by Karel Kilimnik

The people of Philadelphia continue their struggle to survive, personally and financially, under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We witness the social upheaval as people demand an end to  police brutality and systemic racism. But at 440, not much has changed. The Board, despite public demands for months, continues to conduct non-essential business in remote meetings with a minimum of public participation. At its June Committee meeting, most Board members offered personal statements about what Black Lives Matter meant to them.  But as APPS members reminded them in their testimony, how the Board votes will prove whether these statements carry any weight. At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, few substantial questions were raised about District business by these eight government officials. Almost no deliberation took place about the Items to be voted on at this Action meeting. Planning the  next school year is fraught with obstacles never faced in our lifetimes. District families will be dealing with even higher rates of unemployment and evictions. All of these issues must be addressed with genuine parent, staff, and community engagement–not just the perfunctory distribution of surveys. Surveys often raise more questions than they resolve. As District parent and activist Cecelia Thompson has told the Board at its last two meetings, parents and community members have issues that are not addressed in surveys. The District’s commitment to engagement with stakeholders has reached a new low after years of eliminating positions for community liaison officers and NTAs. The Board’s (soon to be defunct) Community Engagement Committee has held no public meetings for over a year and has no plans to schedule any. Schools will look very different next year no matter what type of format is put into place. District educators and parents should be heard on this, not just be asked to fill out surveys. The corona virus provides cover for all kinds of changes–in public meetings and in how business is conducted. Could it lead to closing schools next year–without any real opportunity for the public to fight it? Remember that both Dr. Hite and Mayor Kenney have stated publicly that they support closing more public schools.

At the June 11 Joint Committee meeting, Board Member Julia Danzy said,  “This is not a sprint but a marathon. We cannot change by simply talking but by actions taken.” This Board needs to step up and lead the District as we make our way through these tumultuous times. Non-essential Items should be set aside while we focus on what all students need, not just those in some selected schools.  “Watch how we vote, not what we say” truly applies to Item 59, Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master. This Item is so vaguely written that APPS sent a letter asking for clarification. President Wilkerson informed us we would learn more from their discussion at the Joint Committee Meeting held on June 11. However, no such discussion occurred nor did any Board member ask about the missing information. 

For years, under the SRC and now the Board, the consideration of many official Items have indicated the presence of a shadow board led by the Philadelphia School Partnership and its affiliates. This month’s agenda lends more credence to that theory:  Item 6, Acceptance of Grant from Philadelphia School Partnership – Keys to My Success – Philadelphia High School for Girls; Item 5, William Penn Foundation-Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Parent/Guardian Engagement in the District-wide Survey; Item 8, Contract with Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders,  Neubauer Fellowship, and the Neubauer Family Foundation; Item 49, Authorization of Memorandum of Understanding with Teach Plus, Inc. Grants often are the key that unlock the door–get your foot in the door with a grant and next year continue business with a paid contract.

The District continues to contract with outside vendors to provide services and staffing previously provided by District staff.  Instead of ensuring that each school has what it needs to provide students with a rich education, schools are forced to secure grants or use precious dollars from their budgets to ensure students have what they need.  Businesses and consultants have sprung up to fill this need, some well-intentioned but too many with the decidedly corporate intention of profiting off of a real or invented need.   APPS members have repeatedly noted the skills, expertise, and knowledge within the ranks of school staff. Yet  this Administration continues to look beyond the dedicated teachers and principals to bring in outside business to provide professional development and coaching.

As more and more staff are cut from school budgets, schools have been forced to seek grants or to simply redirect part of their budget to cover costs for crucial resources. A  growing non-profit sector has sprung up to fill in. Historically,  non-profits have served to supplement or enrich school offerings. Today they fund programs to replace counselors with Item 54, 12 Plus contract amendment, and  Math coaches, Item 44, Memorandum of Understanding with National Training Network – Math Professional Learning and In-Classroom Coaching. Additional items in this month’s agenda continue the replacement of District staff for professional development: Item 10, Contract Extension with District Management Group for Breakthrough Teams Coaching; Item 53, Amendment of Contract with Old Sow Coaching and Consulting, LLC – School Leader Coach Training. A familiar pattern has been established in which the non-profit or edu-preneur donates services in the first year, then continues with a paid contract after that. Our students need stability–staff working with them, building trust, getting to know families, and creating school communities that serve as neighborhood anchors.

The approximate cost for the five charter school renewals (Items 60 – 64), based on the District’s FY 2019-20 budget, will be $302 million over five years. These costs are not posted on the Board’s agenda; charter transactions costs never are. APPS members have asked at Action Meetings, at Committee Meetings, and in letters to the Board why they hold no charter renewal hearings. We have received as many answers from them as we have from the SRC–none.  The public has a right to know how its tax dollars are spent. One question: should CEOs of charters that consistently fail to meet standards be paid six-figure salaries? 

Two District-managed schools supported by nonprofits now  receiving contracts are The Workshop School (Item 51) and Science Leadership Academy (Item 52). Project Based Learning, Inc. has received almost $1 million in contracts since 2018. Where is the Hite administration’s commitment to equity when certain schools receive funding for staff positions, program development, and resources through donations and grants while other schools struggle to provide basic necessities?

