Eyes on the Board of Education: October 22, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

With rage over the devaluing of Black lives still simmering in the city and across the country, we should  look at the continued underfunding of the city’s schools, whose students are primarily Black and Brown. The pandemic has laid bare the inequities our students have experienced when they walked into crumbling, dirty buildings often with mold and sometimes asbestos; no toilet paper or hand soap; teachers having to purchase basic supplies; limited after-school activities. Now those students experience inequalities in technology and internet access; availability of school supplies and food; evictions amid housing uncertainty; loss of jobs ; cutting off of healthcare at a time when covid-19 remains active in our communities; and a general escalation of trauma and anxiety on every level.

The Hite administration has created an Equity Coalition, yet when an opportunity arises to actually pay participants the District overlooks those who have worked on these issues in favor of awarding contracts to consultants (Item 29) such as Steppingstone or creating an Equity Partners Fellowship (Item 2).  Dr Hite, a 2005 Broad Fellow, has instituted a welfare system for private entities seeking business opportunities in public education. 

Last month, Lee Huang initiated a discussion among Board members that closing schools was inevitable given the impending financial crisis. Research shows that school closures do not result in saving money but creates a host of other problems including destabilization of neighborhoods.  Dr. Hite never provided a full accounting of  how much the District actually saved after the 2013 shuttering of 24 neighborhood schools. It took questions from APPS members to get the answer: about 50% of the $22 million promised, after moving and reorganization costs. Yet this Board routinely approves almost every contract the Hite administration places on the agenda.. How does the Board justify even suggesting closing schools as a way to save money when they question so little of the administration’s spending? Or closing District schools while rubber-stamping renewals of substandard charters?  Deleting Policy 141 (Item 1) represents the Board’s abdication of its own power to take back failing Renaissance Schools.  This benefits no one but the operators and their charter management companies who enrich themselves at the cost of the District’s students. 

Instead of paying its fair share of taxes, Comcast funnels monies through the Fund for the School District to pay for Technology Needs (Item 30);  for Kelly Services to hire its own consultant to fill a District position (Item 3); to keep Accenture on the District vendor list (Item 4) and to formulate another School Reopening Plan. The boards of foundations and charitable entities such as the Fund for the School District, in their own private meetings, make decisions about funding programs for public schools. Only the Board of Education, in public meetings, should be making these decisions. 

Why is it necessary to offer stipends for parents to drive their children to school instead of using buses and vans provided by the District (Item 14)? This Item provides no information as to why parents need to do this.

When we talk about Equity, we must ask where the follow-up and accountability will be to insure that every school will have the opportunity to “build the capacity of District staff to design and support prosocial recess and lunch programming in the future” as promised in Item 21? Will every school have adequate staffing, playground equipment, and enough recess time?

The shift to virtual learning has been a very heavy lift for the District, having to ensure that students have laptops and the necessary wi-fi connections, in addition to providing professional development and support to ensure it runs smoothly. Switching to another Learning Management System (Item 22) while everyone is still struggling to cope with what has already been purchased does not appear to be a well thought-out move.

Last week Dr Hite announced “a phased-in approach “ to begin next month “that will offer a mix of in-person and digital remote learning for students”. However, there is no presentation nor Item on the Board Agenda as of now. 

What if…

…instead of threatening to close more neighborhood schools, the Board stopped funding expensive outsourcing contracts, instead using the expertise and experience of  District staff to provide professional development and other essential services?  

November Board of Education Action Meeting: Thursday November 19, 5 PM . Check the Board website for updated information on the meeting format (virtual or in-person) as well as how to sign up to testify.

