Include Reports From Offices at 440 About Ongoing Projects and Initiatives

School District of Philadelphia Board of Education Action Meeting Written Testimony

January 26, 2023

by Dr. Cheri Micheau

As I have mentioned numerous times, it would be very helpful to the public if Board meetings could include reports from various offices at 440 about ongoing projects and initiatives, as well as reorganization and important changes.  Following are several requests for information that should be a part of updates at upcoming meetings:

  1. 21st Century Schools:  After the initial announcement of three exciting CTE programs that would be placed in three neighborhood high schools in West Philadelphia——Overbrook, Bartram, and West Philadelphia—-there have not been, as far as I know, any updates on progress. The SDP has a history of announcing new programs or other initiatives, but NOT following through with careful planning, including funding, staffing, and program design.  This has been evident, for example, in launching newcomer programs without the proper planning and support, leaving the programs struggling and ultimately failing. Students at the three schools selected for the 21st Century Schools initiative will benefit greatly from participating in new CTE programs, but only if those programs are fully prepared, and funded, for effective operation in the fall (2023).  It would be very helpful to hear from planners of these CTE programs at 440, as well as principals and other staff of the schools where the programs will be housed, on planning steps, progress toward implementation,  and challenges they are facing during the planning process (and the help they need). Neighborhood schools are currently strapped by understaffing, climate issues, and struggles with academic achievement, along with problems of gun violence in the surrounding communities.  I wonder, therefore, to what extent the programs will succeed or fail by the efforts of the overworked administration and staff of individual schools, or whether there will be sufficient 440 planning and funding support to overcome any lack of capacity at individual schools.  The announcement of these programs was a splashy PR boost for the new administration, and I hope the promises voiced in that announcement will be realized, for students who desperately need a boost.
  1. Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs:  As you may know, I have long advocated for effective programming for English Learners. I have written and spoken many times on the need for, among others: a) a fully-operational and autonomous Newcomer High School; b) attention to the needs of students arriving in Philadelphia with limited formal schooling; c) improved PD for ESOL professionals and for content-area teachers who work with English Learners; d) reconsideration of the graduation requirements for non-English-speaking students arriving mid-senior year; e) an end to uncoordinated and unplanned “push-in” instruction that turns ESOL teachers into very expensive classroom aides;  f) greater efforts to include and accommodate EL families in school events and important school processes, such as the high school admission process and IEP meetings; and g) fairer consideration of ELs in the high school admission process, and putting support in place in special-admission high schools to support ELs with ESOL needs.   OMCP clearly had—-and has had for years—- many troubling issues that it needed to address and solve, as well as many necessary initiatives and projects to undertake. I had heard that there was some movement toward a Newcomer High School awaiting approval—-after many years.  Alas, it may be even more challenging for any of these problems to be solved, now that a reorganization of the office has been announced.  It seems that OMCP has ben broken up and reassigned to several different departments.   Part of OMCP will now be housed in an office for “diverse learners” that will include special education and English Learner education.  The activities and responsibilities of OMCP within this new office have yet to be defined, but I imagine they will include compliance issues, annual testing, and identification and exiting of students.  There is concern among EL advocates that EL education will be further diluted by being combined with—-and equated with—-special education services.  There had already been a push by academic leaders at 440 to ignore the special linguistic, cultural and social needs of English Learners and the special needs—-and necessary knowledge base—- of their instructors, in favor of a “we serve everyone equally” policy.  Apparently, the curriculum team of the old OMCP office will now by housed in the curriculum office, and a similar concern could be raised:  Will there be sufficient interest in developing EL-specific curriculum and materials needed by, particularly, newcomer students, or will former OMCP curriculum personnel be pulled in other directions, thus underutilizing their specialized training and experience?  And without a specific OMCP entity—-that was once a deputy-level department—-how much power to advocate and inform decision makers at 440 will be lost?  Will English Learners have a voice at the table?
  1. Translation and Interpretation Services:  What are some of the issues surrounding the hiring and compensation of Bilingual Counseling Assistants (BCAs) and translators? I would like to hear from the FACE Office personnel tasked with hiring and assigning these professionals. There is a shortage of BCAs, particularly in Spanish, and BCAs in some of the newer languages of the SDP such as Arabic and Swahili are in short supply.  As I and other speakers have noted, pay for BCAs is very low, and there is no consideration of BCA applicants’  education level; an applicant with a Master’s Degree is paid the same as a high school graduate, and that low salary does not reflect the many essential responsibilities of a BCA.  BCAs are essential to the operation of a school with English Learners, not only in helping the students, but also in reaching out to and informing families. What is being done to address this crisis?  As speakers have noted, when BCAs are not available, school staff are pulled in to interpret—-even at IEP meetings (an illegal practice, by the way).  When teachers are called on to interpret, their classes are canceled or “covered,” but students in those classes are disadvantaged unnecessarily.