Eyes on the SRC: September 14, 2017


by Karel Kilimnik
September 10, 2017

As students flock back to school this September we see a more modest list of resolutions. The list may be small but the implications loom large. How does a large district ensure that every school has what it needs? These resolutions illustrate the chasm of inequality among the city’s schools. Some are chosen to benefit from private funders such as the Philadelphia School Partnership while others still lack the basics of a stable workforce of teachers and principals. This is in no small part due to a Broad-graduate led administration that promotes a portfolio of options instead of ensuring every school has what it needs.

Please keep in mind that for the past five years, Dr. Hite has announced his latest transformation/turnaround plan in October. He has stated, at SRC meetings and in City Council, that he wants to close three schools a year over the next five years. A resolution usually pops up in October which indicates in some way, usually not in detail, his plans to close or “transform” a school. Internal turnarounds, however, do not have to be approved by the SRC; those always result in forced transfers of most faculty and often principals. That includes Transformation, Redesign, and others that are placed in the Turnaround Network. Last year Hite targeted eleven schools as “Priority Schools” causing much transition and confusion as teachers and principals were forced out of their school communities. The only resolution put before the SRC was one to approve a $200,000 contract with Cambridge Education for writing a report after holding meetings and performing nominal site visits. The previous year Hite placed three schools into the Renaissance Charter School program over the wishes of parents and community members. Three years ago, parents at Steel Elementary in Nicetown and Munoz-Marin in Fairhill voted down Hite’s move to give their schools over to charter providers. Who is on his hit list for the 2018-19 school year? APPS has prepared a tip sheet for how to protect your school. Start organizing now.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP – A3) continues to feed at the public trough. How much more money is going down this rabbit hole to support a private company using faulty data and flawed research ?

Artwork (B9 ) swiped from district schools over 10 years ago by then-CEO Paul Vallas is now on display at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown through January 12, 2018. This artwork was bought decades ago for the students in this district, and it still belongs to them. The SRC should vote to return it to the district schools as soon as possible.

The Camelot company (A17) gets a really good deal on renting space at the former ES Miller School to operate a program for “over-aged middle school students”. According to community activist Alicia Dorsey, there was an effort to insert Camelot into Strawberry Mansion High School without any notification to the school community. At their request, APPS members attended a meeting called by Assistant Superintendent Eric Becoates at the school in August. Becoates refused to answer a question put to him several times: Is Camelot moving into Strawberry Mansion?

(See the August 17th Ears: Parent(Pseudo)Engagement) Former Strawberry Mansion High School principal Linda Cliatt Wayman, in her August 17 SRC testimony, thanked Dr. Hite for not putting Camelot into her former school. Hite made no response either confirming or denying. The question now: Is the program at ES Miller the one intended for Strawberry Mansion or is it simply a coincidence?


The district stopped giving contracts to TNTP for unnecessary and redundant professional development and turnaround training and instead used that money to restore certified school librarians to the district?

Next SRC Action Meeting: Thursday, September 14, 4:30 PM. To testify, call 215 400 4180 before 3 PM the day before.

[See the full Resolution Summary}

Resolutions of Note

How Does Paying TNTP More Money Help to Retain Good Teachers? 

A-3: Categorical/Grant Fund: $90,000 Contract with TNTP – Strategic Teacher Retention

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 TNTP to provide support services to the Office of Talent in their work with schools on strategic retention and metric-based management, for an amount not to exceed $90,000, for the period from September 15, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Description: Over the past two years, the Office of Talent has moved closer to Action Plan 3.0’s anchor goal that 100% of schools will have great principals and teachers. In 2016 and 2017, the District had filled over 99% of teacher vacancies by the end of June and the start of school. In 2017, the District filled 99% of principal and 100% of assistant principal vacancies for the 2017-18 school year by the end of June. Over the course of the past year, the Office of Talent also made major shifts to structures, systems and strategies as a part of a significant team re-organization effort. These outcomes and re-structures were met with ongoing advisory support and implementation support from TNTP. The Office of Talent has worked with TNTP for the last two years as a result of RFP 478, submitted as a resolution in March 2016 and authorized by the SRC. The team is working more strategically and using goals to drive day-to-day efforts to hire strong leadership and teaching talent and to onboard new employees with excellent customer service.