What if…  

…the Board adopted these suggestions for true Community Engagement?

  • Hold public hearings on charter school renewals
  • Listen to stakeholders–hold meetings that allow time for dialogue (as happened during the 2018/19 SY community meetings held by the now-defunct District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee) 
  • Provide  adequate written materials once we return to on-site Action and Committee meetings (not everyone can bring an electronic device to public meetings)
  • Answer questions asked at Action meetings
  • Provide full descriptions for each Agenda Item
  • Provide links to contracts listed in the Agenda
  • Coordinate District and Board calendars so as to minimize scheduling conflicts
  • Post Parent & Community Advisory Council members’ reports as well as listing them on the Agenda

[The Board has posted no meeting schedule for the 2020-21 school year, which begins in August. There are usually no meetings in July.]

Board Moves toward Even Less Community Engagement

Item 2:  Review of Proposed Board Policy 004.1 School Board Committees (REVIEW – NO ACTION)

The Board of Education will consider the amendment of Policy 004.1 School Board Committees, in the form attached, at the August Action Meeting. Board Committees are an opportunity for Board Members to establish, review, analyze, and discuss recommendations prior to consideration by the full Board. The Board believes the work of the current District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee is the responsibility of the full Board rather than an individual committee. Since the return to local control, the Board of Education has prioritized its commitment to transparency and accessibility. As part of this commitment, the Board believes it is the responsibility of the full Board to engage with District stakeholders and community members. Thus, the Board of Education amends its policy to eliminate the District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee. 

APPS Analysis:  The Board makes speeches about community engagement, then quietly moves to abolish its Community Engagement Committee.  In July 2018 President Wilkerson announced the establishment of four Board committees, including the District Partnerships and Community Engagement Committee. That Committee met just  twice, in November 2018 and March 2019. The City’s Home Rule Charter mandates the creation of a Parent and Community Advisory Council. The Board selected thirteen members to represent certain sections of the city. Their responsibilities include meeting with parent and community groups in their areas as well as meeting twice a year with the Board. One Advisory Council member gave an oral report at the in-person meeting, but have not been heard from since the remote meetings began in March. The Council members are not identified on the Agenda, nor are their reports posted on the website. According to the Board’s own mission, as stated on its website, this committee was to meet quarterly over the school year. APPS has inquired numerous times as to why not one meeting has been scheduled for this year or next– in direct violation of Policy 004.1. We never received a response.  This Item is devoid of any ideas on how the Board will fulfill its commitment to community engagement.  Speakers routinely raise questions at Action Meetings that receive no response or even a commitment to provide answers at the next meeting. Even the SRC, in its final months, provided written answers to questions asked during meetings. What is the Board’s  proposal “to improve governance practices by increasing the number of public access points to the Board and aligning the work of the Board to key District initiatives”? Again, we will watch how they vote, not what they say.

Action Items of Note

Item 5: Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Parent/Guardian Engagement in the District-wide Survey ($325,000) 

Description:This grant, if awarded, will be aimed at encouraging more parents/guardians to take the District-wide Survey, which is now in its sixth year (philasd.org/dws). In 2018-2019, 23% of households had a parent/guardian complete the survey. We expect to increase the parent response rate to 50% over the next 3 years. Higher response rates mean that feedback will be more representative of all families, and therefore more actionable. A portion of grant funds will be used to increase our written and online communication efforts regarding the survey, and to provide additional incentives. Funds will also be used to award “mini-grants” to school leaders to address key points identified by parents/guardians in the survey as areas for improvement. Grant funds will support both District and Charter parents/guardians and school leaders. 

APPS Analysis: The District continues to shift its responsibilities to outside agencies. The William Penn Foundation has been a proponent and funder of privatization efforts for years. They have funded many initiatives, including those in Early Childhood. Now the District has given them control over the parent surveys. Years ago there were school-based Home/School Visitors; many were local residents who served as a bridge between the neighborhood and the school. They worked to involve parents and to help resolve conflicts. That position, like full-time NTAs, has been eliminated.  Staff in the District’s Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) have well over 20 schools to engage with, a far cry from one staff person in each school. These overworked personnel have good intentions but cannot possibly establish similar relationships at every school as the Home-School Visitors did. The District has continued to cut staff and eliminate positions that served to connect parents and school  as they repeatedly award contracts to vendors. Distrust of the District grows, so it is no wonder that only a small fraction of surveys have been returned.  Parents and guardians speak multiple languages, have differing levels of literacy, and have limited time.  Online access has proven to be a challenge for many families, a situation exacerbated by the sudden closing of school buildings and shifting to online learning. Surveys are limited in asking questions that require a yes/no answer. As is the usual format for Action Items, minimal information is provided, so it is unclear as to who is developing the survey. Is there enough money for every school to provide “mini grants” to school leaders to address concerns raised by parents, or will schools have to compete in yet another version of the Hunger Games being played in the District? The District website proclaims that surveys build on”  the Action Plan 3.0 goal of creating an equitable system of schools” and  that  “this feedback provides a more complete picture of Philadelphia schools than relying solely on traditional measures of school success. “ Both District Administration and Board members stress the need for building equity within our system. Having outside organizations administer surveys is hardly a way of doing that.

