Eyes on the SRC: December 14, 2017

SRC cropped

by Karel Kilimnik

Alert: The SRC posted its resolution lists and summaries on Monday December 4. On Friday afternoon, they added three additional items: renewal votes on Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson, and a vote on the revocation of Khepera Charter. These items are not formal resolutions, as they provide nothing other than the topic of the resolution—they do not state exactly what the SRC will be voting on. That is a clear violation of the PA Sunshine Act. After having postponed renewal votes on Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson for a year and a half, the SRC is now poised to take a vote of some kind on these schools. The SRC’s Charter School Office, citing failure to meet academic, organizational and financial standards, recommended non-renewal for Aspira Olney and Aspira Stetson in April 2016. Stetson’s charter expired in June 2015, Olney’s in June 2016. APPS has asked the SRC several times in the past nineteen months for an update on these renewals; the SRC has refused to tell APPS or the public what its intentions were. We don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Aspira Inc. submitted applications for two new charters last month. Given the SRC’s history, we expect the SRC to rush through the votes on these schools without any explanation or deliberation. In fact, we fear that the SRC will be doing this on many issues in the six months before its official dissolution. It is crucial that parents, community members and elected officials keep a close watch on the SRC between now and July.

Last month we celebrated the beginning of the end of the 16-year reign of the state-appointed School Reform Commission. This month we continue to work with the communities of the six Priority Schools as Dr. Hite is expected to announce his decision on their fates in January or February. Both Mayor Kenney and Dr. Hite have said the district intends to close even more neighborhood schools. At the same time, nine charter companies, including Aspira and Mastery, have submitted applications to open new charters or expand existing campuses. Will these announcements occur during the busy holiday season?

The march of the Edu-vendors continues as more “partners” market their professional development and data collection wares. The board of the Philadelphia School Partnership has chosen to give more money to an SLA school; no question the SRC will approve without discussion of why private organizations have the power to decide which schools receive additional funding. Dr. Hite is making good on his 2013 promise to outsource Head Start services to private vendors. The district is proposing to sell the Beeber Wynnefield Annex for a song twenty years after its closure.

While keeping an eye on all of these issues, we await Dr. Hite’s announcement of which schools will be closed this year or next. Elementary schools Sheppard and EM Stanton were slated for closure in 2012 but remain open today. Why? Strong and sustained organizing of parents, students, community, and the school partners who showed that it is possible to fight back and win. Kenderton parents did not give up fighting for their school after Renaissance provider Young Scholars abandoned them. They came to the SRC, met with the superintendent and other administrators, and refused to stop fighting for their children and their school. This year Kenderton has additional faculty and staff, a veteran principal, and lower class size in k to 3rd grade. The district didn’t try to sell the idea—as they are to communities of this year’s Priority schools— that all the school needed was (yet another) outside company, like Jounce Partners or ISA, to “turn around” the school.

What If…?

…that $800,00 from PSP were used to restore extracurricular activities in schools? Is the Hite administration ever going to bring back the after-school activities, the interesting and innovative electives, the drama/journalism/art/photography clubs?

Next SRC meeting: Thursday December 14 at 4:30 PM. Please call 215-400-4180 before 3:30 PM Wednesday December 13 to register to speak.

Resolutions of Note
To see the complete Resolutions Summary go to the School District website.

 More Outsourcing of Professional Development
A-3     Categorical/Grant Fund: $100,000 Acceptance of Grant from Wallace Foundation; $100,000 Contract with IO Education – Professional Development
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept with appreciation, a grant from the Wallace Foundation, to implement the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) school leader assessment tool, in an amount up to $100,000, for the period commencing December 15, 2017 through March 15, 2019, and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, conditioned on receipt of this grant, to execute, deliver and perform a contract with IO Education to implement the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) school leader assessment tool, for an amount not to exceed $100,000, for the period commencing December 15, 2017, through March 15, 2019.

Description: The Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education is a research based evaluation tool that measures the effectiveness of school leaders by providing a detailed assessment of a principal’s behaviors. VAL-ED focuses on the skills and behaviors unique to the role and career of a principal, providing evidence that the appropriate and necessary instructional leadership behaviors are exhibited at the school. The VAL-ED would be administered to all District principals.