Moving forward, the Office of Talent proposes re-defining the scope of work with TNTP from working directly on strategy and implementation around recruitment and staffing to advising the office on how to improve teacher retention and improve recruitment and retention outcomes using metrics-based management. The Office believes that focusing on these priorities will help to build capacity within the Office of Talent to sustain progress long after the conclusion of work with TNTP, and help in the next phase of implementing Anchor Goal 3. The two focus areas are:

– Strategic Teacher Retention: TNTP will consult with the Office of Talent to develop and implement a year-long differentiated teacher retention strategy to retain high-performing teachers at higher rates. The Superintendent, SRC, and Talent are all in agreement that improving teacher retention, especially among our strongest performing teachers, can meaningfully reduce the District’s recruitment pressures, boost teacher quality, and make it easier to sustain school turnaround. Talent Partners, through their relationships with principals, can influence principals to make smart retention decisions. TNTP will help train Talent Partners to serve as strategic advisors to principals to help them make the best possible decisions to hire, develop, and retain staff in their buildings who will achieve “strong student outcomes”.

– Metric-Based Management: TNTP will refine and implement Talent systems to set clear metrics and monitor progress with both the Talent Support Services and Leadership Development and Evaluation teams. Setting and monitoring progress toward specific, measurable, and ambitious goals helps teams to spot risk early, troubleshoot challenges and re-prioritize efforts. In 2016-2017, with TNTP’s support, the Office of Talent set goals and began to review progress at key points in the year. As the Office of Talent builds on these efforts in 2017-2018, TNTP will advise the Talent Support Services and Leadership Development and Evaluation Teams on setting goals, designing dashboards and reports to monitor results, and instituting regular monthly meetings to gauge progress and adjust strategy.

APPS Analysis: The district is contracting with TNTP to advise the Office of Talent (HR) on how to improve teacher retention and improve recruitment and retention outcomes using metrics-based management to help principals make the best possible decisions to hire, develop, and retain staff in their buildings who will achieve strong student outcomes.  In TNTP’s corporate ed reform world, “strong students outcomes” means high standardized test scores and “great teachers” are those with high VAS scores.  TNTP was founded by former corporate ed rock star Michelle Rhee, although the sanitized TNTP website claims it was founded “by teachers”. However, only five of their 20-member leadership team are former teachers.  Most of TNTP’s employees are former TFA trainees with little teaching experience.  Over the years, TNTP ’s research on “effective” teaching has been called into question for using faulty evaluation systems, including small samples spread over insufficient time spans, and for not being submitted for any peer review process. That doesn’t stop the district from hiring them year after year. We ask the SRC to consider these two questions before they vote:

  • Will the advice that TNTP gives to the Office of Talent be based on the same type of inadequate research? 
  • Why does the district pay an organization to “help define, attract and retain good teachers” when that organization supports policies that actually drives experienced teachers out of the classroom?

A-4 Donation: $439,500 Acceptance of Donation of Services from The Center for Supportive Schools – Peer Group Model

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to accept with appreciation the donation of services valued at up to $439,500 from The Center for Supportive Schools, to be used to implement the Peer Group Connection model in four high schools, for the period commencing September 15, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Description: The proposed project will improve educational outcomes for students in Philadelphia high schools through the implementation and evaluation of an evidence-based, peer group mentoring and high school transition program. CSS will implement, in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), the Peer Group Connection (PGC) program, an evidence-based, high school program that provides a continuum of support to students as they transition from middle to high school. PGC is a group mentoring model in which high school juniors and seniors are trained to become mentors and positive role models for 9th graders to help the freshmen make a successful transition to high school. PGC trains select school faculty to prepare older students, specifically high school juniors and seniors, to mentor and educate younger students, specifically freshmen. PGC is implemented as follows:

-PGC begins with the assembly of a stakeholder team of administrators, faculty, parents, and/or community members who support PGC implementation and long-term sustainability.