Action Items of Note

[Find the full List of Action Items here]

Elimination of Policy 141 Cedes Local Control Back to Harrisburg 

Item 1: Review of Proposed Board Policies

The Board of Education will consider the amendment of the following policies, in the form attached, at the November Action Meeting: 

  • 126 Class Size
  • 145 School Wellness Nutrition and Physical Education and Activity
  • 255 Educational Stability for Children in Foster Care
  • 400 (NEW) Charter School Monitoring Structures
  • 401 (NEW) Charter School Authorizing Functions
  • 622 Government Accounting Standards Board Statement 34
  • 624 Capital Assets
  • 801 Public Records

Furthermore, the Board will consider the elimination of the following policies, in the form attached below, at the November Action Meeting. Relevant portions of these policies have been incorporated into existing policies. 

  • 141 Renaissance Schools Initiative
  • 345 Identification Badges
  • 400 Charter Schools
  • 401 Charter School Office
  • 402 New Charter Applications
  • 403 Requirement of Signed Charter
  • 404 Monitoring
  • 405 Renewal of Charters
  • 406 Charter Amendments

APPS Analysis: Policies require careful reading to fully understand what is being added, modified, or deleted. APPS has sounded the alarm about the elimination of Policy 141, the Renaissance Charter Initiative, since it was proposed at last month’s Policy Committee Meeting.  In 2011, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman introduced her controversial Imagine 2014, a pathway to privatization through takeover of  neighborhood schools by private companies. The School Reform Commission approved the payment of tax dollars to private companies to manage struggling schools, mostly in North and West Philadelphia.  Neighborhood schools were forced into this program in order to “effect dramatic change”  at “chronically underperforming schools”.  Renaissance Charter Schools have not come close to meeting these goals. District-run schools, in most cases, surpass them academically, and without resorting to the barriers to enrollment and denial of due process rights to students facing expulsion that charter schools employ.  Charter companies took on management of the neighborhood schools with the understanding that the District could exercise its “discretion” to renew or non-renew the school at the end of its five-year term according to Policy 141 . The Policy also allowed the District to intervene at any time during the Renaissance charter term if necessary. The Board’s elimination of Policy 141, for the purposes of accountability and oversight,  deregulates Renaissance Charters, thereby ceding control back to the state. Any charter school can contest a Board non-renewal vote at the state  Charter Appeals Board. Why would the Mayor appoint a Board to take back local control only to cede part of that control back to the state? Not one of the 21 Renaissance charter schools has turned around a neighborhood school for the better.  In 2014, parents at both Steel and Munoz-Marin elementary schools voted decisively against takeovers by Renaissance charter companies. That was the first and last year parents were given the vote on the matter.  In 2016  Cooke, Huey, and Wister schools found themselves facing the same predicament but the District had rescinded the right to vote. The Great Oak company’s takeover of Cooke School  was denied after a scathing report issued by the office of Councilmember Helen Gym.   Most parents were against the Wister takeover and fought for months to stop it, but the SRC, after sustained and often unethical lobbying by Mastery, voted against the parents’ wishes.Wister and Huey were the last schools forced into the Renaissance Charter Program. Board member Chris McGinley told the Board, at his last official meeting in April, that the program was a very expensive failure and that the Board should look into taking back some of the schools that had not met standards for years. The Board, after promising to consider McGinley’s proposal, actually held a special meeting at which they promised not to move toward any reform of the program. And to reassure Renaissance charter operators further, they now propose to abdicate their own power to ever do anything to improve those schools. 

Comcast Money Expands its Influence in District Affairs

Comcast has been a major beneficiary of  tax policies that deprive our schools of desperately needed funding. Tax abatements are  just one part of the funding problem. In 2019 Comcast received the largest share of Philadelphia’s tax abatement. Following in the tradition of wealthy corporations such as Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford,  Comcast created a foundation that provides them significant  tax breaks as well as a way of advertising their charitable activities. 

Item 2: Acceptance of a Donation from the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia – Support to District’s Equity Coalition ($250,000)

Justification of Donation:  The Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation has made a donation to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, the purpose of which is to provide strategic and operational support for the District’s Equity Coalition. Accepting this donation from the Fund means that the District will receive the support at no cost to the District.

