Eyes on the SRC – February 16, 2017

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By Karel Kilimnik
February 14, 2017

Introduction

At this meeting, Dr. Hite will announce the fate of the eleven Priority Schools targeted for this year’s version of turnaround. Four out of the five options presented (with few details) at public meetings involve pushing teachers out of their schools—without due process—by having them re-apply for their jobs.

Last fall, the SRC approved $200,000 to hire Cambridge Education to do what the Superintendent’s staff should have done: assessing what is working in these eleven schools and how the district could make them work better. The Cambridge report offers very limited data based on meetings with an undetermined number of parents, students, teachers, and community members. APPS members who attended the meetings reported very small turnout at most schools. Cambridge Education did not earn that fee and the SRC should demand a refund. You can read our reports on the Priority Schools and Cambridge Education here.

These Priority Schools are the latest phase of the demolition derby playing in our school district. Last year it was placing three schools into the Renaissance Charter Program. Pushback from the community was so fierce that one of the charter companies dropped out of the running. The previous year it was allowing parents to vote on staying with the district or being turned over to a charter management company. They voted overwhelmingly to remain with the district. As a result parents are no longer allowed to vote on the fate of their children’s schools. Who knows what next year’s cohort of schools to be “turned around” will be called.

We list the resolutions below which illustrate the continued destabilization of the district. Our schools have been stripped of essentials, most of which have not been restored, since Hite’s 2013 Doomsday Budget. There is no guarantee that every school will be able to have an adequate number of counselors and nurses after this year. If a school does not have an outsider donor like the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) showering them with money it is difficult to survive. But these funders come with their own agenda that silences parent, student, and teacher voices.

Our comments are not meant in any way to criticize the specific schools mentioned but the inequities in allocated resources . Both Hill-Freedman World Academy and SLA-MS appear to offer many opportunities to their students and families. We firmly believe in the necessity of having a high-quality and equitable district where every single student is valued, where every school is fully resourced. We envision a district where private funders supplement rather than providing necessary resources, such as purchasing a teacher for one school chosen by them (see Resolution A7).

Note: Because of the district’s change in formatting the Resolution Summary, we have experienced technical difficulties in producing this issue of Eyes. The SRC staff, in answer to our question, has said that due to the high volume of pages posted for the February 16th SRC meeting they cannot post it in Word format as was done previously. That makes it impossible for us to copy individual resolutions without transcribing each one.

In the December 2016 Eyes we noted that Resolutions SRC 1 and 2 referred to policies with no description. This month we have policy descriptions that involve numerous pages. Next month, the SRC should post them as an addendum and not as part of the actual resolutions. They certainly have far more resources than we do to resolve this technical issue in the interest of greater transparency.

(Eyes December 2016) APPS Analysis:  If the public is to review this information, then links should be provided for the policies listed here on the district’s website. Where is the description for each item? The PA State Sunshine Act states that the public has the right to comment on matters of concern”. The wording here may be an effort to provide more information but it falls short of providing enough background for the public to comment.

The next SRC Action meeting is Thursday February 16th at 4:30 PM. Call 215.400.4180 before Wednesday February 15, 4:30 PM to sign up to testify.


 Resolutions of Note

A-7: Categorical/Grant Fund: $80,000 of Grant Acceptance from the Philadelphia School Partnership—Science Leadership Academy

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the acceptance with appreciation by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of the grant of $80,000 from the Philadelphia School Partnership, to fund the salary and benefits for a grade teacher at Science Leadership Academy Middle School (“SLA-MS”) for the period commencing July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.

Description: This resolution reflects the acceptance of grant from Philadelphia School Partnership to the School District of Philadelphia. The School District opened the new, non-selective-admission Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLA-MS) in Powelton in 2016-2117 school year. This new school is part of a proposed K-8 school facility at the site of former University City High School that will also house an expanded Samuel Powel Elementary School.

The Philadelphia School Partnership has been providing financial support for the planning and start-up processes for this new school. The Philadelphia School Partnership previously provided grant funds to Drexel University from its Great Schools Fund to support the strategic planning process for this initiative, and is continuing to provide funding to support the next stage in the school start-up process.

This resolution is ratifying acceptance of a grant with a start date of July, 2016. the terms of the grant were finalized on December 19, 2016 and reimburses the School District of the salary and benefits for a 5th grade teacher for the 2016-2017 school year.

APPS Analysis: A history lesson is essential to understand the context of SLA-MS and its future site. The once-upon-a-time gem of the Philadelphia School District, University City High School, was placed on the hit list of schools facing closure in 2013. UCHS students attended every public forum on Dr Hite’s plan to close schools. They were passionate and resolute in their fight to save their beloved school community. Hite and the SRC ignored the pleas of the University City community, along with 23 others. The valuable 14 acre property, that included the Charles R Drew Elementary School and the Walnut Center Early Childhood program, was sold to Drexel University for a mere $25 million. It is now poised for a $1 billion mixed-use development including new residential, commercial and retail units, a Drexel academic building, public green space…and yes, space for a K-8 public school.

This pattern of destroying traditional district schools, first through starvation of resources, then by an actual wrecking ball, illustrates the true priorities of the SRC and the Hite administration. Corporate education reformers have created a system of underfunded public schools, labeled some failing, then somehow find funding to create new schools. The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) for the past seven years has been cherry-picking schools to fund in order to impose their own curriculum, most often a STEM one, and to force teachers out.