-Carefully selected faculty members, whom we call faculty advisors, participate in an 11-day intensive train-the-trainer course over a 11⁄2-year period to learn how to run the program and teach junior and senior peer mentors in the daily leadership course.

-Carefully selected juniors and/or seniors are trained as part of their regular school schedule in a daily, 45- minute leadership development class (i.e., an elective course for credit) to become peer mentors, positive role models, and discussion leaders for 9th graders.

Four comprehensive High Schools will be selected to participate based on their attendance data.

APPS Analysis: Read the CSS website and you might think they do good work, but dig a little deeper and red flags start waving. The website lists over 60 staff (both administrative and financial), it is difficult to find their funders, and higher echelon staff come from TFA, KIPP, and other charter organizations. The Center for Supportive Schools started out as the Princeton Center for Leadership. Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, was a student at Princeton when she hatched the idea of supplying our schools with temp teachers. CSS CEO Daniel Oscar was Wendy Kopp’s first employee and partner at TFA. Oscar helped establish charter schools as well as serving as vice-president of Edison Schools, an EMO that failed abysmally in Philadelphia and eventually moved onto greener pastures. Oscar has been on the board of trustees of the Northeast Charter Schools Network since 2001. Board member Fatimah Burnam-Watkins is the TFA New Jersey Executive Director and sits on the KIPP New Jersey board. Three staff members previously worked for charter schools as well as with TNTP.

Art Given to Philadelphia’s Students Belongs to Philadelphia’s Students                    

B-9 No Cost Ratification of Contract with James A. Michener Art Museum – Loan of Artwork

RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the execution, delivery and performance by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent, of a contract with the James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA, for the loan of fifteen pieces of artwork belonging to the School District to be displayed in Dedicated, Displayed, Discovered: Celebrating the Region’s School Art Collections Exhibition, at no cost to the School District, for the period commencing June 28, 2017 through January 12, 2018. All costs incurred or associated with the removal and return, packing and re- packing and transportation to and from the art storage facility, as well as insurance for the artwork at its current market value shall be paid in full by the James A. Michener Art Museum.

Description: The James A. Michener Art Museum requested a loan of fifteen paintings from the District’s art collection for the purpose of displaying the artwork in Dedicated, Displayed, Discovered: Celebrating the Region’s School Art Collections featuring artwork from six regional school districts. The Michener Museum agreed to incur all costs associated with the loan of the artwork.

APPS Analysis: Former School District of Philadelphia CEO Paul Vallas replicated his actions as head of the Chicago School District when he ordered hundreds of pieces of artwork surreptitiously stripped from several schools. Workers in an unmarked white van snipped wires securing paintings to the wall and delivered them to an unknown location. If retired Wilson Middle School teacher Marilyn Krupnick had not become an outspoken advocate for this artwork over the last few years, more pieces would have vanished and this exhibit at the Michener Museum might not have happened. During Hite’s Doomsday Budget Days, a proposal was floated to sell the district’s hidden artworks to help plug budget deficits. Fortunately it was defeated. A little bit of history helps create the context for this exhibit. Former Wilson Junior High School principal and art lover Charles Dudley (from 1928 to 1960) built the school’s “fine collection of original art paintings”. He charged visitors a nickel to view the collection so he could raise money to purchase more artwork.

 According to an article in the Northeast Times, Vallas said in a January 5, 2004 letter to school administrators, “The School Reform Commission has directed that the district survey its art and take immediate steps to remove, restore/refurbish and, to the extent possible, return all pieces to the schools.” Vallas stated that the criteria used for a piece’s removal included “not presently damaged but in imminent danger of damage, loss or theft.” According to school employees working at Wilson, there was no imminent danger to the paintings despite having “some wild children in the school”; no artwork was ever damaged. All the artwork disappeared, never to be seen again (except for the few pieces on display at the Michener Museum). A protracted court case resulted in relocating the Barnes Foundation from its secluded perch in Lower Merion to the Parkway to enable more visitors to view the collection. How about a movement to catalog the artwork, publish it so the public has online access, and then return it to schools where it belongs?