APPS Analysis: IO Education lists thirteen staff members with photos—but with no background information. Who are they and what experience do they have in Education? Are they researchers or statisticians? IO is all about data – how to collect it and how to use it. What our principals need to create a positive learning community in their schools is adequate staffing and resources to support them as instructional leaders. How about building relationships with students, staff, parents, and community? IO proposes to “provide a detailed assessment of a principal’s behaviors”. Principals need support in building a community that cares for its members. The Wallace Foundation began with the philanthropy of DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace who founded the Reader’s Digest. It has joined with Gates, Broad, and other corporate education supporters to change the direction of public education from one of educationally sound practice into market place options intent on union busting and privatizing resources. Data mining lies at the heart of their mission.

Do our schools really need an advertising agency?
A-5     Operating Budget: $50,000 Contract with Mighty Engine, Inc. – Public Communications Services
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee to execute, deliver and perform a contract with Mighty Engine, Inc. to develop a strategic, public communications plan to increase parent, family, and stakeholder understanding of district goals, plans, and initiatives to improve student achievement, for an amount not to exceed $50,000, for the period commencing December 15, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Description: The School District of Philadelphia’s Action Plan 3.0 establishes strategic goals, objectives, and actions to improve student academic outcomes. Recognizing the critical role that parents, families, and partners have in supporting student success, Action Plan 3.0 specifically notes that the district will provide parents with the information and tools to support their children’s academic progress and improve communication throughout the organization and to the public.

Since releasing Action Plan 3.0, the School District of Philadelphia has rebuilt its external relations function, launched a redesigned website, and expanded its communication mediums to improve teacher recruitment, share important information on key academic initiatives and programs, and better use social media to consistently and reliably share information with parents and the public. With these foundational changes in place, the School District of Philadelphia will use the services provided by this contract to develop a comprehensive communications plan that builds on operational improvements and better informs the district’s diverse stakeholder groups

APPS Analysis: APPS members attended meetings this Fall at the six Priority Schools, and we did not hear a single member of the school communities ask for an advertising agency to deliver information. As to the District’s redesigned website—it needs to be redesigned. Just some of the problems: the website is difficult to navigate, information is still missing (documents such as Minutes from past meetings,), finding the schedule for SRC Action meetings takes several clicks to locate, a log-in password is required to view public documents such as Charter School Amendments. Instead of posting a link to the former website as the City did when they upgraded, the District eliminated any link to the previous site and simply posted the new one. These have not been fully resolved after four and a half months. District staff should be fixing the website so that more information is easily accessible, not paying an advertising agency.

SRC Withholds Public Information—Again
A-9     Capital Fund: $227,027 Authorization of Net Cost Change Orders
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform amendments of the attached contracts, for an aggregate amount not to exceed $227,027.

Description: This resolution seeks approval for various revisions to the on-going construction project as detailed on the attached Modification of Contract document. Changes include items designated as errors or omissions, differing site conditions, unforeseen conditions and revisions requested by School District representatives. Change orders approved to rectify errors or omissions will be further reviewed by the Offices of Capital Program and General Counsel for possible recovery of costs through the professional liability insurance policies of the design professionals, negotiations, and filing of claims or lawsuits against the design professionals.

APPS Analysis: The first sentence of the description says that the district “…seeks approval for various revisions to the on-going construction project as detailed on the attached Modification of Contract document.” There is no Modification of Contract document included. The SRC is a governmental body approving expenditures with our tax dollars. The public has a right to see the contract our money will be funding.

Bargain Prices for Sale of Vacant School Buildings
A-12   Declaration of Unused and Unnecessary Land & Buildings; Sale of former Beeber Wynnefield School Annex to Iron Stone Capital Partners
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission declares that certain approximately 0.96 acre parcel of ground, including a two-story building containing approximately 61,000 square feet, located at 1818 N. 53rd Street, 19131, known as the former Beeber Wynnefield School Annex (“the Property”), to be unused and unnecessary to the present and future needs of the School District of Philadelphia within meaning of Section 707 of the Public School Code; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission accepts the recommendation of The Flynn Co. made pursuant to its contract for the marketing and sale of 9 surplus properties, and after receipt and review of this offer for this property to accept the offer of Iron Stone for the Property; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, as Seller, through the Superintendent or his designee, to:

