Eyes on the Board of Education: April 22, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

Despite being in an earth-shattering pandemic rocking the entire world, District leadership, with Board approval, continues to implement corporate practices into the administration of our School District. April brings more administrative requests for contracts instead of a commitment to rebuild its own infrastructure. Board Member Lisa Salley questioned this practice at last month’s action meeting.  Teachers, principals, and other school staff are moved around like pieces on a chessboard instead of consulted for their knowledge and experience in working with students and families. The Board creates Advisory Committees and Councils to mask the Board’s actual quashing of the voices from school communities. The Board has refused to rescind its regressive speaker policies limiting both the number of speakers and restricting everyone to two minutes, down from three. Both student and adult speakers were barred from speaking in February and March.  APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, has sued the Board in Common Pleas Court. We have sent letters to all City Councilmembers urging them to speak out and to direct the Board, over whom Council has some oversight, to end the silencing of the public. We have also created a petition urging the Board to rescind these speaker procedures.

The Board abolished three of its four committees, significantly lessening the public’s opportunity to be heard. The last time a report was presented by a member of the Parent and Community Advisory Council was almost six months ago. Earlier this month the Council hosted a “Conversation Session”, but the April 22 action meeting agenda has no item for any report from that session. 

Trust in both the District and Board erodes further during the several botched attempts to open school buildings and the delays in posting a dashboard to track covid cases in buildings with students and staff present. The Hite administration failed to disclose to anyone–parents, students, educators–that only students returning to buildings would be taking standardized tests.  Since only 30% of parents opted for hybrid learning, what is the rationale for administering PSSAs to only those students? Who does it benefit other than the powerful testing companies?

One way to find out what teachers need to support their work is to ask them. Were teachers asked what their classrooms needed before the District entered into the contract “Together We Are Better”  (Item 1)  In the past, the central office provided support and resources as requested from school staff. Now the corporate model of  Management Knows Best  decides that.  The District and the Board have taken advantage of the isolation brought by the COVID quarantine to make decisions without full public disclosure. The community has to fight even harder to observe and question decisions made behind closed doors.

KIPP Charter School is taking advantage of the virtual meetings to request changes (Item 4)  in name and location, along with a  significant enrollment increase.  When will the hearings be for members of the new community to be heard on this?  Never.  KIPP also wants to change the name from KIPP Parkside to “KIPP Philadelphia Octavius Catto Charter”. The Board should reject this appropriation of a Black hero to polish the brand of a charter chain that has benefited from the diversion of funds from neighborhood public schools. 

The Board must vote to proceed with non-renewals of Universal Bluford (Item 30) and Universal Daroff (Item 31).  Universal Companies has failed to fulfill the promise it made when it took control of these schools under the Renaissance program. The Board should resist the lobbying of charter operators and return these schools to District control.  

 Due to the pandemic we are all facing an unprecedented amount of trauma that cannot be healed with vendors marketing their products including (Item #6 .Contract with Renaissance and Illuminate Education – K-12 Assessments $6,500,000) but rather a system of resources to support students, not collect data. That $6 million could be used to hire additional staff instead of awarding a contract for using children as data points. Why is it deemed necessary by this Administration to remove teachers from schools for budgetary reasons and then spend millions on data collection?

What If…

…the Board expanded true public engagement instead of silencing us? We are reprinting from the June 25, 2020 Eyes suggestions for genuine public involvement-

  • Hold public hearings on charter school renewals.
  • Listen to stakeholders in meetings that allow time for dialogue–like the ones that were   held by the now-defunct District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee. 
  • Provide  adequate written materials when we return to in-person meetings. 
  • Answer questions asked at action meetings.
  • Provide full descriptions for each agenda Item.
  • Coordinate District and Board calendars to minimize scheduling conflicts.
  • Post Parent and Community Advisory Council members’ reports on the website and place them on action meeting agendas.