 The Ongoing Balkanization of the School District

 B-5 Authorization of Expansion of Grades at The Science Leadership Academy at Beeber RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia to change the grade configurations of The Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA@Beeber), located at 5925 Malvern Avenue, from grades 9 through 12 to serve grades 5 and 9 through 12 in 2018-2019; grades 5 and 6 and 9 through 12 in 2019-2020; grades 5 through 7 and 9 through 12 in 2020-2021; and grades 5 through 12 in 2022-2023; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission authorizes The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent or his designee, to notify the Pennsylvania Department of Education of the changes to the grade configuration of the school listed herein, as required by Title 22 of the Pennsylvania Code §349.28(a).

Description: Science Leadership Academy, founded by the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute in 2006, is an innovative, nationally-recognized instructional model of 21st-century learning, grounded in inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection. The grow-a-grade expansion is expected to result in the addition of 240 students and shall begin in the 2018-2019 school year with the addition of sixty (60) 5th grade students. Annually sixty (60) students will be enrolled in the 5th grade until grades 5, 6, 7, and 8 each have 60 students.

APPS Analysis: We have watched the development of separate districts within the district with the expansion of the Renaissance program and the creation of more academic and geographic networks. We see it happening as the SLA network expands. SLA founder Chris Lehman has gone from principal to Assistant Superintendent to CEO over the past few years. It is unclear what the role of CEO entails since there has never been such a position in the School District of Philadelphia (except for CEOs like Vallas who did not have the qualifications to be a real superintendent). Who does CEO Lehman report to? Is this position the equivalent of an Assistant Superintendent but with only three schools to oversee? Will he be fundraising for his three schools? How does this affect his position with the nonprofit he founded and for which he serves as Chair of the Board—Inquiry Schools? This is not about the SLA program or curriculum but about the growing divide between schools and the resources they receive. SLA has grown from one location in Center City to two schools in West Philadelphia. In 2013, Dimner Beeber Middle School was targeted for closure. Teachers, parents, and community members pushed back to save their school, even creating an educational plan. At the last minute Beeber was removed from the closure list; Dr. Hite said they were looking at alternative plans. Turns out the district’s alternate plan was develop another SLA and co-locate it in the Beeber building, along with a plan to phase out Beeber Middle School. This Resolution seeks to add not only a middle school component but to include 5th and 6th grades as well. SLA has been one of the Philadelphia School Partnerships beneficiaries, having received almost $2 million for SLA Beeber alone. Our public schools form the foundation for a democratic society. Why are private agencies allowed to pick and choose which schools to support? How does this benefit the common good?

District Gives For-Profit Company Another Sweet Deal

A-17 Ratification of Lease Agreement with Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania, LLC. – Use of E.S. Miller School
RESOLVED, that the School Reform Commission hereby ratifies the execution, delivery and performance by The School District of Philadelphia, through the Superintendent of a lease agreement with Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania, L.L.C., an alternative education provider under contract with the School District, to operate a continuation program serving 100 students, to occupy approximately 5,000 square feet of the ES Miller School, located at 43rd & Westminster Avenues, Philadelphia, Pa 19104, as office and classroom space, at an annual rate of $25,000 ($5.00 per square feet), to be paid monthly, which rent includes the School District’s operating costs for all utilities, building engineer, custodial, maintenance, snow removal and trash pick-up, for the period commencing September 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, with options for a one year renewal through June 30, 2019. The rent for any renewal term will increase by 2%. The terms of the lease agreement must be acceptable to the School District’s Office of General Counsel and Office of Risk Management.

APPS Analysis: Camelot appears to have gotten an excellent deal for an annual payment of $25,000—which “includes the School District’s operating costs for all utilities, building engineer, custodial, maintenance, snow removal and trash pick-up”. Someone gets a true bargain here and it’s not our students. Doesn’t Commissioner Green consider charging such low rents to for-profit providers “fiscally irresponsible”?