates of Cooke, Huey and Wister in addition to the renewal/non-renewal of nine Renaissance charters on the same night, 67 members of the public signed up to speak.   The APPS speakers who challenged the SRC on its mission of closing public schools and creating chaos were: Lynda Rubin, Diane Payne, Lisa Haver, Deborah Grill, Ilene Poses, Karel Kilimnik, Barbara Dowdall and Robin Lowry. [To view or read the testimonies of APPS members please go to APPS members testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – April 28, 2016. ]

Many other community members spoke poignantly about the confusion and questions surrounding data, appearances of impropriety among SRC commissioners, and the quality of some of the Renaissance charter operators. Articles on these issues can be viewed here:

Can we trust the Philadelphia District’s yardstick for school quality? | Notebook – April 27, 2016

Lisa Haver SRC testimony – APPS March 24, 2016

Numerous concerns raised about designated Renaissance school operator | Notebook – February 23, 2016

Serious questions About Great Oaks | Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools – February 23, 2016

Sisters of Controversy – Notebook – April 25, 2016

Simms, Divine, and the Wister vote: A question of interest | Notebook – February 29, 2016

What Every Parent Should Know About Great Oaks Charter | Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools – January 14, 2016

SRC Voting Confusion

Bill Green, as part of his ongoing campaign to regain SRC Chairmanship, made a motion to table the votes on non-renewals of four Renaissance charters. The SRC’s charter office had recommended non-renewal, citing numerous financial and academic reasons, for Universal Audenreid, Universal Vare, Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson (SRC resolutions 7, 11, 12 and 13). Green’s justification was the expected release of a report on charters from the City Controller’s office. He admitted that: he didn’t know when the report would be issued, that he had no expectation that the report would have much meaningful information, that it probably would not affect his vote, and that he believed the report was only being issued to satisfy the Controller’s “political puppet-masters”. Everyone sitting at that table knew that a Controller’s report has never had any bearing on any SRC decision—including the report issued by the Controller in 2014. The SRC’s decision must be based on information compiled and presented by its own charter office. And, despite acknowledging that the Charter School Office “are actually experts at reviewing charter schools” Green rejected (perhaps temporarily, there is no way of knowing yet) their recommendation to not renew four schools. Green’s surprise move showed very clearly that he will do anything to satisfy his own political puppet-masters, including refusing to return failing charter schools to district control and having their children taught by experienced certified teachers.

For unexplained reasons, three Mastery Charter school renewals for Clymer, Shoemaker and Simon Gratz were all withdrawn by staff before the meeting.

 Rancid Renaissance 

So, in spite of the public’s (mostly unanswered) questions and concerns about the qualifications and experience of the designated charter companies, appearances of improprieties and conflicts of interest, and public officials including the Mayor and President of City Council calling for a different course of action, the SRC moved forward with a vote to approve turning over three more public institutions to private operators.  Chairwoman Neff was the lone “NO” vote.  Good-bye to three more neighborhood public schools that struggle and strive to serve the common good, and hello to private, unaccountable interests that shut out the democratic voice.

Rigged Relay

Yet another foolish expenditure of scarce district funds was reflected in the SRC’s approval of a $99,000.00 contract with the Relay Graduate School of Education (Resolution A-29). The Relay Graduate School of Education is a program manufactured by charter operators and pro-school choice lobbyists to create a pipeline of like-minded individuals into teacher, principal and leadership positions. This move is just the latest example of the SRC’s using public funds to promote their pro-privatization ideology.

Follow these links to read up on Relay:

Relay Graduate School of Education: A Policy Brief | APPS – January 4, 2016

Laura Chapman Compares Relay “Graduate School of Education” to McDonald’s University | Diane Ravitch’s blog

Next SRC Meeting: Come and Be Heard!

The next SRC Action meeting is Thursday, May, 19, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street. You must sign up to speak before 4:30 PM the day before. Call 215-400-4180, and identify yourself as a community member when asked your affiliation.