 Description:The Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation has made a donation to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, the purpose of which is to provide strategic and operational support for the District’s Equity Coalition. A significant focus will be the development and execution of an Equity Leadership Program “Equity Partners Fellowship” aimed at immersing a cohort of District staff and students in a year long personalized experiential learning opportunity designed to help educators create interpersonal, institutional, and ideological change around race and equity. Twenty (20) District employees will be identified by the Equity Coalition to serve as Equity Fellows. Equity Fellows will receive intensive training from the Equity Lab and other providers in developing leadership skills to become agents of change in enhancing equity in the District. With the grant from Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation, the Fund will cover the costs of:  building the equity leadership, convening, and facilitation skills of Equity Coalition leaders; and training Equity Fellows and providing them with a $1,000 stipend during their time in the program. This work will support the development of an Equity Framework, lens, and strategy for the District, and build the internal capacity to deliver anti-racist professional learning throughout the District.   

APPS Analysis: Last month APPS asked about the Equity Coalition but have yet to get any answers: When do they meet? Are Equity Coalition members actually involved in decision-making or only there in an advisory role?  Or is this simply a window-dressing response to current events? Is the Equity Coalition addressing the issue system-wide? If there is money available to pay “Fellows” why haven’t the resident practitioner-experts not only been given a seat at the decision making table but paid for their time?  As we have noted, members of the Racial Justice Organizing Committee and Melanated Educators Collective have been doing this work as District staff for years. They have the education, experience, and knowledge of working within the District on this issue. Why is the District leadership failing to engage them as partners in this urgent endeavor?“A coalition has no real oversight,” CASA President Robin Cooper said in response to the District’s unveiling plans for starting an Equity Coalition. “We are looking for an office like the Inspector General’s Office that really ensures diversity is respected throughout the district.”

Item 4:  Ratification of Authorization of Donation Acceptance from The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and Memorandum of Understanding with Accenture – Donation Acceptance ($300,000)

Description: Accenture brings content expertise, national research on promising practices, and expert project managers in their support of the District’s school reopening planning, implementation, and readiness reporting. The District benefited from additional capacity and support in developing multiple school reopening scenarios and learning models to support the delivery of high-quality instruction seamlessly across in-person and digital environments and address social and academic needs of all students. Planned operations that support digital learning, hybrid learning, and in-person learning have facilitated the District’s ability to reopen schools with plans for digital learning and a hybrid model to proceed toward in-person learning and/or revert to digital learning as needed based on the current health conditions, data, and agency guidance. Accenture has provided school reopening scenario design, analysis, and assistance in drafting the District’s reopening framework and digital and hybrid school opening plans with focus on the health and safety of school community members, the experience for students, and the needs of families and stakeholders. Accenture is continuing to provide critical support to the District in implementing its school reopening plan and regularly tracking and reporting on readiness to move along the learning model continuum from a digital learning model to a hybrid learning model.  Accenture’s support and services for the District have been made possible by a donation from the Fund for The School District of Philadelphia.

APPS Analysis: In the tradition of other corporate interests, we see the growing influence of Comcast in formulating District initiatives, then donating to ensure their designated contractor gets the green light. Accenture helped to produce the glossy but shortsigted Reopening Plan in July, which turned out to be impossible to implement.  Accenture’s plan included what anyone familiar with the District would have seen as impossibilities for an underfunded district with older buildings, many of which contain asbestos and mold, ventilation systems in need of repair,  windows that don’t open, and a lack of cleaning supplies. This is another example of the District’s propensity to contract with international business firms clueless about our realities.  In 2012, the SRC contracted with the Boston Consulting ( BCG) to come up with a plan–paid for by the William Penn Foundation–to close 88 neighborhood schools.  Accenture follows this pattern of “donating” its services, then having a foundation underwrite its costs.  Accenture derives its name from “Accent on the future”. They incorporated in Bermuda to avoid paying taxes in the US.  Accenture arrives with other baggage, including failure to pay taxes in Ireland as well as overcharging the US government to recruit Customs and Border Protection officers. Not exactly a sterling reputation. Another example of a global consulting entity that school privatizers freely use to further privatization goals.

