Eyes on the Board of Education: October 17, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

With the rapidly unfolding debacle of the planned co-location of SLA at Ben Franklin High School, the Board needs to step up and provide leadership on District spending priorities. Stop fattening the bottom lines of outside vendors and increase spending to guarantee that all schools are healthy environments.  The Board needs to start denying contracts to vendors and demanding that the Superintendent build resources and support from within the District. District governance returned to local control over a year ago; it is past time to return to building up District staffing and resources.

APPS has spoken about the District’s failure over the years to really listen to all stakeholders.  It shouldn’t take a crisis of this magnitude to hear the Superintendent vow to do a better job of listening to students and families. At the hastily called town hall meetings last week, several parents and teachers asked why their pleas for a contingency plan were ignored from the beginning of this $37 million project. The Board has made a commitment to community engagement; that must be more than words. Dr. Hite has announced a new four year initiative, the Comprehensive School Planning Review, that thus far has offered little outreach for community involvement, even though a number of public speakers at Board meetings have asked about participating. But those interested in becoming involved in the process, per the District website,  must commit to a monthly two- to four-hour meeting held on a weekday. According to a CSPR flyer with an application for the Study Area Planning Committee “You are receiving this application because you have been nominated by your school Principal to become a member.” FAQs about CSPR state that “Each Study Area will have a planning committee that includes two parent representatives”. The CSPR page states that “If you are interested in serving on your school’s Planning Committee, please contact your School Principal.” How does this ensure that all student populations such as Special Ed and English Language Learners will be included? Have materials gone out in different languages? The District has a tremendous amount of work to do if they want to gain trust from parents, students, school staff, and community members. How is the Board making sure this happens?

This month, Item 6 refers to the development of a new school in partnership with the operators of the recently closed CHAD charter school.  How and when did the mention of a possible Architecture and Design program turn into planning of a whole new school? Was there any community engagement on this? Item 7, a contract with outside agencies for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), begs the same question of how parents have been involved in applying for this grant. Item 14, Contract Manager Tools for Executive Team Professional Development Training, doles out a contract to a business that boasts about working with Forbes 100 companies, but not about any educational experience.  The District needs to develop in-house capacity for professional development based on established pedagogy not business practices. Will there be any teacher input when contracting with architectural firms for design implementation of Early Childhood Classrooms (Item 17)? Too often we have seen classroom designs created without consulting the professionals who teach there.

At the October 10 Student Achievement and Support Committee meeting, several speakers raised questions about Item 29, the MOU with KIPP Schools to use their College Match Strategies Framework. We found out that this resulted from an invitation from the principal of Benjamin Franklin High School, who is a  Neubauer Fellow. The Neubauer Family Foundation funds it this year, but is this KIPP’s foot in the door to gain a contract from the District? Read our analysis for the many reasons why this Item should be denied at the Board Action Meeting on October 17. Item 33 sends money to SchoolworksLLC, a vendor to assist the Charter School Office(CSO) in assessing new charter applications. The CSO has been doing this for years so why contract out now? Items 34 and 35 just surfaced as Aspira Olney High  School and Aspira Stetson Middle School are recommended for non-renewal.

What If…

…the Board denied all vendor contracts outsourcing services until all schools are housed in healthy buildings?

November Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday November 21, 5 PM at 440 N. Broad Street.  To register to speak, call 215.400.5959 by 3 PM Wednesday November 20, or fill out the form on the Board’s webpage.

Action Items of Note

[The full list of Items before the Board can be found at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/meetingmaterials/ ]

Item 6: Architecture and Design Charter High School d/b/a Charter High School of Architecture and Design (CHAD) – School District of Philadelphia SDP Memorandum of Understanding (Pending)

Description: The Board of Education will consider at its October 17, 2019 Action Meeting a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Architecture and Design Charter High School d/b/a Charter High School of Architecture and Design (“CHAD”) which was approved by CHAD’s Board of Trustees at a duly advertised meeting on September 24, 2019.  In accordance with the Agreement to Close Charter School and Cancel Non-renewal Hearing, dated June 13, 2019 (the “Agreement”), the School District and CHAD have worked together to explore the establishment of an architecture and design school or program managed and operated by the School District (the “New School”). Via this MOU, the School District and CHAD have: (i) set forth currently agreed upon details regarding the development of the New School and (ii) committed to continued collaboration on the development of plans for and programs to be implemented at the New School.

