by Karel Kilimnik
Last Spring, at the urging of Superintendent Hite, the SRC approved a 2018-19 School Calendar in which school started a week before Labor Day. Dr. Hite gave little rationale for this, but he did say that June is just as hot a month as August. The first week of school brought days of early dismissals because of extreme heat and the lack of air conditioning in most district buildings. Dr. Hite, in response to public criticism, has created a “calendar committee” to gather data on this issue, which would have been a better idea last Spring. One lasting legacy of the SRC and the Hite administration is the lack of stakeholder dialogue on crucial decisions. Fortunately, the New Board of Education has changed its approach in order to allow discourse on a range of policies and practices. The BOE has established three new committees: Finance and Facilities, Student Achievement and Support, and District Partnerships and Community Engagement; the Policy Committee was established last year and will continue to meet under the Board. (See our reports on the first two committee meetings.) This structure allows for more dialogue about proposed policies and for raising concerns so that the community will have more than the three minutes allotted to BOE Action speakers.
We often feel like the proverbial broken record as we continue to track money spent on outsourcing staff and services instead of rebuilding the internal District structure. There is an untold wealth of professional wisdom among those with years of experience in our classrooms and offices. Teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, and other staff have devoted their lives to working with students. They have created curriculum, projects, and other educational materials based on their knowledge and understanding of the students in their classrooms and schools. This administration needs to acknowledge and support these efforts across the district, not just in selected schools. For example, instead of sending more money into the coffers of vendors such as In-Class Today,Inc (Action Item A-15), the District could reinstate the School-Home Liaison staff. The District employed Nutrition Educators (B-2) until outsourcing their jobs to Catapult Learning,LLC last year. Every time this happens the District abdicates its responsibility for accountability to students and parents; private companies are not accountable to the public. Whenever District services are outsourced, and whenever a school is closed or charterized, the Superintendent should return a portion of his salary, as he is no longer responsible for overseeing that service or that school. We need Board members to question these expenditures as the SRC did not. Who benefits – our children or vendors?
This Year’s Model
Every year Superintendent Hite announces some new model of transforming schools that will “turn around” underperforming neighborhood schools. Over the past two years, he has targeted 17 schools as part of his “System of Great Schools” (or “Priority”) program. This has created tremendous uncertainty and instability as teachers and principals worry about whether they will have to re-apply for their positions simply to stay in their school, while parents fight to keep teachers and administrators who have dedicated themselves to those schools. In keeping with the Hite administration practice of rebranding positions and programs, an indication of how the corporate mentality has infected the district, this initiative is now referred to as “Focus Schools”. Unlike in previous years, there has been no resolution or action item approving contracts to consultants for this program. APPS has learned that Cambridge Education, who was paid $300,000 for obviously inadequate reports, will not return for another serving of District money.
However, Temple University will again be facilitating community engagement. The District has entered into a contract with Temple, but since for some reason it was not approved by the SRC or the BOE, the public has not been informed of the details or the amount. We have found it very difficult to find current information on the District website, so we are posting a link to the page. The three Priority schools this year are:
Avery D. Harrington Elementary School (K-8), 5300 Baltimore Avenue
Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School (6-8), 7501 Woodbine Avenue
Alain Locke Elementary School (K-8), 4550 Haverford Avenue
Last month we applauded the posting of Capital Programs Contract Modification summaries in the Action Item Summary. As of the date of this edition of Eyes, those Summaries have yet to appear. We also urged the BOE to list vendor contracts that enables the public to view the negotiated terms.
Charter Chains Move to Consolidate Power
Will the new Board members continue their predecessors’ tradition of bending over backwards to ensure that well-connected charter schools find a home in the District? Some SRC Commissioners even made a point of advising applicants whose charters had been denied to reapply—which they did, when they were then approved. Public schools need the Board to set a new course. That means not simply rubber-stamping inadequate charter applications without acknowledging the impact on neighborhood schools. MaST is simply one in a string of charters with connections to enlarge their realm at the expense of every student in the District.
If in October the Board approves the application from MaST charter to consolidate its governing boards, it will become the first Multiple Charter School Organization in the city and the state. We have seen no coverage about this in the local press, but the public needs to understand how this could affect the District in many ways, including financially.