Item 3: Acceptance of Donation from The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia and Memorandum of Understanding with Kelly Services – Donation Acceptance ($175,000)

Description:  The Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation has made a donation to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia for the purpose of providing support to the District in the implementation of the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  The Fund will therefore use the donation to cover the costs of engaging Kelly Services to provide an HRIS consultant to support the District’s Office of Talent during the remainder of the implementation of Oracle HCM, Kronos, and Taleo. The consultant will work across the Office of Talent to document paper based business processes that are not yet part of the QITE Project, and will collaborate with the District and CRT to build the work into new systems as appropriate. The consultant will also support the ongoing implementation work, specifically in the areas managed by the Office of Talent where multiple systems will be integrated. This includes the absence request and approval portion of the time and attendance solution (Aesop/Oracle/Kronos) as well as the onboarding integration for employees and contractors (Taleo/Oracle). 

The consultant identified by Kelly Services to fill the role has 18 years of functional and technical HRIS experience, including five years working for the School District of Palm Beach County as their Lead ERP Specialist. In that role, she moved their HR department from paper processes into PeopleSoft, developed reporting and dashboards for the team, and worked with users to maintain management of systems post go-live.

APPS Analysis: Why is the District footing the bill for an outside contractor? If Kelly Services wants to continue working with the District to provide substitute teachers then they should pay for the consultant “identified by Kelly Services to fill this role”.  The Description notes the various District departments this consultant will be working with; however, the public has a right to know who this person is. Interesting that Kelly Services notes their candidate’s years of experience. The District  should follow Kelly Services lead when hiring and/or placing employees. Experience matters. Note: the District needs to explain what the QITE Project, HRIS, and CRT stand for so that the public knows where this money goes.

Item 30: Acceptance of Donation of School Technology from the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia ($550,000) Added 10.5.20

Justification of Donation:  Schools need an infusion of technology in order to safely reopen in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia has secured a grant from the Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation for that purpose.

Description: Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation has given a grant to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, the purpose of which is to provide funding for the purchase of technology to enable schools to reopen safely in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund will purchase technology at the direction of the Office of Information Technology and donate the purchased equipment to the District for use in reopening schools.  Purchased items to be donated will include portable laptops for students, related peripherals, and other necessary technology for schools.  This donation will allow the District to achieve its goal of allocating a dedicated Chromebook to each student, often referred to as a one to one environment, the District’s approach to supporting virtual learning since the Spring of 2020. 

APPS Analysis: Instead of simply providing technical equipment such as laptops, which are essential for virtual schooling, Comcast makes a donation to the non-profit Fund, gets a tax break and more good press.  When the District went virtual last Spring Dr Hite directly asked Comcast to open their wifi networks “so all students could learn through their laptops “ Comcast refused.  Instead, they offered two free months of Internet Essentials, its broadband program for low-income customers, but some teachers, parents, and advocates said they have problems gaining and maintaining access. Will these donated laptops be new or refurbished? APPS asks again: When families have to pay for their children to attend schools, do we still have a system of free public education? 

DIstrict Offers Parents Transportation Vouchers 

Item 14: Ratification of Parent Flat Rate Payment for Transportation Expenses ($22,500,000)

Description:  The District’s Department of Transportation Services (“Transportation Services”) is seeking authorization to provide a monthly flat rate of $150 to parents/guardians for transporting their child to and from school if they are eligible for bus, van, or cab service for the 2020-21 school year, under a new pilot program.  The payments will begin once a child’s school resumes for in-person classes. Multiple children can be enrolled in the program, but the flat rate is per household, not per child.  Families must also commit to remain in the program through at least December 2020 to remain eligible for the flat rate payment.  The maximum a family will receive for participating in the pilot program is $1,500 if they remain enrolled for the entire school year. 