May 2021 Meetings of the Board 

  • Public Hearing: Thursday May 20,  5 PM
  • Action Meeting:  Thursday, May 27, 5 PM.  Check the Board website for updated information on how to sign up to testify

Action Items of Note

Find the full List of Action Items here

Action Item 1: Ratification to Extend Grant Agreement with William Penn Foundation – Together Is Better Grant Current Amount Granted: $573,500

Description: This action item seeks to extend the timeline for expenditure of funds awarded to the School District by the William Penn Foundation via the Together Is Better (TIB) Grant. The termination date for the grant was July 31, 2020, but the funder has approved an extension through July 2023. Given that the original grant termination date ended before being amended, this ratifying action item allows the District to extend the timeline for expenditure of funds originally awarded.  The Together Is Better initiative supports a co-teaching model, allowing General Education teachers and English Language Development (ELD) teachers to work side-by-side in classrooms and develop shared understandings and competencies necessary for meeting the content and linguistic needs of English Learners (ELs). The intended outcome of this collaborative effort is the realization of our shared goal that every student performs at or above grade level in reading and math.

APPS Analysis:  In 2013, the William Penn Foundation paid for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to create their infamous plan to close 60 neighborhood schools. The Foundation continues to play an extensive role in financing early literacy efforts; family & community engagement; and corporate education reform programs such as Teach PLUS.  Once their financial support dries up,  the District has to seek other funding opportunities or end the programs.

According to the report this project was coordinated at the District by the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs that has since been reorganized as the multilingual curriculum and programs housed under Curriculum & Instruction. 

What plans have been made to continue this initiative after the funding stops?

According to the Together Is Better District Report, a co-teaching coach was hired from the Children’s Literacy Initiative (CLI) to provide coaching and support to participating teachers throughout program implementation. There are so many schools with ESOL programs why not hire a co-teaching coach to share their expertise and experience with others? Teacher concerns included not enough time with the Coach who initially had three locations to supervise.  All the elements of co-teaching need to be available including daily co-planning, defined roles for each of the two teachers, accommodations that are linguistically and culturally appropriate to the language level of the Els to ensure an effective program co-teaching model.

More Contracts, Fewer Staff

Action Item  6:  Contract with Renaissance and Illuminate Education, K-12 Assessments ($6,500,000)

Description: All students (K-12) must have consistent, standardized and centrally-captured performance data for Math, English Language Arts (ELA)/Reading, and/or Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), in order to: 1) implement a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework and provide differentiated instruction and supports to students; 2) maintain consistent information on student performance throughout the year and over the years that is available for teachers, students and parents; and 3) track progress on the Board of Education’s Goals and Guardrails. To that end, the District seeks to contract with vendors for universal screener, progress monitoring, and diagnostic solutions for Math, ELA, and SEL, as appropriate.  The SEL universal screening system will assess students’ social, emotional, and behavioral risk in order to identify students who may be falling behind in their social-emotional development. The screener is a validated tool that supports equitable delivery of services based on students’ true needs. MTSS teams will use data collected from the SEL and academic universal screeners to consider whether the student may need additional support (e.g., small-group interventions). Renaissance provides a comprehensive suite of assessment services for screening, progress monitoring, and diagnostics for K-12. Illuminate Education offers a universal screener for SEL.

APPS Analysis: There actually is a SEL Universal Screening System already in place…classroom teachers.  Teachers monitor daily the social emotional state of their students, whether in a school building or virtually. Teachers and staff are capable of assessing whatever supports the student may need. Actually ensuring that these resources are available is another issue. 

Neither Renaissance nor Illuminate staff list any experience teaching or working in leadership capacity within a school or school district. Their websites tout their products. They are a multi-billion dollar industry collecting student data as described on their website.

“Throughout the past three decades, we’ve amassed more than 2.8 billion real-world data points that show us exactly how students build skills and achieve mastery in core subjects. These data points help us continually refine and improve our solutions. Analysis of these data points—what we call learning analytics—helps us continually refine and improve our solutions.”

The Board’s  Goals & Guardrails (™) package gives a nod to SEL at the end of Guardrail 1,  stating  that District schools will have “…spaces with inclusive climates that provide students with access to robust social, emotional, and mental health supports” without providing any details as to resources or staff allocated to support this Guardrail.  Will these supports be staff or simply data collection?