Another PSP Bait and Switch? 

Item 6: Acceptance of Grant from Philadelphia School Partnership – Keys to My Success – Philadelphia High School for Girls ($493,279)

Description:Over the last ten years, The Philadelphia High School for Girls (PHSG) has experienced declining enrollment from 1,100 students to a current enrollment of 758. The goal of the “Keys to My Success” program is to increase enrollment by 10% each year over the next 5 years and support admitted students through their high school experience. The most important aspect will be bringing in a Freshmen cohort of 275-325 students each year.

PHSG has accepted students that fall below the traditional admissions requirement of the 85th percentile on the PSSA standardized test. The “Keys to My Success” transition program will be developed and implemented to assist in the preparation of our accepted young women for the academic rigor at our educational institution. This program will consist of the following:

  • Baseline establishment of skills and enhancement of study skills and strategies for academic success based on the SAT aligned Accuplacer Test;
  • Introduction to PHSG procedures and traditions;
  • Social and emotional needs inventory – mindfulness practices, creation of individualized wrap-around services during the year, identification of key personnel to assist students throughout their time at PHSG;
  • Ongoing progress monitoring throughout the school year including mentor teachers and peers, counselors and support staff intervention programs.
  • The generous grant provided by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) will assist in financially supporting supplemental staff pay and use of facility costs for Saturday and summer programming, transportation for students, curriculum development, materials and supplies, and staff consultation and professional development throughout the program. PSP is providing a majority of the funding and the program would not be possible without their financial support.

APPS Analysis:  This contract approves a grant from PSP, nominally to promote increased enrollment and retention at Girls High. However, the grant mandates additional testing and data collection in both academics and social/emotional areas. PSP’s funding and political support of school choice and privatization goes hand-in-hand with the expansion of standardized testing. Districts use test scores as weapons against public schools and their educators, most egregiously to close neighborhood schools. The profitable test-prep industry that determines winners and losers while profiting off of our students. Testing is not education. It simply decides who benefits based on their calculations.  As to shrinking enrollment, the encroachment of charter schools has undermined student populations throughout the District. If PSP was sincere about contributing to Girls High School students, they would have asked teachers what their students needed.  Deny this “gift” that stops giving after the third year and has the Alumnae Association picking up the tab.

Board Should Hire More Staff, Stop Outsourcing

Item 10: Contract Extension with District Management Group for Breakthrough Teams Coaching (No Cost)

Description:This contract was originally authorized by the Board of Education on February 27, 2020, via Action Item No. 17.  Due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District has not been able to start this work with the District Management Group. Both parties have agreed to extend the time frame for this work through December 31, 2020, and potentially adjust the focus of individual Breakthrough projects due to COVID-19 impacts at no additional cost to the District.  For reference, the description of the work from the original action item is included in the following paragraph:

“The District Management Group will work with members of the Operations team across multiple functions in order to help them improve the effectiveness of their services. The primary deliverable is professional development and coaching on District Management Group’s Breakthrough Team approach which is a rapid cycle of innovation, prototyping, and implementation that creates momentum and urgency to produce positive results. District Management Group will guide Operations team members through execution of ten concurrent Breakthrough projects across several Operations functions. Potential Breakthrough projects include initiatives to improve timeliness of work order completion, school cleanliness ratings, and on-time rates of bus routes. The Breakthrough Team approach will also prepare members of the Operations team to be agile and responsive to process improvements and priorities identified in the Operations Department Strategic Plan.”

APPS Analysis:  We ask again, as we did when the Board first contracted with DMG in December 2019:  Why Does District Management Need to Hire A District Management Company?  The Hite administration takes another step here to outsource District functions.  The administration has given no performance review or justification for renewing this contract. DMG CEO John Kim came from McKinsey & Co, whose exploitation of school districts around the country is legion. DMG’s  management team boasts affiliation with TFA, unidentified school districts, and, of course, business management companies. 

Item 44: Memorandum of Understanding with National Training Network – Math Professional Learning and In-Classroom Coaching (not to exceed $300,000)

Description:In response to low student performance in mathematics on standardized assessments and review of District curriculum and instruction, the School District has developed a multi-year plan to increase the effectiveness of math instructors and build our internal capacity to provide coaching and development of teachers of mathematics. This action item seeks authorization to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the National Training Network (NTN) to implement the first phase of this plan. Phase 1 includes selecting 10 high school math teachers to receive in-classroom coaching, pedagogical support, year-long professional development, and content training provided by NTN. NTN will also provide professional learning to instructional and school leaders with the intention of laying the foundation for the District to begin building a cadre of highly trained mathematics instructional advisors who can later assist other math teachers and deliver needed professional learning. Additionally, the Neubauer Foundation has a strong interest in partnering with the School District to support this initiative and research-based professional development to further the capacity of teachers being trained.  Schools within the 9th Grade Success Network, will be given preference for this opportunity.  The Office of Curriculum and Instruction will work closely with assistant superintendents and principals to identify schools and teachers for the initial cohort. Schools within the 9th Grade Success Network will be given preference for this opportunity. Progress will be monitored using the Achievement Through Looking at Students (ATLAS) data tool. NTN has the capacity and is prepared to provide professional learning and coaching virtually should schools remain closed as the company has already successfully transitioned to remote support in other Districts. 