Office Originating Request: Superintendent

APPS AnalysisWhile we respect CHAD’s decision to close without entering into a long, drawn out legal battle and to work with the District to incorporate its mission,  we do question the development of a new school to replace the charter school. At this time there are possibilities for including this architecture and design program in a District school.The description states that  “the School District and CHAD have already agreed upon details regarding the development of the New School”. Where are these plans? Why haven’t they been posted? Is this another example of agreements hammered out behind closed doors so the public cannot see or comment? The Board continues to stress its commitment to transparency, but once again, it is not put into practice. The District is poised to begin a four-year Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) this Fall with the goal  “for the District to design schools in every neighborhood that meet the educational needs of the changing population” so how do they justify this MOU to create a New School without the public input they allegedly will seek through this process? The CSPR was supposed to determine enrollment needs and catchment areas. So far there has been none.

Item 14: Contract with Manager Tools LLC — Executive Team Professional Development Training ($75,000)    Finance – Contracts

The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: Manager Tools, LLC
Purpose:  Professional development for the District’s Executive Leadership team
Start date: 11/1/2019   End date: 6/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $75,000
Location:  Administrative Office(s)
Renewal Options:  No

Description:  The Executive Leadership team of the District is collectively responsible for leadership and management in support of achieving Board policies.  Professional development for the team from Manager Tools will help improve productivity, leadership capacity, employee engagement and retention, and better decision making in support of school achievement.  Manager Tools is a management consulting and training firm owned by Michael Auzenne and Mark Horstman, who consult to and train managers in Fortune 1000 companies around the world that include Apple, AT&T and FedEx.  Manager Tools, in 2005, launched a weekly podcast that has routinely topped the business category of the People’s Choice Podcast Awards several times, and typically receives well over 1 million downloads per month. Approximately 100 members of the senior leadership team of the District, from Chiefs and Deputies to Directors of the key functions will receive training that can be applied immediately to improve their performance and that of their staff.

APPS Analysis: We continue to say that education is not a business. An online search indicates that neither of the co-founders of Manager Tools,LLC has any experience working in Education. They met at  the US Military Academy (West Point ) and tout the fact that they “regularly consult with and train managers in Fortune 1000 companies around the world”. Instead of contracting with a vendor, the District could hire retired principals who not only have a track record of working within the School District but understand the issues and concerns of an urban school district.. Private companies are not accountable to taxpayers and can easily be sold and change hands. This contract continues this Administration’s policy of hiring vendors instead of using those with experience in Education.

Item 17:  Amendment of Contracts with Various Vendors for Supplemental Professional Architectural Design Services ($1,500,000)    Operations – Capital Programs – Amended Contracts

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform an amendment of a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: The Sheward Partnership, LLC, JMT Architecture & Interior Design, Inc., Usa Architects, Planner and Interior Designers, P. A., Vitetta Group, Inc., Lan Associates, Engineering, Planning, Architecture, Surveying, Inc., Schrader Group Architecture, LLC., Kimmel Bogrette Architecture + Site, Crabtree Rohrbaugh & Assoc., Inc., Norr Design, Inc., Roth Marz Partnership, P.C.
Purpose:  Professional architectural design services
Original Start Date:  12/16/2016 Original End Date:  12/15/2019
Currently Authorized Compensation:  $6,700,000
Additional Compensation:  All entities will be paid out of the aggregate amount not to exceed $1,500,000
Total New Compensation:  $8,200,000.00
Location:  All Schools
Renewal Options:  No

Description:  The Office of Capital Programs has identified a need to contract with professional architectural design firms to complete the required design documentation and permitting for projects identified in the approved Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The amended contract provides additional funding to initiate the design of the FY20 classroom modernization projects supporting the District’s early literacy initiative. Using a pool of qualified firms is the most efficient way for the District to complete design activities in order to meet the project timelines.  The approved firms’ services will be evaluated based on their ability to meet project milestones and remain within the approved budget. This work is in support of the Operations Division goal to provide safe and healthy learning environments for all children.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): 12/15/16; A-11, 4/27/17; A-10, 6/21/18; A-62

APPS Analysis: The question here is what role will school staff have in the designing of the “FY20 classroom modernization projects supporting the District’s early literacy initiative. “? Too often the voice of school staff is not included in design projects, resulting in less useful classroom environments. Teachers should be integrated into the planning of their work areas as they understand the needs of their students and should be seen as partners in this process. Classrooms are students’ learning environments as well as teachers’ workplaces.

