Kensington Health Sciences Academy: Focus Group 1


The first focus group was held Wednesday, November 2 at 4 PM, Day 2 of the SEPTA strike. There were about 25 people present. Many of those in attendance were from schools and organizations who identified themselves as “partners” with the school in some capacity: Plus 12 (a local non-profit), Penn, Temple, Congreso, and a man from a local business. Also present: District Superintendent George Roesser, Principal James Williams, and about six parents and community members, including APPS member Diane Payne. Two representatives from the Cambridge Team attended.

The Cambridge representatives had spent the day in the building interviewing and observing; they were to return the following day for a second and final day doing the same. In those two days, they would collect information on strength and weaknesses in several areas: leadership, students, parents, and community partnerships. Is curriculum aligned with assessments? Do teachers hold all students accountable? What is the climate in the building? How effective is leadership? Do parents and community feel welcome in the building?

Cambridge justified its work here by saying they have done this type of work all over the country, including conducting School Quality

Reviews last year for the New York City public school district.

After a brief presentation about The Cambridge Team’s qualifications for performing these evaluations, one of their representatives asked questions of the group: Is your child being challenged in teaching and learning?  Respondents repeatedly brought up the lack of resources. Some of the Math classes have forty-plus students—even after the leveling process. The school has no library. There are not enough computers. In general, there is a lack of resources provided by the district.

One community member pointed out that “teachers are not miracle workers”, that there is only so much they can do if students come to high school unprepared. He emphasized the need for “consistency”, and said that one reason KHSA is succeeding is that it provides that. With consistency, he said, the school can develop institutional knowledge that places students and families at the center.

All participants seemed to hold the principal in very high regard.  Ray from Plus 12 noted that “everyone” wants to be here: administration, staff, and students.  The local businessman noted that the culture here is committed, that when the principal began here he began with “safety” and built from there.

One of the Penn representatives said that she felt an undertone of “fear” in the room for the future of the school. She politely asked who invited Cambridge to be here and how will they be transparent.  They replied that the company was chosen by district administrators after a bidding process. Cambridge will give the principal an oral debriefing of their findings along with a copy of their written findings. The final report, however, will be given only to the Superintendent’s office.

I asked: Will the lack of resources that were noted repeatedly by the people in the room be included in this report?  The Cambridge rep stated that when specific resources are lacking which affect a particular area, that will be noted in that section of the report.  For instance, no library will be noted in the teaching and learning section.

Parent Orlando Acosta asked: If the district is not providing adequate resources for the school, then shouldn’t the Hite administration be evaluated?  He again expressed his skepticism of how the district will interpret the results.  He didn’t like the fact that this information would go to the district, but there would be no way for the community to know or understand how they will use it.

Another person also asked whether the report would be made public. The answer was not clear, but they did not say it would be released to the public. The Cambridge representatives stated they did not know how the district would use the information they gave them.

A representative from Penn, as well as the district superintendent, thanked the Cambridge employees for being there and said they thought using an” independent set of eyes” was a good thing.

District Superintendent Roesser stated that there is no getting around that the school’s scores have been very low.  He said that even if a recommendation is made to do something drastic, nothing would happen for one year. That would give the school a chance to improve and avoid the action.  (That is not something that has been stated in the information posted by the district, nor has it been said at any of the meetings at other schools attended by APPS members.)

The meeting was still in progress when I left at 5:30.

Kensington Health Sciences Academy is a lovely school to walk into.  The people in the room obviously loved the school, the administration and the staff.  They were proud of their work and proud of their students.  They knew that test scores were low, but they also knew that much more than just test scores would show what is really happening in this building.

Submitted by Diane Payne
November 6, 2016