NTN’s success is well documented, and NTN has proven its capacity for this work as evidenced by success in other districts, including Prince George County Schools. In collaboration with NTN’s leadership team, the District will work with stakeholders to outline intended outcomes of the partnership and the implementation plan for support.  This team will also be in continuous communication with all stakeholders throughout the full partnership — sharing achievements, on-going coaching focus, challenges, and next steps. Quarterly check-ins will take place to monitor the overall success of the partnership, as well as realign when adjustments need to occur. Coaching visit reports will be shared weekly to provide specifics of the support provided during coaching visits, as well as specific “look for’s” for building-level leadership. 

APPS AnalysisNTN’s website states that it is a “Professional Development company specializing in training and ongoing coaching and support to mathematics teachers of emerging learners in grades 3 to 12”.  Of course, professional development led by District staff  have the added advantage of building on established relationships and solid knowledge of the school system. No member of the twelve-person NTN team has any biographical or professional information posted on their website, nor does the CEO or the founder. Their video, warning of knowledge decay if students are not given enough opportunities, recommends purchasing their web-based computer program as the answer–at a cost of $10 per student. True educators know that what drives learning is having adequate classroom materials, smaller class size, and teachers who have relationships with their students and their families.  Online programs should supplement, not replace. Again, how is this an essential contract? Why isn’t  District leadership looking within to provide support to Math teachers?  Outsourcing of staff and services did not start with the present administration, but Dr. Hite, a Broad Institute graduate, has accelerated the flow of money out of the District. It is time for the Board to step up and work toward building up the District instead of leasing or selling it off piece by piece. 

Item 53:  Amendment of Contract with Old Sow Coaching and Consulting, LLC – School Leader Coach Training ($275,000)

Description:In the Spring of 2019, the Chief of Schools Office was tasked with designing and implementing a Leadership Coaching program. Prior to SY19-20, school leader coaching was contracted in large part to an external vendor. During SY19-20, the Office of Schools hired five internal school leader coaches, who supported over 75 new, struggling, and aspiring school leaders. The contractor assisted with the development of a Leadership Coaching model, in alignment with the School District’s Framework for Leaders.  After a successful inaugural year, the Chief of Schools Office will be expanding coaching in SY20-21 to support new principals through their second year and additional Assistant Principals, as part of the District Aspiring Principal Academy. To support the continual development of the model and it’s [sic]  implementation, and ensure the leadership coaches and senior leaders can fully sustain the program by the end of the SY20-21, the Office of Schools will be renewing the contract for a second, and final year.  The vendor will provide ongoing training and professional development for leadership coaches and senior leaders.  The program curriculum and structure will be designed in collaboration with Office of Schools leadership according to District anchor, outcome and individual school goals.

APPS Analysis:  Another contract to outsource professional development. With so many calling for a return to in-house PD, why is this contract being extended at an additional $275,000 cost? Old Sow Consulting and Coaching LLC has no website. An online search finds it only under a variety of other sources. This in itself should be a warning that something is amiss. Kirsten Olson has a LinkedIn page that lists 13 years with Old Sow Coaching and Consulting as “The Chief Listening Officer in the Greater Boston Area”. What does a “listening officer” do? Is this what the Board meant by “essential business” to be considered during the pandemic? The original June 27, 2019 Item states that this is a short-term support. End it now and focus on rebuilding internal capacity.This Item describes a “successful inaugural year”. Where is the data showing that success? What rubrics were used to determine the quality of this program after one year? The Board should ask these questions before approving a non-essential contract during this period of uncertainty. The Board needs to guide the District in a direction that helps all students with the limited funds available

Item 54: Amendment of Contract with 12PLUS – Postsecondary Academic and Mentoring Services ($155,000)

Description:12PLUS has provided individualized and school-wide post-secondary, academic, and mentoring support services for Grades 9-12 at Kensington High School (KHS), Penn Treaty School (PT), and Hill-Freedman World Academy (HFWA). Additional career and college resources are provided through fully-staffed 12PLUS Centers that have been established within Kensington High School, Penn Treaty School, and Hill-Freedman World Academy. Monthly events are held to promote a school-wide college-going culture, increase interest in career related fields, and celebrate student achievements. 12PLUS will continue to partner with school faculty and administration to provide ongoing academic and behavioral monitoring for the entire student bodies of KHS, PT, and HFWA.  This amendment request is to seek authorization to pay additional amounts to 12PLUS for work during the renewal years of the agreement. The two 1-year renewals were initially authorized without compensation due to an oversight in the original Action Item submission. 