  1. Execute, deliver and perform an Agreement of Sale (the Agreement) for the sale of the Property on an AS IS basis to Iron Stone Capital Partners, or its affiliate, for consideration of $140,000, by cash to be wired at closing and under certain terms and conditions which may be negotiated between the parties, subject to the requirements of Pennsylvania law and the further provisions of this Resolution; and
  2. Hold a closing in which the School District will convey clear free simple title via a special warranty deed to be executed at closing, require the Buyer to pay for certain expenses incurred in connection with the transaction, including, but not limited to, the payment of all state and local real estate transfer taxes, if applicable, and to execute such other documents as may be necessary to accomplish the foregoing, it being conclusively presumed from any action thereby that is authorized on behalf of the School Reform Commission; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that this private sale of real estate is subject to Court approval, pursuant to section 707 (3) of the Public School Code.

Description: The School District owns the property known as the former Beeber Wynnefield School Annex, which was closed in June, 2004 and is currently vacant.

The Buyer has offered to purchase the Property for $140,000. The Buyer has agreed to buy the Property on an “As Is” basis. The Buyer has proposed a 15-day due diligence period and a 15-day closing period. Buyer will deposit $20,000 upon signing the Purchase & Sale Agreement. The Zoning of this building is R-9A – Residential/Mixed use.

The Buyer is committed to retaining an indoor and outdoor recreational amenity for the community subject to receipt of appropriate zoning.

APPS Analysis: Beeber Wynnefield School Annex has been shuttered for almost 20 years. At one point neighbors wanted to buy the building to turn it into a community center but could not afford the asking price of $500,000. The sale price listed now is $ 140,000 for almost 33,000 sq feet. Was the community asked if they wanted to purchase the property for this price? Has any effort been made by the District to offer space to the communities of the almost thirty schools closed during the Hite administration? Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of the fabric of the community. School closures are a community problem, not simply a bottom-line issue for the District. Several properties have been turned over almost immediately to the private sector in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods (Bok High School in South Philly, Smith Elementary in Point Breeze, and West Philadelphia High School) while others languish for decades. Families and business in many areas, especially in North Philadelphia, felt the impact of school closings. Students have had to leave their neighborhoods to find other schools, sometimes navigating heavily-trafficked streets in unfamiliar areas.

This Month’s SLA Resolution
B-2 Donation: $75,000 Ratification of Acceptance of Donation from Inquiry Schools – Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the acceptance with appreciation by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of the donation of $75,000 from Inquiry Schools, for professional development, consulting services and related supports at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Description: The resolution reflects the donation and acceptance of grant from Inquiry Schools to the School District of Philadelphia. The School District is expanding the existing Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber Middle School High School to be a 5th-12th grade school withing the current facilities of Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber. This is a ratifying resolution because the grant funds for this grant from Philadelphia School Partnership were recieved by Inquiry Schools in August 2017, after the resolution submission deadline for the SRC’s August meeting. Prior to school opening on September 5, 2017, the planning and related supports that Inquiry Schools provides needed to begin, to ensure that the school admission process began promptly and without delay.

APPS Analysis: In recent years, the SRC has approved several resolutions accepting grants and donations to fund SLA schools, some from Chris Lehman’s non-profit Inquiry Schools, expanding their enrollment and adding more campuses, including the SLA Middle School (SLA-MS). Lehman, developer and first principal of the first SLA, was promoted to Assistant Superintendent for the Innovation Network before being named CEO for SLA schools last year (the only CEO in the District). PSP has provided over $800,000 to the SLA network, including $215,000 in 2012 to create SLA-MS. This $75,000 grant comes from a PSP through Inquiry Schools to enable SLA at Beeber to expand to a 5-12 middle/high school. It is not the SRC’s job to rubber-stamp decisions made by the board of a private organization about which schools should benefit from additional funding.

Ongoing Outsourcing of Early Childhood Education
B-4   Categorical/Grant Fund: $2,062,100 Ratification of Acceptance of Grant from the William Penn Foundation – Early Learning Programs
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the acceptance by the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of a grant from the William Penn Foundation, in an amount not to exceed $2,062,100, to provide resources to support K-3 early literacy efforts across all elementary schools, for the period commencing December 1, 2017 through August 31, 2021.

Description: This resolution is being submitted as a ratification. Formal notification of the grant award, which has a start date of December 1, 2017, was not provided until early November, which was too late to meet the resolution deadline for the November SRC meeting.