During the first enrollment period, Transportation Services enrolled 7,959 families in the pilot program. A second enrollment period, in September, for School District families and new students at charter and non public schools, is anticipated to sign up 15,000 families, based on the first enrollment period results.  At least 75% of these costs will be reimbursed by the State through the State Subsidy program.  This is a ratification because the deadline for families to enroll during the first enrollment period was August 28, 2020, and the deadline to submit September action items had passed.  By providing a flat rate for transportation expenses, Transportation can support the District’s Action Goals of preparing students to be ready for college or career and reading at grade level by age 8.

APPS Analysis:  This Item is truly puzzling. Last month, parents received a letter asking them to make a choice, but the issue was never discussed at any Board meeting. This Item seeks to decrease the number of students riding District buses and vans at the same time the District advertises that they are hiring bus drivers. Why is the District shifting this responsibility onto the parents? There already is a Mileage Reimbursement Program for parents driving their children to school. However, according to the District website, those already getting the reimbursement are excluded from participating in this “Parent Flat Rate Program”. This program asks parents to submit extensive information including:  a monthly application to be submitted through Google Form; verification from a school official about days attended for each month; requirement that students attend 70% of their school’s instructional days each month. The vehicle’s VIN, entered on the form, must be identical to the automobile transporting the student(s) in order for payment to be issued. The last point raises the question of who will be checking on the vehicle the student rides to school.  Depending on the school’s location, $150 may be barely enough to cover gas and parking fees. Some students using District vehicles require assistance such as walkers or wheelchairs. Will assistance be provided to enable students to enter and leave the school building? Will a designated parking space be reserved ? According to the Description above, there was a first enrollment period. But there is no mention of this Plan prior to the October Action Meeting. When did the Board approve such an expenditure? And can parents trust the District to guard their personal and financial information after submitting it through a Google form? 

Socialized Recess 

Item 21: Contracts with Playworks Education Energized d.b.a Playworks Pennsylvania and Laila Way Behavioral Services ($800,000)

Description: Recess and lunchtime are typically unstructured portions of the school day. Research demonstrates that conflicts between students, including bullying, are often initiated and/or exacerbated during these unstructured times. However, with appropriate programming recess and lunch can be fun, pro-social times when students can build relationships and develop social-emotional skills. The funds allocated by this Action Item will be used for two purposes. First, to support Playworks services to specific schools that have allocated funds in their own budgets for this purpose. Second, to support district-wide initiatives, including increasing access to virtual resources and building district capacity to support prosocial recess and lunch. Services to individual schools:  A subset of individual schools have budgeted for Playworks TeamUP or Coach services at their school and will use their own funds for these services. The total authorization requested for this purpose is $486,000. These schools include Gilbert Spruance, Edwin Stanton, Philip Sheridan, Lewis Elkin, Alain Locke, Samuel Pennypacker, Spring Garden, Edwin Forrest, Andrew Morrison, Fitler Academics Plus, Rhawnhurst, Charles Henry, Juniata Park Academy, Avery D. Harrington, Robert Lamberton. While school is virtual, these schools will receive the following services as part of the Playworks TeamUP and Coach models. 

  1. Live, virtual activities and games focused on social-emotional competencies for larger groups of students during scheduled recess time. These are physically active and are led by Playworks staff and school climate staff.
  2. Pre-recorded virtual content for teachers, including games and brain breaks targeting SEL competencies. Led by Playworks.
  3. Junior Coach program, which teaches 4th and 5th graders to lead virtual games and activities for younger students in their schools. This is provided as a live, virtual after-school club.
  4. Once regular school resumes, these activities will transition to in-person versions at these schools.