APPS Analysis:  The first sentence of this Item illustrates exactly the Hite administration has increased opportunities for outside organizations to take on the roles of counselors:  “12PLUS has provided individualized and school-wide post-secondary, academic, and mentoring support services for Grades 9-12…”  Previous administrators may have opened the door for privatizing the District but the present Administration has kicked it wide open and set out the welcome mat. With PFT contract negotiations approaching, does this foreshadow more layoffs of essential staff such as counselors? 

Neubauer Expands Influence on District Policy and Staffing

Item 49: Contract with Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders -Neubauer Fellowship ($188,500) – Professional development for school leaders

Description:The School District of Philadelphia will partner with The Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (School Leaders) to establish its 6th Cohort of school leaders to participate in The Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership (the Fellowship). School Leaders was established to serve as a critical partner and cross-sector leadership development resource in Philadelphia. The Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership, School Leaders’ flagship program, identifies the city’s effective principals in District, Charter, and faith-based schools and elevates their performance by developing the leadership skills vital to improving student outcomes. Using a unique cross-sector, cohort-based approach, Fellows build deep relationships with a network of outstanding peers who share expertise and resources.  Local and national practitioners, authors, and researchers facilitate a curriculum that supports Fellows to produce measurable, meaningful results. The Fellowship is competitive and selective. The rigorous competency-based selection process includes an application, interviews, instructional analysis, data reviews, and school visits. 

 On average, it costs approximately $64,000 per Neubauer Fellow for the two-year fellowship program and opportunities for continued engagement as Senior Fellows (alumni). The School District will be responsible for contributing $9,500 per Fellow in year 1, and $5,000 per Fellow in year 2, with the remaining costs being covered by various sponsors and fundraising events held by School Leaders.  The 6th cohort of District leaders in the Fellowship will have a total of 13 participants.  In the event the School District determines remote service becomes necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, School Leaders has proposed several options to continue providing development opportunities virtually to our leaders. The Chief of Schools Office has been working directly with the leadership at School Leaders to develop plans should virtual learning be required to continue into the 2020-2021 school year.”

APPS Analysis:  APPS member Lynda Rubin has done extensive research on the Neubauer Family Foundation and its expanding influence within the District. Regarding Item 8, Rubin writes:

This Item signals the District’s move to extend its contracting out of the training of all principals and upper-level administrators to the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL), financed by the Neubauer and William Penn foundations.  Although Neubauer and PASL appear to be new to the corporate reform program, the Foundation has in fact been quite active in the planning and shaping of the School District’s teachers, principals and programs. Joseph Neubauer told the Inquirer in 2018,

 “By 2020, 100 principals will be current or former Neubauer Fellows.”  To accomplish this, the Neubauer Foundation established the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL) in 2014, which coincided with the imposition of the SRC’s  “doomsday budget”.  A Steering Committee made up of senior District administrators, charter organizations, and representatives from the Archdiocese took on the task of reshaping the vision and content of the programs for education in Philadelphia. Neubauer appointed Tim Matheney Founding Executive Director. The Neubauer Foundation and PASL have been working with the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) in these efforts. PSP founders and funders appear on the Boards and leadership of PASL and on the Founding Coalition of the failed PASL High School Health and Sciences (HS2L) application, where  Tim Matheney was listed as Chair of the Founding Board.  Together, Neubauer and PSP have established ties to Hite Administration officials and are now expanding their influence on curriculum, staffing, educational strategies and potential vendors.

Item 8:  Authorization of Memorandum of Understanding with Teach Plus, Inc. (Acceptance of Donation)  $1,191,383 (Grant from Teach Plus, Inc. made possible by the Neubauer Family Foundation and the William Penn Foundation.) Ongoing professional development and coaching to grade level teacher-leaders in the five designated schools:  Comegys (K-8), Cayuga (K-5), Lowell (K-4, McClure (Pre-K-5), Taylor (K-5)  Renewal Options – No

Description: Teach Plus, Inc. created the T3 Initiative program, an innovative teacher leadership program for districts with low-performing schools. Teach Plus, Inc. has worked in the five selected schools over the past three years. Proposed partner schools were selected based on 1) a demonstrated need to improve student outcomes, 2) their readiness to embrace teacher leaders as part of a comprehensive plan to outcomes of the school, and 3) the presence of a principal who supports and empowers teachers to lead. Additionally, the location and demographics of partner schools and their strategic value to serve as model schools were utilized for selection.