A key component of the School District’s Action Plan, which sets the strategic direction for improving the performance of the District, is Anchor Goal 2, ensuring that students are reading on grade-level by third grade. As part of the work in support of Anchor Goal 2, in 2015-16 the District launched a three-year effort to provide a comprehensive set of supports and resources to enhance literacy instruction in the early grades in every District school, including teacher professional development and training, redesigned instructional materials and assessments, and new classroom materials. These supports were phased-in over three years, beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

Implementation and outcome results to date from this effort have been strong. Positive trends in student outcomes are evident across multiple indicators, with every grade level from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade showing improvement in literacy performance.

As of the current 2017-18 school year:

– Every K-3 teacher has received professional development in evidence-based literacy practices;
– Every elementary school has full-time coaching support for teachers in early literacy instruction;
– Aligned K-3 early literacy assessments are administered in every elementary school so teachers can monitor student progress over time and differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs; and – All K-3 classrooms have new collections of leveled books to facilitate classroom reading instruction.

A key component of the work was the annual operation of a week-long Early Literacy Summer Institute over the past three summers, enabling the District to provide 40 hours of intensive professional development to K-3 teachers from all 150 District elementary schools. The new grant from the William Penn Foundation will enable the District to offer this same type of intensive professional development over the next several summers to 200-300 K-3 teachers annually. Eligible participants will include teachers new to the District, teachers new to the K-3 grade band, and current K-3 teachers who were not able to participate in a previous summer and who might benefit from the additional training. Grant funding will also support the development of 14 hours’ worth of online professional development in early literacy topics that will be owned by the District and can be offered to K-3 teachers at various times throughout the year on an as-needed basis.

APPS Analysis: What happens when this three-year grant supporting Early Literacy ends? Another problem with private entities funding public programs is that their “generosity” ends. What we need is a reliable funding source that guarantees stability. There will always be teachers new to the district as well as newly reassigned teachers who will need professional development and coaching. Lisa Haver’s 2016 Notebook commentary on the problem with the District’s philanthropic fund for literacy addresses this issue:

B-5
Categorical/Grant Fund: $688,500 Ratification of Acceptance of Pre-K Expansion Funding for The PA Department of Education; $276,255 Ratification of Amendment of Contracts with Various Vendors – Preschool Programs
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the acceptance by the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of Pre-K Counts expansion grant funding from the PA Dept. of Education, in an amount not to exceed $688,500, to provide comprehensive preschool services to an additional 81 age-eligible children and their families during the scheduled implementation period July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the execution, delivery, and performance by the School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of amendments of contracts to be entered into with each of the following providers of comprehensive pre-k program services, authorized pursuant to Resolution No. B-2, approved by the School Reform Commission on June 15, 2017, and Resolution No. B-12, approved by the SRC on October 19, 2017, by increasing the aggregate amount of the contracts by $276,255, for the period commencing July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, in the following specific individual amounts:

Bambi Day Care Center, contract increased by $22,410, to an amount not to exceed $448,200, in order to support the operation of three (3) additional pre-k service slots;

Children’s Village, contract increased by $134,895, to an amount not to exceed $1,585,920, in order to support the operation of 17 additional pre-k service slots;

Kinder Academy, contract increased by $111,150, to an amount not to exceed $2,260,950, in order to support the operation of 15 additional pre-k service slots; and

Parent-Infant Center, contract increased by $7,800, to an amount not to exceed $343,200, in order to support the operation of 1 additional pre-k service slot.

Description: The ratification component of this resolution is being requested in accordance with SRC Policy 820, Subsection 8, regarding acceptance and utilization of grant funding. The District did not receive notification of this additional grant award until October 2017, although grantees are being allowed to use funding retroactive to July 1, 2017.

This expansion grant funding from the state will support the operation of a total of 36 new high-quality, comprehensive preschool service slots in partner agencies.

APPS Analysis: In 2013, Dr. Hite announced his intention to turn more District Head Start classrooms over to private vendors in the name of saving money. District Head Start classroom teachers were all certified, received a salary with benefits commensurate with other District teachers, and were PFT members. The SRC should not vote to approve until these questions are answered: Who is monitoring these “vendors”? What happens if they do not meet requirements for a “quality preschool program”? Who intervenes? What supports would be provided?