…instead of spending $ 384,000 (Action A-15) on outsourcing Attendance Services, the District brought back the School-Community Liaisons? Developing and maintaining relationships with students and families not only improves attendance but helps to prevent or resolve other issues as well. That money would not only work towards building better Home-School relations but also create jobs in low -income neighborhoods by hiring community residents.
Action Items of Note
BOE-2 (Pending) MaST Community Charter School III: Grant of Charter
On February 22, 2018, the School Reform Commission (SRC) granted a new charter application with conditions submitted by MaST Community Charter School III. The new charter application for MaST Community Charter School III can be viewed here. The resolution granting this application, SRC-5, approved on February 22, 2018, can be viewed here. MaST Community Charter School III has satisfied conditions which are outlined in Resolution SRC-5, and this action will grant the MaST Community Charter School III charter
APPS Analysis: This is the final step in approving the third school in the MaST chain, to open in September 2019. MaST is also the first Charter School to apply for a Multiple Charter School Organization (MCSO) designation in the District. https://www.philasd.org/charterschools/mcso/ The PA state Charter School Law (the worst in the country according to State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale) allows “the consolidation or merger of two or more existing charter schools into a single entity under the oversight of a single board and a single chief administrator.” MCSO has the potential to change the funding and governance structures of charter school operators with more than one school. We will be reporting on this in other posts as we begin to better understand the implications.
The February 2018 APPS report on the MaST Charter application gives a reminder of what charter schools promised to do—before investors saw an opportunity to use the model to reap financial benefits:
“Reading this application reminds us that originally charter schools were viewed as potential models of best practices that they would readily share with public schools. If MaST is doing such an outstanding job, why not take the money MaST wants to open a third campus and replicate this model in district schools? There would be no start-up costs as already existing schools would be used. It would serve the original function of charter schools in replicating their model unless their goal is to create an alternative to the School District of Philadelphia (see the quote below from Founder Karen DelGuercio under Board Members). The MaST model is not that different from what many District schools are attempting to do. The difference is that MaST has the funding base that enables this to happen, while District schools are starved for money. Approving this application would take more funds from neighborhood schools.”
The conditions stipulated by the SRC when they approved this new Charter include: cutting enrollment from 2,600 to 900; enrolling at least 50% of its “first-time enrolled students from students residing in the following zip codes….19120,19124,19140, and 19141”; a prohibition of MaST III board members serving on the boards of the other two MaST schools. If enrolled how long will these students spend traveling to and from school? Is the District’s Charter School Office going to monitor these conditions? Finally, will the BOE act on enforcing these conditions instead of giving them more time to comply?
A-15 Categorical/Grant Fund: $192,000 Contract Amendment with In-Class Today, Inc.
RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform an amendment of contract number 400/F18, originally entered into with In-Class Today, Inc. pursuant to Resolution A-14, approved by the School Reform Commission on November 16, 2017, by extending the term of the contract from its original scheduled expiration date of November 17, 2018 through November 17, 2019 and by increasing the dollar amount of the contract by an additional $192,000.00 from $192,000.00 to a new total amount not to exceed $384,000.00, to leverage direct mailings for the purpose of increasing student attendance.
Description: The School District of Philadelphia will contract with In-Class Today, Inc. (ICT) to leverage direct mail communications to empower parents and guardians with relevant, useful and comprehensive information about their own child’s absenteeism to increase attendance and thereby improve student achievement.
APPS Analysis: In November 2017 we wrote the about the In-Class Today, Inc (Resolution A-14). Is there data showing the results of their work? If so, Dr. Hite should present it before the Board approves this contract. The numbers show that absenteeism continues to be a problem in the District. Why would the BOE want to approve increasing their contract when we are not being shown any evidence of their success in stemming absenteeism? We do know that having enough staff to create strong relationships between school and home works to improve attendance. Hedy Chang, executive director of Attendance Works, says, “Part of what makes kids come to school is a relationship when they’re connected to the staff. Relationships are essential to motivating kids to show up to school, even when it’s tough.”
School Community Liaisons lived in the school community and understood both neighborhood and school issues. They served as the bridge between home and school, an invaluable resource that has been eliminated. Bring them back!