Through the T3 Initiative, Teach Plus, Inc. will train and support experienced, effective District teachers to become T3 grade level teacher leaders and current grade-level leaders. The teacher leaders, from Kindergarten to grade 5, will serve as school-wide change agents to advance the instructional goals and priorities of their schools. In support of Anchor Goal 3, the structures implemented by Teach Plus, Inc. support building capacity at the school level to ensure a more distributed leadership model. Teach Plus, Inc. will provide ongoing professional development to grade-level teacher-leaders, SBTLs, and partner principals throughout the year. Each grade-level teacher leader will guide a grade group team of teachers and be responsible for overseeing student growth across all of their team members’ classrooms. The data below is specific to the first two years of the partnership with Teach Plus, at the five participating schools:

  •   In years 1 and 2, T3 schools increased K-2 Aimsweb proficiency by 11 percentage points (2 more than SDP, 11 more than control), K-2 independent reading level growth by 12 percentage points (13 more than SDP, 20 more than control), and 3rd grade ELA proficiency by 1 point (4 more than SDP, 8 more than control). 
  •   100% of teacher leaders agreed that their experience as a T3 teacher leader had developed them to “make instructional decisions based on evidence,” “facilitate the learning of my colleagues,” and “stay laser-focused on school-wide goals and priorities.” 
  •   100% of teacher leaders grew at least one level on at least two of the following attributes each year: Purpose-Driven Instructional Leader, Evidence-Based Decision-Maker, or Skillful Facilitation of Adult Learning. 

 The intent on continuing the partnership between Teach Plus and the District is to learn from their capacity-building structures for grade-level teacher leaders to expand at a larger scale throughout the District. The ultimate measure of success at the five partner schools will be gained in student achievement. By July 2021 and 2022, at least 90% (18 of 20) of K-3 grade teams will meet or exceed at least one of their SDP Anchor Goal 2 Outcome Goals (Spring Aimsweb, one year’s independent reading level growth, or ELA PSSA). Performance against goals will be measured using SDP school data reported in QLIK. Additionally, a comparison of student performance and year-over-year growth against SDP as a whole, each network as a whole, and each school’s identified control school. Improvement of early literacy metrics should also lead to increases in schools’ scores on SDP’s School Progress Report ratings system. This work will be in conjunction with the Office of Research & Evaluation to measure and evaluate student achievement gains.

Teach Plus has already transitioned to remote support this spring since the closure of schools and has maintained continuity of all program activities outlined in the grant agreement during this crisis. Specifically, as soon as schools closed, all weekly 1-on-1 coaching, school-based and cross-school professional learning for teacher leaders, and support for PLCs immediately shifted to virtual meetings. Coaches have maintained weekly coaching activities with teacher leaders, and all schools launched virtual PLCs immediately to support teachers in the transition to remote instruction. If remote instruction continues next year, Teach Plus will continue to deliver all coaching and support virtually, and Teach Plus teacher leaders will continue facilitating virtual PLCs to improve teaching and learning in the virtual space. Teacher teams in PLCs will continue to examine student data and work, engage in intellectual preparation and planning for instruction, and explore research-based instructional practice changes. Additionally, Teach Plus has the capability to utilize the learning management system, Northpass, to supplement our live virtual programming and coaching with asynchronous online learning modules for teacher leaders. Teach Plus will work closely with partner principals and district leaders to continue to adapt to the needs of schools, teacher leaders, and students.”

APPS Analysis: More outsourced professional development. Lynda Rubin writes:

The description for the contract with Teach Plus, Inc. raises many red flags. The Neubauer Foundation and the William Penn Foundation will pay for this $1,191,383 contract.  It is listed as “professional development and coaching for five schools”, with no renewal options. The first sentence of the description says, “Teach Plus, Inc. has worked in the five selected schools over the past three years.” Teach Plus has already established a foothold here.  This contract is actually Phase 2 of a previous contract approved by the SRC on May 18, 2017, also funded by the William Penn Foundation: B-1 Acceptance of $350,000 Donation from Teach Plus, Inc. – Senior Project Manager. The description here leaves little doubt that this contract will be renewed:  “The intent on continuing the partnership between Teach Plus and the District is to learn from their capacity-building structures for grade-level teacher leaders to expand at a larger scale throughout the District.” 

A review of the five schools in this Neubauer-funded program shows that three are headed by principals trained as Neubauer Fellows: Cayuga Principal James Carrion, Neubauer Fellow 2019; McClure Principal Sharon Marino, Neubauer Fellow 2016; Taylor Principal David Laver, Neubauer Fellow 2018. The contract includes other suggested programs for purchase or lease: a Pearson Assessments product that the District uses: Spring Aimsweb: “…In years 1 and 2, T3 schools increased K-2  Aimsweb assessment proficiency…”. and Northpass” …Additionally, Teach Plus has the capability to use Northpass, a learning management system,  to supplement our live virtual programming and coaching with asynchronous online learning modules for teacher leaders.”  The Northpass website claims:  “From fast-growing startups to the Fortune 500, the world’s most innovative companies trust Northpass to educate their people.”  APPS has been raising the red flag for years about the dangers of becoming dependent on corporate “philanthropy” for years. Wealthy donors believe that public school education should be run according to the business model, using “learning management systems”, with progress based on metrics and testing statistics, while making a profit for its investors. 