 District-wide services:  The Office of School Climate and Culture requests authorization to enter contracts of up to an additional $214,000 with Playworks and $100,000 with a second provider, Laila Way. Services performed under these contracts will a) increase SDP’s access to virtual games and activities for K-8 schools via Playworks’ Keep Playing program and b) build the capacity of  SDP staff to design and support prosocial recess and lunch programming in the future, thereby reducing the need for schools to invest in large contracts for this support. These capacity-building services include: 

  1. Training and support for ALL SDP Climate Managers, Liaisons, and Specialists on prosocial recess and lunch practices for K-8. This investment would help improve school climate in the district overall by building the skills and capacity of school-level staff to transform recess and lunch from unstructured times when behavioral issues tend to occur to positive, structured times. Both providers bring strengths in this area. 
  2. In-depth training for Office of School Climate and Culture staff, to build internal capacity to support prosocial recess and lunch.
  3. Support in developing and implementing a comprehensive training and support package for recess and lunch.

APPS Analysis: APPS concerns address the accessibility and equity of providing a rich recess socialization program, not the quality of Playworks programming  There are 149 elementary schools in the District, yet only 15 of them are included in this grant.  If the District does consider recess important, where is its Recess Policy? Only a set policy guarantees that children get adequate recess at every school, not just a select few.  This Wellness Policy addresses physical activity but does not mention recess specifically: “Physical​ ​activity​ ​–​ ​opportunities​ ​shall​ ​be​ ​provided​ ​for​ ​every​ ​student​ ​to​ ​develop​ ​the knowledge​ ​and​ ​skills​ ​for​ ​specific​ ​physical​ ​activities,​ ​maintain​ ​physical​ ​fitness,​ ​regularly participate​ ​in​ ​physical​ ​activity,​ ​and​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​short​ ​and​ ​long-term​ ​benefits​ ​of​ ​a physically​ ​active​ ​and​ ​healthful​ ​lifestyle.”  Playworks promises to provide  “ [I]n-depth training for Office of School Climate and Culture staff, to build internal capacity to support prosocial recess and lunch. “ That is one step in the right direction, as long as there is a system to ensure every school receives both the training and the support needed. 

More Virtual Contracts 

Item 2:  Contract with Instructure, Inc. – Canvas Learning Management Platform ($1,700,000)  With Instructure, Inc. 

Description: Novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 disease has our district faced with the challenge of maintaining effective instruction aligned to Common Core grade-level expectations, student engagement, peer to peer interactions, and meaningful interactions among teachers and students. The sudden thrust into digital learning presents a tidal wave of challenges leading to increased frustration among educators, administrators, students, and families. The District has several ed-tech tools, apps, and resources available, including Google Classroom, SMART Learning Suite Online, and Zoom; however, having multiple fragmented options forces educators to cobble together a disparate set of tools that can lead to distraction, duplicated efforts, wasted resources, and lost learning opportunities. This challenge can be eliminated by utilizing a learning management platform. 

A Learning Management Platform will provide a virtual classroom and a vast repository where curricular content relevant to students, teachers, families, and administrators can be stored and tracked and easily accessed. From any device, educators, students, and families will be able to view grades and course content, submit assignments, keep track of course work with a to-do list and calendar, send and receive messages, receive push notifications for new grades and course updates, and more. Families with multiple students across multiple schools will be able to communicate with schools and access all their students’ grades, schedules, due dates, and feedback from teachers, in one convenient place – simplifying the learning experience for educators, students, and families.

 Ensuring a successful and timely implementation and offering robust training for educators, students and families are critical. The Learning Management Platform will be strategically introduced in middle and high schools this school year and elementary schools in school year 2021-22. At the end of implementation, all grades across all schools will have access to the Learning Management Platform. Informational and training sessions utilizing various modalities will be offered to all end users. The District will work closely with the vendor to ensure the District’s needs are understood, that valuable connections to pedagogical practice are made, and that there are ample opportunities for application, reflection, and feedback from end-users. Additionally, the District will ensure that administrators, faculty, and staff can contact in-house support experts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year, through online ticket submission, chat, email, or phone for support.