Item 7: Acceptance of the Applied Behavior Analysis Services Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education; Contracts with Progressus Therapy, LLC and Other Qualified Vendors ($583,874)  Academic Support – Grants/Donations

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept a Grant or Donation as follows:

From:  Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE),  Bureau of Special Education (BSE), in collaboration with the BSE’s Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network

Purpose:  Professional development on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) instructional methods, teaching strategies, interventions, and curriculum to the teachers and staff of five or more high-needs autistic support classrooms, and ABA support to students transitioning from early intervention programs to District schools

Grant Start Date:  10/18/2019 Grant End Date:  10/17/2020

Grant for an amount up to: $583,874   With: Progressus Therapy, LLC, and other qualified vendors approved by PDE and the Deputy Chief of the Office of Specialized Services

Purpose: To purchase ABA instructional materials and curriculum, ABA professional development support services, and to provide services from Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), ABA coaches and ABA therapists, for the delivery of ABA professional development and on-site classroom coaching to teachers and support staff of students with autism
Contract Start Date:  10/18/2019 Contract End Date:  10/10/2020
Compensation not to exceed:  TBD
Location: Five high-needs kindergarten through 12th grade autistic support classrooms identified by the District, early intervention sites, and other high-need classroom locations having students with autism

Description: Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) science is evidence-based and produces meaningful progress with many students with Autism. Scientific research and studies consistently demonstrate the high degree of success ABA methods have in improving the academic and behavioral outcomes of students with autism. Evidence shows that ABA programs delivered to students with autism with rigor and fidelity results in significant academic gains and less restrictive educational placements. Additionally, there is a demand from Early Intervention families entering the District for increased ABA services to match those they were receiving in Early Intervention.

The Office of Specialized Services (OSS) will utilize the ABA Services Grant to provide intensive professional development on ABA programs and methods to teachers and support staff of students with autism. To implement the grant, the District will identify five or more high-need kindergarten through 12th-grade autistic support (AS) classrooms with students who would benefit from ABA instruction. The schools will be selected based on geographic need and location of existing programs with a keen focus on equity and access across networks.

OSS will use grant funds to purchase the services of licensed and certified ABA professionals, including Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBAs), ABA coaches and ABA therapist, to deliver intensive ABA professional development and coaching to the teachers and staff of the five identified AS classrooms. As a grant requirement, professionals delivering training and coaching to District staff will work in close collaboration with and receive support from BSE PaTTAN ABA experts. OSS will set aside grant funds to provide special training to parents of students with autism to help ensure the continued use of ABA strategies at home after school. Grant funds will also support the transition of children with autism in early intervention programs to District kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.

In addition to accepting the ABA Services Grant from PDE, authorization from the Board of Education is requested to use grant funds to contract with Progressus Therapy, LLC and other qualified vendors approved by PDE and the Deputy Chief of OSS for the provision of ABA trainers and coaches, and other ABA professional development support services. The District has worked with Progressus and other qualified vendors approved by PDE for these services since 2016 and has seen consistent and reliable support staff with low turnover able to fill the roles of the positions. When the District is unable to staff these positions, Progressus and other qualified vendors approved by PDE provides qualified candidates in a reasonable time frame, they are open to professional development and have worked in strong collaboration with the District in meeting the needs of students. Contract Compensation shall be determined based on the contractors the District selects and the contracted services required for this program.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): December 15, 2016; B-1; May 17, 2018; IU-1

APPS Analysis:  The Board needs to take a much closer look at this, not only because it means spending almost $600,000 in one year, but because this method is not one fully vetted. The first question about this Action Item is parent involvement. Have parents been informed of the potential use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)? Have they been asked to consent to their child receiving these services? Were District counselors consulted? It is a critical issue as many autistic individuals are unable to describe what they experience in class. In 2016 The Atlantic published an article describing some of the controversy surrounding  Applied Behavorial Analysis. Here are some highlights:

* “Some autism advocates contend that ABA is based on a cruel premise—of trying to make people with autism ‘normal,’ a goal articulated in the 1960s by psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas, who developed ABA for autism. What they advocate for, instead, is acceptance of neurodiversity—the idea that people with autism or, say, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Tourette syndrome, should be respected as naturally different rather than abnormal and needing to be fixed.”

*”Given the diversity of treatments, it’s hard to get a handle on the evidence base of ABA. There is no one study that proves it works. It’s difficult to enroll children with autism in a study to test a new therapy, and especially to enroll them in control groups. Most parents are eager to begin treating their children with the therapy that is the standard of care.”

