Ears on the SRC: May 18, 2017


by Diane Payne
May 25, 2017

Some Good News

For defenders of public education, finding good news is not easy, but it does happen.   At the April 20th SRC meeting, APPS co-founder Lisa Haver told the SRC that she, like many people, is not able to understand a complex budget without some explanation. After the meeting, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Uri Monson asked Lisa for ideas on this. After a number of conversations, Monson issued a “Budget 101” along with the full district budget. This multi-page, graphic tutorial is available on the district website. Sometimes they do listen!

More good news: after months of unnecessary delay, the PA Senate finally did its job and confirmed Estelle Richman, thus filling the fifth seat on the SRC. Richman had been attending SRC meetings as an observer since her nomination by Governor Wolf six months ago. It is not acceptable that we still have this Harrisburg-imposed governance of our school district. Fighting to regain local control of our schools should be a priority of the people of Philadelphia, but until that control is restored we should not have to wait for Harrisburg to do its job and confirm our full complement of commissioners.

Defenders of Public Education Testify

All five members of the commission were present and remained for the entire meeting; none of the commissioners left mid-meeting. At both April meetings, Commissioner Green left early in the meeting without notice or explanation, then called in—after the public speakers finished—to vote on the resolutions. APPS has called into question the legitimacy of the votes at both of those meetings, as Commissioner Green and the SRC failed to follow their own by-laws as stated in Policy No. 006.1

Lisa Haver and APPS Legislative Liaison Lynda Rubin sent Green a letter, asking that he consider resigning if he is not able to fulfill his duties. Green did not reply.

Of course, members of the public ask questions of the SRC in public testimony at every meeting, but rarely get a response. Being unelected means being unaccountable.

Nine members of APPS spoke in defense of public education at this meeting. Eleven other speakers, including members and supporters of the Caucus of Working Educators of the PFT, addressed the timely topic of immigrant student rights. These students, parents, teachers, attorneys and community advocates spoke about the realities of being an immigrant student and what the district needs to do to protect their rights. Dr. Hite was reminded of promises he made in January on this issue, questions were asked, demands were presented—but as usual not a peep from those at the front table, even to acknowledge this information was being heard, processed and/or addressed.

More Wasteful Spending

Middle college high school: Dr. Hite addressed this proposal in his opening remarks, followed by a presentation by Cheryl Logan, Chief Academic Support Officer and Anh Brown, Principal of Parkway Center City on Philadelphia’s first of its kind middle college high school. Philadelphia’s first “middle college high school” would offer students the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma as well as an associate degree from Community College. Not discussed by any of these educators is the research which shows that pushing children beyond their developmentally appropriate place in time is often not beneficial for them. Hite and Logan should have presented any research that could support this effort as a developmentally appropriate goal for our high school students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s 2017 Sustainability Award was awarded to the School District. Kudos to the district for receiving this award, but no one explained how the district can receive awards for sustainability when our school buildings remain in such an abysmal state of disrepair; so much so that a recent report suggests a $5 billion price tag to remediate. The day before the meeting, a coalition of parents and community members held a press conference at City Hall to demand that the district take immediate steps to fix the many problems in buildings which are making students and staff physically ill. Coalition leader Tomika Anglin told the SRC and Dr. Hite in her testimony, the specific steps the district must take to make sure our children come into healthy buildings. And just last year, a Building Engineer died of injuries inflicted when he went in alone, rather than as a two-person team, to fix a broken boiler.

Relay School of Education – National Principals Academy Fellowship, Resolution A-3 increased the already existing contract with Relay by $219,000, for a total of $318,000 since April 2016; it was introduced and promoted by Broad Academy-trained superintendent, Dr. Hite. [For information on billionaire “reform” master Eli Broad, see “Who is Eli Broad and Why Does He Want to Destroy Public Education” and “More About Broad in Philadelphia”.]