Board Votes Make Equity Little More than a Slogan

Item 51: Contract with Project Based Learning, Inc.- The Workshop School ($800,00)

Description:The District has identified a need to create and support innovation in our high schools, improve high schools to more effectively meet student needs, and ensure all students leave high school adequately prepared for college, career, and life. A large and compelling body of research shows that literacy, numeracy, and other forms of content knowledge are but one ingredient in the recipe for success. Other, equally important ingredients include the ability to think creatively and solve problems, work with others, plan (and follow through), network, and work independently and responsibly. As such, research suggests students have a much greater likelihood of succeeding in college or the workplace. We need high schools that are designed expressly for this purpose, such as the Workshop School.

 Project Based Learning, Inc. (PBLI) has provided professional and technical services for the Workshop School since 2013. The School District and PBLI worked together in the development and implementation of the Workshop School, which opened in September 2013. PBLI, a non-profit organization, is focused on supporting the academic goals of the Workshop School. By contracting with PBLI, the District will be able to clearly define autonomies within which the Workshop School may operate and simultaneously support the school model in accordance with those autonomies. Additionally, the contract will help to expand resources which will allow flexibility in the allocation and use of those resources in accordance with the Workshop School’s design and needs. This contract covers 100% of the services provided by PBLI in its operation of The Workshop School.

 Anchor Goal 1 of the Action Plan states “100% of students will graduate ready for college and career”.  Moreover, one of the goals for high schools as detailed in the High School Strategy Planning Process is to “ensure all students have access to grade-level content; ensure all students are engaged in rigorous coursework and compelling programs, including Career and Technical Education, AP and IB courses, and project-based learning. Contracting with PBLI will allow the Workshop School to continue to align learning experiences and design a curriculum around the skills students need to succeed in college and careers through academic autonomy.

 The School District’s Office of New School Models/Innovation Network has primary responsibility for the evaluation of the Workshop School with the ongoing support of our District Performance Office (DPO). Through the implementation of this contract, the Office of New School Models/Innovation Network expects to see improvements with all five School Progress Report (SPR) Domains: Achievement, Progress, Climate, College & Career, and Educator Effectiveness year over year. As the Workshop School continues to improve, the following measures must be met:

  • Attendance: At least 60% of Workshop School students will attend 95% or more of all school days. (Aligns with SDP goals.)
  • Graduation: At least 90% of Workshop School students will graduate within five years. (Aligns with PA Future Ready).
  • Achievement: At least 70% of Workshop School students will demonstrate growth in reading and mathematics, as measured by MAP Assessments (or a comparable interim assessment system) and/or Keystone exams.

 While we recognize the importance of standard measures of school performance, it is also important to recognize that the Workshop School (and schools like it) emphasize a skill set that is very different from the content focus of traditional high schools, and that its ultimate goal is postsecondary success. As such, PBLI, in collaboration with the District, commits to working together over the life of the contract to identify a set of alternative measures of academic growth and achievement that more closely map to the school’s model and graduation requirements. Additionally, results from the SPR will allow us to use the indicators of student success to develop strategies, refine the model, and improve outcomes where needed.

APPS Analysis:  The Workshop School is one of the small project-based high schools providing District students with experiential learning. Project-based learning has been around since John Dewey, but in recent years it has been marketed as something new. Teachers in Philadelphia have  incorporated this pedagogy without any extra financial incentive.  Project Based Learning, Inc., the recipient of this contract,  is a non-profit created by Matthew Riggan, co-founder of the Workshop School.  Where is the support for other schools seeking to implement different pedagogical approaches for their students?  How do we  implement true equity? The concern here is the District’s commitment to increasing The Workshop School’s enrollment from the present 277 to 360 students. This Item indicates that may require either identifying a second campus or relocating the school to a larger facility. PBLI will “identify the facilities conditions needed for expansion…”  It is astonishing that the District would contemplate such a change during this time of uncertainty, when it is unclear how schools will function during the next school year. 

Item 52: Contract with Demetrius Weaver – Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber ($50,000)

Description:As an Inquiry-driven, project-based school that uses the support of the community, it is essential that Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber (SLA Beeber) have a Partnership Coordinator who can bridge the gap between the community and the school. One of the key tenets of the Science Leadership Academy model is that high school should not only be preparation for real life, high school should be real life. Contracting with Mr. Demetrius Weaver as a Partnership Coordinator will benefit the entire SLA Beeber school community. Mr. Weaver will provide guidance and insight for students while connecting them to programs and agencies that peak their interest. He will collaborate with community partners to support various initiatives for the school as a whole. Through the collaborative work of the Partnership Coordinator and the Principal, internships will be provided to all students to enable them to enter adulthood by giving them the opportunity to develop and answer questions about their postsecondary goals. Furthermore, students will be able to gain real experience by working with adult mentors in the professional world. Moreover, not only will the students obtain real work experience, they also will have the opportunity to engage in services that benefit the local community. 