*”Advocates say scientists also need to be open to the fact that ABA might not work for all. There is increasing evidence, for example, that children with apraxia, or motor planning difficulties, can sometimes understand instructions or a request, but may not be able to mentally plan a physical response to a verbal request.”

Item 29: Ratification of Memorandum of Understanding with KIPP Philadelphia    Student Support Services – Other

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education ratify the execution and performance of a Memorandum of Understanding by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, as follows:

With: KIPP Philadelphia
Purpose: To provide a Director of College & Career to implement college and career programming for students
Start Date:  9/3/19 End Date:  6/30/22
Value of Services not to exceed:  $685,000
Location(s): All High Schools

Description:  KIPP Philadelphia is partnering with the School District to share its resources that KIPP has built to get more students to and through college throughout the City of Philadelphia.  This multi-phase project will allow KIPP and the School District to focus on improving college match practices using KIPP’s College Match Strategies Framework, in the first year of implementation at Ben Franklin High School, and potentially scale up to all high schools in the District to increase the number of students who are prepared for college, matriculating to college, and graduating from college.

KIPP operates on the notion that not all colleges are equal when it comes to graduation rates for students from low-income communities. KIPP uses the College Match Framework while counseling students and families through the college decision-making process. Students who match well are more likely to graduate within 4-6 years. While the College Match Framework outlines in detail the steps that high school juniors and seniors should follow, the four steps below are critical for all students as they prepare for the match process: 1. Get an early start and to apply ahead of admission deadlines giving them access to the largest pool of financial aid and, in some cases, increases odds for acceptance through Early Decision or Early Action options; 2. Explore your passion, purpose, plan and fit priorities, reflect on what they want out of a college education, include college experience, learning environment, location, area of study, and career opportunities; 3. Prepare for the cost of college to understand their options, to help them increase eligibility for aid, and to avoid excess debt; and 4. Know your numbers such as academic profiles, including their GPA, ACT, and SAT, that affect which school they can attend.

KIPP, with the School District’s support, has received funding from the Neubauer Foundation to support the position Director of College & Career working at Ben Franklin High School.  Ben Franklin was selected because of the opportunity to improve its college going culture and because its principal is a Neubauer Fellow, who is greatly supported by the Neubauer Foundation.

The funding proposal was approved and the ideal candidate was identified at the start of the school year when students returned. To ensure that the proposed activities would have impact since the school year’s inception, the director began working immediately with the principal, thereby necessitating the current ratification request.

APPS Analysis:  Before we examine the facts for why KIPP is a poor candidate to take on what has traditionally been the job of counselors we need to examine what a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) involves. According to numerous sources  a MOU “A memorandum of understanding (MOU) is a formal agreement between two or more parties. Companies and organizations can use MOUs to establish official partnerships. MOUs  are not legally binding but they carry a degree of seriousness and mutual respect, stronger than a gentlemen’s agreement. Often, MOUs are the first steps towards a legal contract. In US law, a memorandum of understanding is synonymous with a letter of intent (LOI), which is a non-binding written agreement that implies a binding contract is to follow.” When will the contract between the District and KIPP be posted?

As businesses, charters often find new ways of bringing in money other than operating schools. KIPP now seems to be in the consulting business, but in actuality KIPP seems to be the middle-man for selling a product–College Match Strategies. 

KIPP has one high school in Philadelphia, and  that school is in the “Watch” rating for Overall Performance. KIPP has no history of direct embedding in school districts to market its KIPP Through College Program. A closer look at their practice reveals craters in their claims to enrolling their students in college. Educator and blogger Gary Rubinstein points out some misleading statistics they routinely use to highlight their success rate. KIPP “counsels out” many eighth graders before they actually start the college application process thereby leaving them with a select group of student candidates. In fact, former KIPP Philadelphia CEO Mark Manella boasted of this practice in his recent interview with WHYY. 

KIPP is one of the original “No Excuses” charter schools located in low-income mostly Brown and Black communities where KIPP has proudly used what many consider abusive techniques on students who cannot or will not conform to their program. One example is not assigning a desk to students until they “earn” it, so many have to sit on the floor. Possibly more repugnant is their practice of having students shun their classmates because they do not achieve or behave. These stories are retold in the WHYY article interviewing some of the first children enrolled in the Philadelphia KIPP schools. 