Education blogger and former Special Education teacher Nancy Bailey lists general concerns about Social Emotional Learning (SEL):

  • SEL is ill-defined, unproven and still connected to Common Core.
  • If SEL seems like character education it’s because it is. SEL involves grit, soft skills, or character education. Even Angela Duckworth, the “grit” queen, grew concerned about measuring character traits, calling it a “bad idea.”
  • SEL and psychological profiling. SEL assessments for parents, children, and teachers ask personal questions. What right do adults have to scrutinize a child’s thoughts and feelings for data? These aren’t merely interest inventories.
  • SEL and students with disabilities and gifted students
  • How will learning difficulties of students with disabilities be reflected in the assessments? Students with autism and gifted students, for example, might start out with problematic behavior in school, but make great gains.
  • Tracking children’s behavior with SEL. What happens if the student has a bad year? 
  • SEL and student trauma. Children experiencing trauma, or problems that cause them difficulties in school, need counselors, school psychologists, and social workers to address their needs.
  • SEL and technology. Many worry that in order for technology to work without teachers, children need to be better behaved and teach each other. Is that why SEL has become so important?
  • SEL is about raising test scores. Most of what SEL advocates, involves the goal of getting children to improve their behavior so they will do better on high-stakes academic testing. 
  • SEL is a field day for nonprofits. There’s a glut of groups setting up unproven businesses promising to address SEL in schools.


Action Item 5:  Adoption of School Name for New School on Ryan Avenue

Description:In June 2019, the Board approved the construction of a new K-8 elementary school as part of a broader strategy to relieve overcrowding and expand school capacity in northeast Philadelphia. This school, which has been informally referred to as the “New School on Ryan Avenue,” is nearing completion and scheduled to open for the 2021-2022 school year.  As such, the District is seeking to adopt an official name for it.

From December 2020 to February 2021, the District conducted a process to determine a school name.  This process included the formation of a School Naming Council composed of incoming parents and prospective teachers for the new school; community meetings and outreach via email, text, and phone calls to explain the school naming process and encourage input; an online survey for parents, students, and community members to vote on a school name; and an internal review of the final name by District administrators.  As a result of this process, Northeast Community Propel Academy was selected as the name for the new school.   Additionally, the name of the new school will be included in the annual School Organization File which the District sends to the Department of Education every July pursuant to Section 10-1006 of the Public School Code. The Board is expected to review/vote on the annual School Organization File at its Action Meeting on June 24, 2021.

APPS Analysis: During this past year families have been devastated by the pandemic with loss of income, healthcare, and housing. Many have lost family members and are suffering from food insecurity. It has been an extraordinarily traumatic time in which to make any changes even positive ones like naming a brand new school. Parents have had so much to deal with during the pandemic that selecting a name for this new school may not have been on their radar. The Northeast is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Philadelphia, a melange of languages and cultures. Given the abysmal track record of the District in actually engaging parents in decision making including the Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) meetings that limited parent involvement by having principals handpick Planning Committee members; Systems of Great Schools (GS) Priority and Focus Schools where APPS members consistently heard parents pleading for additional staff and anti-bullying resources only to receive products decided at 440- temporary, resources to schools where parents continually asked for additional staff not programs foisted on them by the District.

Given this history of ignoring parents’ needs we have to raise the following questions. Were  outreach materials translated into languages other than English? Were Bilingual Counseling Assistants (BCAs) involved in reaching out to parents? Were meetings held with translators present?

Board to Grant Name Change, Location Change, Grade Expansion to KIPP–With No Public Hearings

Action Item 4: KIPP Parkside Charter School – Grant of Charter and Request for Charter Amendment

Description:  On February 8, 2017, the School Reform Commission voted to approve the new charter application of KIPP Parkside Charter School pursuant to Resolution SRC-3, linked here.  KIPP Parkside has submitted a request to the Board of Education: (i) to change the location of the charter school from 5070 Parkside Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19131 to 4601 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19139; (ii) to change the name of the Charter School to “KIPP Philadelphia Octavius Catto Charter School”; and (iii) to request that the term of the Charter commence on July 1, 2022 and end on June 30, 2027.  The Charter School would grow from 200 students in Kindergarten to Grade 1 in the 2022-23 school year to 500 students in Kindergarten to Grade 4 in the 2025-26 school year.  If the Board of Education approves an additional or new location by June 30, 2025, the Charter School may enroll 590 students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 in the 2026-27 school year.  The charter includes conditions, including without limitation: (i) the submission of a facility and security plan to address appropriate security and safety measures for the location of a charter school within a facility with non-educational users; (ii) the submission of a management agreement with KIPP Administrative Services Corporation ; and (iii) the submission of bylaws outlining that board of trustees meetings will be conducted in compliance with the Sunshine Act.  The charter includes an enrollment preference for first-time enrolled students residing in zip codes 19104, 19131, 19139, 19142, 19143, 19151, and 19153.  The CSO has recommended that the Board of Education approve the charter and grant the amendment request. The Board of Education will consider the approval of the charter and the amendment request.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education [bold added]