The Partnership Coordinator position has been extremely successful over past years and particularly last year with Mr. Weaver. Mr. Weaver is familiar with SLA Beeber goals and students. In addition, he has contacts with many other outside organizations. This position works closely with over 125 partners to ensure that our students have the opportunity of an education that is outside of the school doors, which is beneficial for the school community. Mr. Weaver will organize and maintain Wednesday mini-courses, where current 5th, 6th, and 9th graders are provided small group activities through outside agencies. As the Partnership Coordinator, he will also assist with fundraising activities, new student recruitment, site visits, open houses, new student orientation, and organizing Individual Learning Project Opportunities. The school has always valued the flexibility of hiring this role through a contract because it allows the scope of work to be defined, based on current needs as the school grows to scale. There is not a non-rep SDP position that aligns specifically to the uniqueness of the role.

 APPS Analysis:  Would students in all District middle and high schools benefit from access to a school-based Partnership Coordinator? This is the second Item, the first in August 2019, that funds this position at SLA-Beeber. As noted in the Introduction, all three SLA schools receive support from Inquiry Schools, a non-profit that grew out of the original SLA school established in 2006. Chris Lehmann, founder of both SLA and Inquiry Schools, drove the creation of  two additional SLA Schools, SLA-Beeber and SLA Middle School (SLAMS).  We do not question the mission or achievement of these schools, but we do question why some schools receive more support than others. 

Board Enables Substandard Charters 

Item 59: Contract with “TBD” for Charter School Special Education Program Evaluation and Master  

Maximum compensation authorized per option period:   $50,000

Description:Special education program evaluation and special master (as per condition set in charter agreement).The goal of the Special Education Master is to comprehensively analyze the special education program of a certain charter school and to develop recommendations for improving such program to bring it into compliance with applicable Federal and State laws. The Special Education Master will focus on a variety of aspects in the special education program in four distinct areas: policy implementation, program organization, student identification and placement, and service delivery. The requirement for a Special Education matter was a condition of charter renewal and the charter school shall reimburse the School District for the cost of the services of such Special Education Master, up to $50,000 annually.

APPS Analysis:   The crucial information about this Item is conspicuous by its absence: who the Board is hiring, what their duties would be, and to which school this Special Education Master will be assigned. CSO Chief Christina Grant mentioned at the June 11 Committee meeting that the school in question is Math, Civics, and Science Charter School, but gave no other information. Nor did the Board answer any of these questions when we asked them in a letter sent prior to the Committee meeting. 

Math Civics Science (MCS) Charter School, in its 2019 renewal evaluation. received a rating of DOES NOT MEET in all three major categories: Academic, Organizational, and Financial. That did not stop the Board from voting in October 2019 to approve a 5-year renewal. There were no questions or comments about it from any Board member at the October Student Achievement Committee, nore were any raised before the Action Item vote. Because the Board holds no charter renewal hearings, MCS administration did not have to appear and explain the school’s consistent substandard performance. Other schools in similar circumstances have had surrender clauses attached to renewals, but since MCS’s had been postponed since 2017, assumedly because the school refused to accept any conditions, this is a mostly retroactive renewal. None of the Board members expressed concern about the school’s pattern of violations against Students with Special Needs. As we reported in the October 2019 Ears on the Board of Education:  “Education Law Center (ELC) attorney Paige Joki reported to the Board that ELC filed a lawsuit earlier that day against Mathematics, Civics, and Science for discrimination against a first-grade student who was admitted to the school, then turned away when her disability was discovered.  Joki urged the Board to consider equity when voting to renew charters.” But the fix was already in, as the Board had directed CSO Chief Christina Grant to negotiate a settlement with MCS. In 2018, the MCS Board paid CEO Veronica Joyner $240, 445. in salary and compensation. Because the Board does not answer our questions, we will continue to wonder why the Board covers for charter administrators who operate clearly failing schools. 

Items 60 through 64: Charter Renewals for Community Academy of Philadelphia, KIPP Philadelphia, Global Leadership Academy, Birney Charter at Lindley, Tacony Academy. 

Description: [Board does not post full agreements until after they vote on them, a violation of the PA Sunshine Act.]

APPS Analysis: In another way the Board covers for charter operators, charter transactions are the only Items in which the Board posts no costs. Below are the approximate costs of each charter school renewal, based on current District budget information, along with the most recent CEO salaries. The public has a right to know how much these five-year renewal contracts will take from the District budget . Compare how much these charter school CEOs take home for overseeing one school while Superintendent Hite earns  $311,764. 00 to manage 210 schools.

Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School

  • $17,195,576 x 5 years = $85, 977, 880
  • CEO salary (2018) $227, 327k 

KIPP Philadelphia Charter School

  •  $9,550,757 x 5 years = $47,693,685 
  • CEO salary/compensation (2018): $164, 253

Global Leadership Academy  

  • $7,751,713 x 5 years  = $38, 758, 565 
  • Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):  $327, 335.

Lindley Academy Charter School at Birney  (American Paradigm manages this school.)

  • $9,339,843 x 5 years  = $46,699,215
  • Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2017):  $168, 928. 

Tacony Academy  

  • $13,735,429 x 5 years  =  $68,677,145
  • Charter CEO Salary/Compensation (2018):  $165, 849.