by Diane Payne
2016 got off to a predictable start with the first SRC meeting of this new year filled with old agendas for privatization and more new rules for speaking at SRC meetings. Some new lows include possible conflicts of interest, indications of back room dealings, blatant Sunshine Act violations—in other words, ever greater levels of the SRC’s breach of the public trust.
Hostile Takeovers of Public Schools by Charter Companies
Compelling testimony, including data and researched information on two charter companies chosen to take over two neighborhood schools, was presented by teachers and community members Cordelia Kao, Christine Kilenut, Matt Haydt, and Sherrie Cohen. Global Leadership Academy was chosen by Dr. Hite to “turn around” Samuel Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia, and Great Oaks Charter for Cooke Middle School in Logan. These concerns, of course, had no effect on the commissioners; they voted to approve as expected. Once again, only Chair Marjorie Neff voted No on charters. She explained that the district is still in a “zero-sum game” and that it could not afford to place more schools in the Renaissance program.
Hite and SRC Betray Wister Community
Wister parents and teachers weren’t sure why a large contingent of Mastery staffers and supporters were present—or why they stayed until the very end, when they usually leave after their testimony.
Dr. Hite had targeted Wister Elementary in October, along with Huey and Cooke, to be placed in the Renaissance program. However, after APPS member Coleman Poses testified at November and December SRC meetings that the district used incorrect data on student enrollment , district officials conceded that Coleman was correct and Dr. Hite pulled Wister from the Renaissance list. Hite said, both to reporters and at the SRC meeting, that Wister had shown significant growth.
No one was prepared for the bait-and-switch the SRC pulled near the end of the four-hour meeting.
The usually silent Sylvia Simms introduced a resolution from the floor to have Wister “matched” with Mastery. She gave a speech in which she said she had “pent-up emotions” and that she met with people on both sides, which is not true. She did admit that she met with Mastery people a few days before the SRC meeting. In fact, Simms did not attend any of the meetings held at Wister by community members fighting to keep the school public. In retrospect, this seems to be a deliberately deceptive move: leading people to believe that her mind was not yet made up.
Commissioner Green seconded the motion. Most people did not realize what was happening until it was over. No APPS member, many of whom have attended SRC meetings since its inception fifteen years ago, had ever seen this tactic used. APPS’s Lisa Haver asked Chair Neff whether the public would be permitted to speak on the resolution. Neff immediately answered No. Of course, that is a clear violation of the Sunshine Act, which the SRC is well aware of. In November 2014, APPS filed suit against the SRC after it passed the resolution, before allowing any member of the public to speak, to cancel the PFT contract.
Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP)
Mark Gleason, Executive Directory of the Philadelphia School Partnership, and Mike Wang, head of PSP’s lobbying arm, the Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners, sat with the Mastery crew throughout the proceedings. Gleason’s remarks to the SRC were both baffling and telling. Although his focus was to trumpet the trumped up worth of charter companies, he somehow managed to drift into the Flint River. No transition at all, just stating he began his day by reading the morning paper and realizing that “…nobody [in Flint] tried to do anything wrong. They were trying to do something good. They were trying to save money.” This digression into the poisoning of the Flint population by appointed officials who, by all accounts, knew the water was poisoned, was both confusing as to its significance and telling as to his priorities. There you have it, Families of Philadelphia: what is important is to save money on the backs of poor, urban families no matter the price those families pay.
Questions Asked by APPS Members at January 21 Meeting (And Some Questions Still Unanswered from 2015)
• Karel Kilimnik: When are you going to cancel the contract for Source4Teachers?
• Diane Payne: Are the Codes of Conduct in all Charter Schools for both children and staff sustainable and reasonable as opposed to inhumane, developmentally inappropriate and/or harmful?
Are the application procedures for all current charter schools fair, transparent and without barriers?
For all charter schools claiming better success than their public counterpart, has all information been made available to the public about all variables such as: per pupil spending, staffing levels per pupil, kinds and numbers of support staff, and student demographics to name a few?
Is there school district staff sufficient to robustly monitor academic, climate, and financial claims of each existing charter school?
Are the public schools, identified for selling off to charters, adequately staffed and resourced?
• Carol Heinsdorf : [Carol asked a total of 8 questions on charter school marketing techniques that are alarming, seem to often lack transparency and appear to borderline on harassment. See the APPS testimony videos or read the transcript on appsphilly.net to see Carol’s questions.]
How are parents (of Mastery students) told who the funders and supporters (of Mastery) are and which information is released to them?
Why can’t parents have their child’s personal information withheld?
What happens to them if they don’t allow sharing? Is it correct to assume that the District would make every effort to see that the privacy of students in Renaissance charters are protected comparable to the privacy of students in a District neighborhood school?
• Alison McDowell : Will the District mail a letter to every parent or guardian of a Philadelphia public school student scheduled to graduate in 2017 or 2018 that alerts them to the passage of SB880 (once it is signed) and inform them that passing Keystones Exams is no longer a requirement? This mailing should be done using District level resources such as paper, envelopes, and postage rather than asking individual schools to do this out of their own budgets, and it should be translated into the appropriate languages.
Will you collaborate with superintendents, like Dr. James Scanlon of West Chester, to inform the PBA review committee about the negative impacts the graduation requirements are having on actual teaching and learning?
Will you provide the public an update about the planned PBA summer school program? Is this program being put on hold? What funds were earmarked for that program, and how can they be redirected to support real, authentic learning experiences?
And finally, what do I tell my child and her classmates? They are the class of 2019. Will we be repeating this same demoralizing standoff two years from now, or can we count on you in the front of this room to break your silence and be a strong public voice for our children?
• Diane Payne asked in October, November, December 2015 and January 2016: Please provide the proposal from Mastery that outlines their goals and objectives for the grant to coach district teachers. This question has been asked numerous times—in person at SRC meetings and in emails to the SRC office.