Evaluation, Research and Accountability
A-16 Extension of Grant Acceptance Period – William Penn Foundation/No Cost Contract Extension with InProcess Consulting and Mighty Engine
RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept a no-cost extension of the utilization period of a grant from the William Penn Foundation, previously authorized pursuant to Resolution A-27, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 15, 2018, to extend and integrate recent work around data visualization and public engagement, by extending the grant utilization period from its scheduled expiration date of October 15, 2018 through February 28, 2019; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform an amendment of a contract with InProcess Consulting (IPC), previously authorized pursuant to Resolution A-27, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 15, 2018, by extending the term of the contract from its scheduled expiration date of October 15, 2018 through February 28, 2019; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver, and perform an amendment of a contract with Mighty Engine, previously authorized pursuant to Resolution A-27, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 15, 2018, by extending the term of the contract from its scheduled expiration date of October 15, 2018 through February 28, 2019.
Description: This is an extension of the utilization period of a previously authorized grant from the William Penn Foundation, as well as the extension of contracts with two vendors who are supporting the goals of the grant. The purpose of the grant is to develop, enhance and support the use of public-facing interactive dashboard displays of Philadelphia education data.
APPS Analysis: Last month the Board posted a list of contract summaries for building vendors. We suggested doing the same for other vendors so that the public can see what is being proposed and at what cost. The Board consists of nine government officials who are accountable to the public. Thus, the public should be able to access all pertinent documents. The March 15 2018 SRC Resolution Summary states that “Mighty Engine Services will include market research with a variety of user groups, and providing recommendations on how to improve and enhance school profile pages.”. They now seek an amendment to extend the grant but fail to describe the work they have achieved. When the District, or any company with a contract with the District, collects data, the public needs to know how privacy of is being protected. Data can be used in a range of ways to tell a selection of stories from many points of view. How can we know the perspective if we do not see the results?
Is CATAPULT Succeeding in Nutrition Education?
B-2 Categorical/Grant Fund: $2,788,040 Acceptance of Subgrant from Pennsylvania State University – PA SNAP-Ed Nutrition Education – Eat.Right.Now.; Contracts and Memoranda io Understanding with Various Vendors
RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept, if awarded, a subgrant from The Pennsylvania State University, with the grant funds originating from the United States Department of Agriculture via the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, for continuation of the Pennsylvania Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (PA SNAP-Ed), for an amount not to exceed $2,788,040, for the period commencing October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019, and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, contingent upon receipt of this subgrant, to execute, deliver and perform contracts separately with Catapult Learning, LLC. for nutrition education services pursuant to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-ED), for an amount not to exceed $850,000, and with Share Food Program, Inc., to deliver produce stands at School District schools, for an amount not to exceed $200,000, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $1,050,000, for the period commencing October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019, and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform Memoranda of Understanding with the following Eat.Right.Now. community partners to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education services, coordinated with the School District’s own services: (1) The Food Trust, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $813,879; (2) the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, through its Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $767,956; (3) Einstein Healthcare Network, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $1,263,547; (4) Health Promotion Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $793,191; (5) Drexel University’s Nutrition Center, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $1,707,910, and (6) Vetri Community Partnership, for services valued at an amount not to exceed $349,000. Eat.Right.Now community partner services are valued at an aggregate amount not to exceed $4,927,527, at no cost to the School District, for the period commencing October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. The total value of the Eat.Right.Now. Program to the School District is an amount up to $7,715,567 (services by Eat.Right.Now. Community Partners plus the sub-award to the District).
Description: The Pennsylvania Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (PA SNAP-Ed) is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) through a Management Entity at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). Penn State issues subawards to the School District of Philadelphia and community partners to support the collaborative operation of the Eat.Right.Now. Nutrition and Wellness Program (ERN) with the objective to improve nutrition and activity behavior of students and the full implementation of the District’s Wellness Policy. Because all District schools receive the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and utilize the Community Eligibility Provision reimbursement option to offer free meals to all children in high poverty schools, all schools qualify for ERN programming. SDP ERN coordinates the assignment of schools and level of programming offered based on need, capacity and desire of school staff to support and partner with program staff, and funding level and mission objectives of the assigned partner agency. There is no other funding or operational funds to support this comprehensive work.
