by Lisa Haver
December 22, 2016
Harding Middle School: Community Meeting, November 17, 2016
This meeting was held at 4PM in the school’s library. Representing the district were two people: one person who had been recently hired as a parent liaison for the network Harding is in, and one person from the Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE). The only community people in attendance were APPS members Lynda Rubin and Lisa Haver. There were no parents in attendance. Because there were no people from the Harding community, the presentation did not take place. We were able to have interesting conversations with the two district representatives about some of the real issues facing the school.
Submitted by Lisa Haver
Harding Middle School: Final Focus Meeting, December 8, 2016
The meeting was held at 9 AM. Representing the district were Ryan Stewart from the Office of School Improvement and Innovation, District Superintendent Jeff Rhodes, and Principal Mary Sanchez. The Cambridge Team was represented by Simi Rayford. Eleven parents attended.
Stewart told us that since October, the district had been listening to parents about which factors were supporting student achievement and which were limiting it. The Cambridge Team was hired by the district, he said, in order to conduct a “School Quality Review”.
Stewart said that the purpose of this final focus meeting was 1) to review Cambridge findings from the site visit, including stakeholder feedback from surveys sent to parents, along with classroom observations; 2) to see if there were any additional ideas from those present; and 3) to talk about next steps. (He did not mention reviewing the five options which were presented at the first meeting.)
Stewart again showed the “pockets of excellence” map. I asked why the higher-achieving schools were in clusters—were these schools getting more resources, and if so, why? Stewart first responded that they wanted to find that out, but when pressed, admitted that poverty was an issue in areas where schools were not performing as well.
Dr. Rhodes reviewed the data from the School Progress Reports from 2012 through 2015; data for the previous school year, 2015-2016, was not included. The SPR includes data on attendance, PSSA scores, and climate.
Ms. Rayford said that she looked at the quality of teaching and leadership, curriculum and assessment, and the culture of learning. She cited some of the factors which she observed which supported learning at Harding: a strong vision; small-group instruction; positive school culture; collegiality among teachers; a new school-wide behavioral management incentive. Most parents interviewed said they thought the principal was doing a good job and that the teachers do a good job communicating with parents. Factors she felt were limiting instruction: data not being used effectively by teachers and teachers not addressing different “learning styles” of students as part of each lesson. (This has been a common theme in all of the final meetings at the schools APPS members have attended.) I asked Ms. Rayford if there were any classrooms over the contractual limit of 33; she did not know. Principal Sanchez said all classes were 33 or under.
The principal mentioned that Harding has faced the same challenges for years: trying to overcome its bad reputation in the community and the fact that it is located in a poor neighborhood.
One parent said that the lack of after-school programs was a problem, that students in programs like a debate team can learn skills which help them in the classroom. Parents also suggested: tutoring programs, working on boosting attendance, more counselors, increasing support staff.
Principal Sanchez told us that Harding is working to bring in a “blended-learning” program that would eventually be in place in all classrooms. There are now two blended-learning classes in which 1/3 of students work with the teacher; 1/3 do independent work, and 1/3 work on the computer.
Dr. Rhodes told us that he was in the process of bringing a program to the schools in his network called “The Leader in Me” that is based on the program outlined in the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.
Although one of the purposes of the meeting was to talk about next steps, there was no mention of the list of 5 options presented at the first meeting in October, so I asked Stewart to review and explain them for those who were not present at that meeting. He listed the options but did not give an explanation of them. I asked him which of the options, based on the information gathered by Cambridge, looked like the best one for Harding. He said he couldn’t say. One parent said that she did not want money going to outside companies—she wanted the money to go directly to the school.
There was no discussion of challenges that the school had little control over, such as the SRC’s passing of consecutive austerity budgets or the policies of the Hite administration. Harding, like many public schools, have been affected by the rise of charters in the neighborhood and by the amount of money the district spends on charters overall.