For example, SLA-MS will be temporarily located on Drexel’s campus until the new school that is part of a proposed K-8 school facility at the site of the former University City High School”. Here is the confusing part: this facility ” will also house an expanded Samuel Powel Elementary School”. Is SLA-MS going to be separate from Powell or is Powell going to merge and become another SLA branch? Is Powel to continue as a separate K-5 school? Will SLA-MS be the Powel Middle School? Will Powel Elementary simply merge and become SLA-ES and MS? The vague wording leads to many questions. This $80,000 PSP grant joins the initial 2012 incubation grant of $215,000 (to add grade 5 and plan a new middle school) and the $1.8 million start-up given to SLA-MS. Wouldn’t it be great for every school to have this financial support instead of a handful of carefully selected schools? This $80,000 pays for a 5th grade teacher for this school year. Who pays next year?


 A-19: Capital fund: $319,242 Contract Amendment with BSI Construction, LLC for Professional Construction Management Services – Morris Leeds Middle School Building

RESOLVED, the A-25 added 3-10-16School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to execute, deliver and perform an amendment of a contract, originally entered into with BSI Construction, LLC., pursuant to Resolution A-25, approved by the School Reform Commission on March 17,2016, by increasing the amount of the contract by an additional $319,242 from the $6,500,000 approved by Resolution A-25, to an amount not to exceed $6,819,242. All other terms and conditions of this Professional Construction Management Services Contract will remain the same.

Description: This project involved the conversion of the Morris E. Leeds Middle School (“Leeds”), 1100 E. Mt. Pleasant Street, into a middle secondary program in support of the Hill Freedman World Academy (HFWA), which was relocated to the Leeds building at the start of the 2016-17 academic year. The School Reform commission authorized the relocation of HFWA to the Leeds building by Resolution A-4, approved on February 18, 2016. The adopted FY2015-16 Capital Budget included a classroom modernization project for HWFA pending final determination and approval of a location to support the school’s expansion to a middle secondary academic program.

During the design and construction of the project completed for school opening September 2016, revisions to the scope of work were made by the Office of Capital Program.

Prep and paint 10,000 SF of walls, ceilings, radiators and shelving in the first floor Main Office Suites and the IMC.

Prep and paint 70,000 SF of non-teaching walls and the ceilings in all classrooms except the new Science Labs.

Prep and paint the existing sheet metal unit ventilator covers, built-in classroom metal shelving, electrical panel covers, metal convector covering and under the windows along the exterior elevation in all classroom spaces.

Sand and refinish 2,800 SF of hardwood flooring in rooms 133 and 134.

Prep the existing sup-floor and furnish and install 820 new lockers and infill 780 removed locker spaces in lieu of painting and repairing 1,600 lockers on the 1st and 2nd floors.

Furnish and install eight (8) additional duplex receptacles for gym equipment and furnish and install nine (9) additional light fixtures in the vestibules to the student toilet rooms.

Revisions to the scope of work were directed by the Office of Capital Programs due to unforeseen conditions as follows:

Furnish and install seventy-six (76) isolation valves and associated fittings to the existing domestic water system to prevent water system shutdown of the entire building and to facilitate future maintenance.

Test and repair all of the existing non-operating flush valves for the urinals and water closets through-out the building.

Total revisions amount to $319,242.00. Each revision to the scope was estimated by an independent consultant and negotiated with BSI Construction, LLC. To a fair and reasonable price.

The Facility Condition Index (FCI) score for the Leeds building is 29.39%. The SY2014-15 School Progress Report (SPR) for HFWA is 67 (Reinforce) for the middle school and 56 (Reinforce) for the high school.

APPS Analysis: Once again we find private money playing a significant role in district planning and policy.

Hill Freedman appears to be a thriving school meeting the needs of its students and their families. One reason it is able to do so is the financial support of PSP and other private entities. This contributes to the inequities of the School District of Philadelphia. Since 2013, some schools have been forced to play musical chairs. Due to high rent, Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice was moved from the New Coventry campus in Mt. Airy into the Leeds building. For some reason, no renovations like the ones described here were made for Parkway. The school had to make do with what was there. Any painting that occurred was with volunteers and donated materials.

High rents are being paid for SLA in Center City but there has been no move to relocate it. There is a clear bias towards some schools in terms of material support. Leeds Middle School was closed and Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice had to relocate again to make room for Hill Freedman. Why does the SRC allow significant private funding to some schools—based on the wishes of the funders rather than the needs of the district? That is not the way to maintain an equitable system of high-quality” schools, As the principal of a neighborhood school in Finland told Michael Moore in his latest film, Where to Invade Next, every school in Finland is high quality—you simply walk to your neighborhood school and enroll your child.


B-2  TBD: $5,324,674 Contract Amendment with Carnegie Learning, Inc. – Professional Development for Summer Math Institute and Math Institute Specialists (Pending)

APPS ANALYSIS: There is no text or description for this $5,000,000 expenditure. Why is this information being withheld from the public? The district maintains that it has no additional money for support services in schools. Even more reason why we should know why $5 million is going to this private company. This resolution reflects the ongoing trend of the district to hire outside consultants to provide professional development. Why this increasing spending on outside sources for Professional Development? We used to have administrative offices with several curriculum specialists who led professional development. The website for the Office of Teacher Effectiveness is not updated, there is no list of staff and their responsibilities, and this Summer Math Institute is not listed.