APPS Analysis: Eighteen months ago, the District outsourced its Nutrition Education program to Catapult Learning LLC. The SRC vote to approve Resolution B-8 effectively eliminating those District teaching positions. That $1,200,000 grant is now supplemented with more government funding. In the June 15, 2017 Eyes on the SRC we provided an overview of the changes in ownership at the vendor now known as Catapult Learning. https://appsphilly.net/eyes-on-the-src-june-15-2017/ Evan a brief overview will make your head spin. In 1976 the company started in Philadelphia as READS, an educational services business for private and religious schools. Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc acquired Catapult in 1995. In 2003 Sylvan sold its K-12 businesses to Apollo Management LP which formed Educate, Inc. In 2004 Educate renamed the Sylvan Education Solutions Division Catapult Learning. In 2008 Catapult Learning was sold to private investors, making Catapult a private, independent company. A series of acquisitions and mergers from 2011 to 2015 has brought us the present iteration of Catapult Learning. Is this a track record we want for a business working in our schools? What kind of job are these Nutrition Educators doing? How stable is their workforce? Has there been any turnover? Every time a service or program is handed over to a private contractor these questions must be answered. The public has a right to know.
Outsourcing Special Needs Services
B-6 Operating Budget: $300,000 Contract with C. B. Community School – Alternative Education Support Services
RESOLVED, that the Board of Education authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with C.B. Community School
to receive materials, frameworks and consultancy for integrated social-emotional learning and competency-based education models as well as referral of students from the School District for
enrollment at C.B. Community School, for an amount not to exceed $300,000.00, for the period commencing October 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
Description: This resolution seeks authorization for The School District of Philadelphia to enter into a contract with C.B. Community School for supports and services to the School District to allow the School District to expand our social-emotional learning and competency-based educational model capabilities. C.B. Community School will provide materials and frameworks related to it¿s social-emotional learning, student supports and competency-based education model to the School District. This would positively inform the School District’s efforts in high school redesign, alternative education, trauma-informed instructional practices and alternative assessment frameworks providing knowledge and expertise to create and grow our own programs to best support our students and their needs.
Further, the School District would like to expand the options available for re-engaging youth to include progressive social-emotional learning environments. Currently, C.B. Community School is not a formal option for student referral from the School District’s Re-Engagement Center or Student Transition Center. This contract would allow the School District to refer up to 70 Philadelphia students to C.B. Community School at no cost to the student/family to enroll.
APPS Analysis: This Action Item is a prime example of providing virtually no significant information to the public about a grant that will probably continue to be renewed on an annual basis—unless the BOE decides to conduct business differently from its predecessors. The CB Community School has its roots in the failed Arise Charter School founded and operated by CB Community School CEO and Founder Roberta Trombetta. The SRC voted not to renew Arise Charter due to failure to meet financial and academic standards, and Arise closed in 2014. CB Community School opened as a private school in 2015. According to a January 2018 article in the Roxborough Review, tuition is approximately $20,000 per student, but fundraising by Trombetta and other CB officials covers most of the costs.
The school also receives taxpayer funding through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) which gives tax credits to eligible businesses contributing to a Scholarship Organization and/or an Educational Improvement Organization”.
Why would the District hand over $300,000 to the operator of an independent private school? CB Community School’s website provides minimal information other than telling people to come visit. They consider Trauma Informed Practice (TIP) part of their curriculum. The fact that they claim to have a Trauma-Informed Practice (TIP) as part of its curriculum is an indication that they do not grasp what TIP actually is. TIP is not a two- hour session of Professional Development or a series of workshops. An authentic TIP Program requires training and ongoing support of every staff person in the school community from principal and teachers to nurses, classroom assistants, cleaning staff and bus drivers. This Action Item opens the door for doubling their student population; the District wants to enroll up to 70 public school students at CB. There is no information that describes the criteria used to evaluate this school and its programs. Is this simply an extension of this administrations’ ongoing outsourcing of educational opportunities instead of building up the District infrastructure? C.B. Community School applied in February 2018 to open a charter school but withdrew its application before the hearings began. Is this grant another entry point into poaching district students and their allotments?