APPS Analysis: This Item again raises the question of how teachers and principals are included in the process to both evaluate virtual learning needs and to help select an appropriate learning management system (LMS). It appears from numerous criticisms raised both at the October 8 Joint Committee meeting and on social media that upper management made the decision without involving those who are  actually using online teaching programs. A learning management system should deliver and manage all types of content, including video, courses, and documents. An LMS acts  as a platform to manage different education needs such as teaching,grading, and providing assignments.  Where is the support that teachers and other school staff will need to make any switch?  Teachers already adjusting to a virtual platform would have to switch to a different one now–why? And if this one doesn’t work out, does that mean more change and more stress for District staff? 

The District already uses Zoom and Google classroom. Zoom is not a LMS but simply a video conferencing tool. Google classroom is free, but according to those using it, inadequate to meet the needs of our students. The Item says that  “[T]he District will work closely with the vendor to ensure the District’s needs are understood, that valuable connections to pedagogical practice are made, and that there are ample opportunities for application, reflection, and feedback from end-users.” But that raises a red flag in that the District failed to support schools staff, students, and parents during this extraordinarily difficult time. The level of trust in the District’s ability to engage with school staff, students, and parents has plummeted during this crisis, as seen by the overwhelming pushback in July against Hite’s in-person Reopening Plan and  by CASA’s vote of no confidence in Dr. Hite. That follows the OIG report detailing the incompetence and malfeasance displayed during the construction debacle at Benjamin Franklin High School.

More Outsourcing of Anti-Racist Training 

Item 29:  Contract with Steppingstone Scholars – Equity Coordinator – Masterman ($65,000)

Description: Masterman High School will work with Steppingstones’ Equity Coordinator to develop and coordinate programming and initiatives to support students of color in social, emotional and leadership development for students in grades 5-12. The Equity Coordinator will support a variety of equity initiatives in the school and be an integral part of the School Advisory Council, as well as, student working groups around issues of equity. The Equity Coordinator is also responsible for developing, implementing and coordinating academically rigorous programs and students’ access to college readiness opportunities and career development, specifically targeting students of color and low-income students. This position will work to support and increase racially and economically underrepresented populations at the school. This individual will be key to diversity initiatives, such as recruiting and awareness training, as well as advising students throughout their academic career in coordination with school leadership and counselors. The staff is committed to making Masterman High School an anti-racist school. The school community will work together on initiatives to address diversity and cultural sensitivity in the classroom. The Masterman High School leadership will continue to provide professional development for staff so that all students feel safe. The school will analyze both HIBster (the District’s Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying  reporting system) and an internal school reporting protocol being created by students. The school will conduct student surveys and meetings with student focus groups to evaluate progress. This initiative is supported by the District’s Equity Coalition. As we pursue a district-wide alignment effort, schools are encouraged to pursue equity and anti-racism work that meets their immediate needs. Outcomes from these initiatives will be incorporated into the District Audit and needs assessment that supports the Equity Coalition work.

APPS Analysis: The issues raised by Masterman students and alumni require institutional change, beginning with a reform in special-admit enrollment policies. For years, the District has looked the other way at the low admission rates of minority students.  A few months ago, Dr. Hite said that the District would switch to a lottery system, but a District spokesperson quickly backpedalled, saying that might happen “in the future”. The pandemic has meant a suspension of high-stakes testing (a move that should be made permanent), so there are no test scores from the 2019/20 SY to be calculated for the special-admit high schools. As to Masterman’s specific situation, why is the District relying on an outside agency to staff this position? Is this the beginning of streaming contracts to Steppingstone instead of using already existing resources within the District? Superintendent Hite needs to do more than thank dedicated staff. He needs to acknowledge and make use of their expertise. Steppingstone recently advertised this position as “College and Workforce Equity Coordinator (Masterman)” with a salary ranging from $55,000-60,000. The hiree reports directly to the Steppingstone Vice President of Programs. This is a position within a district school–why is an outsider hired who reports to Steppingstone? The same issue arises as with the Kelly Services contract–why does the Board not tell the public who will be working with students and staff in public schools?  We note that Sean Vereen, Executive Director of Steppingstone, sits on both the Nominating Panel that screened prospective Board members as well as the Board of the  Philadelphia School Partnership.