APPS Analysis: How did the Charter Schools Office come to recommend that all of KIPP’s requests be granted?  There were no public hearings on this multi-faceted request from KIPP.  Were the parents and community members around the new location contacted?  Was any kind of survey distributed?  The Item description gives no explanation for the CSO’s recommendation. We can only assume that charter business as usual–private negotiations with charter operators and no public disclosure–took place.  The SRC and the Board have granted Philadelphia KIPP Charter Schools numerous name changes, location shifts, and enrollment expansions over the years. Their five schools have varying names depending upon the website (KIPP website or the CSO’s 2020/21 Directory) you visit, making it challenging to track their development. This particular Item adds another layer to their ongoing vision as stated in their original application of creating “ a network of schools providing high-quality primary and secondary education in Philadelphia to over 4,400 students”. 

This specific Item seeks to change the name and location of this school along with expanding enrollment preference for first time “enrolled students” from two zip codes to seven zip codes. This Item also wants to change the contractual agreement dates, so that many of the terms KIPP agreed to when the charter was originally granted after public hearings will be changed after zero public hearings. While speakers at public Board meetings have not only had their time shortened but have caps on the number of speakers allowed to testify; this Item shows that charter management companies have no limits on their access to the Charter Schools Office, Superintendent, and Board. Every amendment granted to expand enrollment and change location has a direct impact on funding for District schools.

Board Must Vote Not to Renew Substandard Renaissance Charters

Action Item 30: Universal Bluford Charter School – Nonrenewal of Charter (Added 4.14.21)

In April 2020, the Board of Education approved an Action Item which instituted nonrenewal proceedings against Universal Bluford Charter School.  Public hearings were held in October and November 2020 before a hearing officer appointed by the Board of Education.  Public comment was accepted by the Board of Education during a 30-day public comment period.  The hearing officer issued a report and recommendation for nonrenewal which may be found here. The Board of Education will consider the report and recommendation for nonrenewal of the Charter of the Universal Bluford Charter School.  Because this school is a Renaissance Charter School, the consideration of nonrenewal of the charter does not mean closure of the school.

Action Item 31:Universal Daroff Charter School – Nonrenewal of Charter (Added 4.14.21)

In April 2020, the Board of Education approved an Action Item which instituted nonrenewal proceedings against Universal Daroff Charter School.  Public hearings were held in October and November 2020 before a hearing officer appointed by the Board of Education.  Public comment was accepted by the Board of Education during a 30-day public comment period.  The hearing officer issued a report and recommendation for nonrenewal which may be found here.  The Board of Education will consider the report and recommendation for nonrenewal of the Charter of the Universal Daroff Charter School.  Because this school is a Renaissance Charter School, the consideration of nonrenewal of the charter does not mean closure of the school.

APPS Analysis: In 2010, the state-controlled School Reform Commission  approved Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s “Imagine 2014” Policy, a major part of which was the Renaissance Schools Initiative.  Year after year, “underperforming” neighborhood schools were targeted for takeover by privately held Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) to “ effect dramatic change”.  The school communities were promised two things: that the new operators would operate as a catchment area school, and that their children would receive a better education.  Despite ongoing plummeting academic performance and the reality that the Renaissance schools did not, in many ways, operate as neighborhood schools, the Board continues to fund these schools.  APPS presented its Renaissance charter reports to the Board, showing that District data itself proves that the Renaissance schools project has been, in the words of former Board Member Chris McGinley, “a very expensive failure”.  The Board must vote for non-renewal of both of these Universal schools. From the APPS report: 

Bluford SDP 2020 allotment: $7,064,677

  •                CEO Salary: $209,088
  •                CMO Fee: $205,266 to Universal Education Companies

Daroff SDP 2020 allotment:  $9,139,420

  •                 CEO Salary: $209,088
  •                 CMO Fee: $349,292 to Universal Education Companies.