Thus, more district principals and teachers will be trained by the “reform” minded, charter-operator-founded Relay fake School of Education. No surprise coming from Dr. Hite, but did the commissioners actually read about this program (described by APPS’ Deb Grill as “the McDonald’s of teacher training at an April SRC meeting) before they voted on it? The only No vote came from Commissioner McGinley, the sole educator on the commission. APPS has continually raised questions and concerns and provided links on this organization. No wonder the SRC is seen as little more than a rubber stamp for outsourcing and privatization.

Mindset Works – Resolution A-4 – $150,000
At the April 27 SRC meeting, Chief Talent Officer Louis Bellardine and Deputy of Leadership Development and Evaluations Katie Schlesinger gave a presentation on upcoming resolutions for that meeting as well as for May, June and August SRC meetings.  Their presentation highlighted three areas of concentration relating to principal and leadership development: Principal & Assistant Principal Professional Development, Leadership Pathways and Pipelines and Organizational Culture.  This money is being allocated to train principals in very “reform” oriented methodology, like the recent contracts with the Relay School of Education and The New Teacher Project—organizations founded by charter operators and non-educators.   The Mindset Works, Inc. website demonstrates a “mindset” closely aligned to grit. The word grit should make you grit your teeth.  The co-founder of Mindset, Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, is featured on the website; she is also mentioned in an NPR article with “grit” proponent Angela Duckworth.

Also worrisome is the use of more blended learning computer games to promote this “growth mindset.”  This resolution is being promoted as professional development for principals and leaders; it is not clear how this will be used in classrooms.  As with the SRC’s allotment of $10 million for blended learning in one resolution last year, there was no discussion by SRC members, Dr. Hite or his staff on how this affects children and learning.

The Black Hole of Public Testimony

Members of the public testify before the SRC in order to bring concerns and suggestions to the body that governs our schools. Yet only on rare occasions do the commissioners answer questions, acknowledge suggestions or address concerns. Most commissioners do pay the public enough respect to look at them and listen to them—with the exception of Commissioner Green, who is frequently looking down at his computer or phone. With no follow-up or feedback, public testimony seems to fall into a black hole. Cheri Micheau, APPS member and immigrant advocate, offered a suggestion to the commissioners to address this very issue. She suggested that the SRC assign a point person to address the issues brought up at SRC meetings who can connect the speaker with the correct contact person to address the question or concern. Ironically, at the end of the her testimony….blank stares once again.

Not on the SRC Agenda: Transparency or Democracy

One day before this SRC meeting, the Public School Notebook reported that high-ranking district officials had been meeting, over a 6-month period, with charter operators and their investors. The purported reason for these meetings was to write an alternative to the existing state charter law that would be “acceptable” to charter owners. Who knew? Not us, or anyone other than those in attendance. This is not transparency…this is secrecy. Although this was not a topic on the SRC agenda, APPS members Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin addressed this in their testimonies so that the public would be aware of the continued lack of public transparency and the collusion of the district with powerful charter school operatives such as Philadelphia School Partnership Executive Director Mark Gleason, Mastery (mini-district) CEO Scott Gordon, Laureda Byers, founder and director of Russell Byers Charter School (which recently had another amendment approved by the SRC) and Global Leadership Academy Charter Schools CEO Naomi Booker. The charter operators and investors couldn’t get all of the conditions they wanted, so the meetings have been suspended. This unelected body once again operates out of public view.

Drive-by Voting

A total of 47 resolutions were voted on in five blocks of votes, ten to fifteen at a time, in less than five minutes. There was no discussion or questions. All resolutions were passed unanimously with the exception of the one “no” vote on Relay School of Education from Commissioner McGinley and two abstentions on another resolution from Chair Wilkerson and Dr. McGinley because of their ties to Temple.

[Note: the SRC has deleted the Resolution List and Resolution Summary for this meeting. We have sent an email asking that they be reposted. We will then be able to report on total SRC expenditures for this meeting.]

.Note: next SRC meeting is Thursday, May 25th at 4:30 p.m. at 440 North Broad Street.