The District should be hiring more counselors instead of contracting with a private charter management company. This MOU is covered for the first year by the Neubauer Family Foundation but then who pays for this product after they stop funding it? District Chief of Schools Shawn Bird told Board members at the Student Achievement and Support Committee last week that any extension of the program would be paid for by the District. This follows the common pattern of having companies get their foot in the door by having a grant pay for the first year and the District paying after that.

Item 33: Contract with SchoolWorks, LLC ($60,000) Charter Schools – Contracts

Action under consideration: The Administration recommends that the Board of Education authorize The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute and perform a contract, subject to funding, as follows:

With: SchoolWorks, LLC
Purpose: To provide consulting support to the Charter School Office during the charter school review process
Start date: 11/1/2019      End date: 5/30/2020
Compensation not to exceed: $60,000
Location: Administrative Offices
Renewal Options:  No

Description:   SchoolWorks LLC will provide support to the School District’s Charter Schools Office (“CSO”) as part of a comprehensive review of New Charter Applications with the focus on two areas: 1) Curriculum Review and 2) Generalist Evaluation. This work supports the Board of Education’s statutory requirement to receive and act upon new charter applications on an annual basis.  New Charter Application reviews have time restrictions under the the law, with the final number of applications not finalized until the official due date of November 15. By engaging in a contract with SchoolWorks LLC, the School District is able to ensure that all new charter applications receive a thorough and timely review.

Related resolution(s)/approval(s): June 19, 2014; SRC-2
Funding Source(s):  FY20 Operating and Categorical
Office Originating Request: Charter Schools

APPS Analysis: No reason has been given why the Charter School Office needs to bring in an outside consultant. In fact, a few months ago, in answer to one of our questions, they said they had hired more staff in the past year.  The CSO has reviewed new charter applications for years without outside assistance. There were only 3 new applications last year. Why is there a need for a Charter Operation to shepherd applications through the District Charter School Office? SchoolWorks LLC is part of the Charter School industry; how could we trust their objectivity in reviewing charter applicants? 

The original focus of SchoolWorks was on assessment, but as the market developed,  they expanded from assessment and planning to achievement services. Is this their foot in the door for gaining more lucrative contracts from our cash-strapped district?  The company’s website states that “Since coming to SchoolWorks, Senior Project Manager David Hartman has focused on charter school reviews and site renewal visits for the School District of Philadelphia …” How long has this been going on? Also noted on his bio is that ”David Hartman has experience working as a cartographer, but his claim to fame is helping the state of Minnesota map out its charter school law in 2009.” The Board should reject this Item.

Item 34: Olney Charter High School–Non-renewal of Charter  (Added 9.10.19 Pending)

Board of Education Action under consideration:  In December 2017, the School Reform Commission approved a resolution, which instituted nonrenewal proceedings against Olney Charter High School.  Public hearings were held in March and April 2019 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 is attached. The Board of Education will consider this report and recommendation for nonrenewal of the Charter of the Olney Charter High School.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education
ATTACHMENTS: Olney Hearing Officer Report


Item 35:  John B. Stetson Charter School – Nonrenewal of Charter  (Added 9.10.19 – Pending)

Action under consideration:  In December 2017, the School Reform Commission approved a resolution, which instituted nonrenewal proceedings against John B. Stetson Charter School.  Public hearings were held in March and April 2019 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 is attached. The Board of Education will consider this report and recommendation for nonrenewal of the Charter of John B. Stetson Charter School.

Office Originating Request: Board of Education
ATTACHMENTS:  Stetson – Hearing Officer Report


APPS Analysis:  Ten years ago, the District, under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, ceded management of Olney High and Stetson Middle schools to Aspira Inc.  The failure of Aspira, from day one, to do anything close to “effect dramatic change” as promised as part of the Renaissance program, is a window into the very expensive failure of that program.  Why has it taken 5 years to come to a final vote on the non-renewal of these schools? Politics. APPS members have attended hearings on Aspira and reported on our website;written letters to the Mayor and Governor, City Inspector General, and  Chief Integrity Officer as well as the Board of Ethics; and published Op-Eds in local newspapers since 2016. We sat through and reported on 16 days of hearings in Spring 2019. It came as no surprise to hear the presentation by Hearing Officer Rudy Garcia at the Oct 10,2019 Student Achievement and Support committee meeting recommending non-renewal for both Olney High School and Stetson Middle School. Garcia noted the 26 witnesses, over 1,000 documents, and the 16 days of hearings last spring. The full reports are available here. 

The complete Aspira Chronology is available on the  APPS website.