Click at time stamp 4:57 to view Kristin’s testimony
Good Afternoon and welcome to all of you—our new Board of Education. My name is Kristin Luebbert, I am a Philadelphian, a school district teacher for 17 years, and proud member of the PFT and Caucus of Working Educators. I would like to welcome you to this work and congratulate you for having the fortitude to take it on. This is—as I am sure you are aware—difficult work; it can be both heartening and heartbreaking, yet it is good and necessary work.
No doubt you will be offered much advice tonight and in the weeks and months to come. I too am here tonight to offer you some advice on how to take on this immense task.
The most important things I can say to you are these: Listen, ask questions, dig deeply, and do not take things at face value. The late, un-lamented, SRC often seemed to only speak to people who work in the climate-controlled confines of 440—rarely did they ever venture out into the education community to speak to the people working with our students every day: teachers, parents, para-professionals, nurses, counselors, climate managers, and other school staff. If any of us wanted to talk to them, to bring up an urgent issue, we had to come here—to 440—like supplicants, with eight copies of our testimony, and fit all we had to say into three minutes. Please go out to the schools, to the parents, to the students and teachers to understand the work that happens in our realm every day.
What do I mean when I say dig deeply, ask questions, don’t take things at face value? Here are some examples:
If a person in this building gives you an instructional recommendation for schools, your first question should be. “When was the last time you taught in a classroom FULL time? When was the last time you had a deep conversation with that those who do?” If the answer is in years not months, you need to dig deeper and get to the reason for the recommendation. Ask the classroom teachers what they think they need, ask parents.
If a recommendation is made to substantially alter the composition of a neighborhood school, your first question should be, “How many community meetings were held, how were the times and places of those meetings communicated to the people? Were they real meetings or managed damage control by SDP managers?”
Please ask questions of those who recommend outsourcing essential school services or buying new and expensive on-line programs. When you ask the people who actually raise and teach children, you will find out that many programs are deeply flawed and that much out-sourcing results in sub-par services. Many parents do not want their children’s screen-time ramped up in school—find out what the people need and want. Yes, there are many smart and dedicated people in this building, but there are thousands more smart and dedicated people working inside our schools every day—ask them.
When I say do not take things at face value, here is a prime example: There will come a time when a parent or teacher or community member asks why there are few librarians, or not enough counselors, or an inadequate supply of books in their school. The members of this board—in all good faith—will turn to the superintendent and ask “why not?” The answer, from whatever person is sitting in that seat, will surely be, “The principal has a choice of what resources to purchase for their school.” I am here to ask you to call B.S. on that answer! Yes, every spring the principals are given a budget and asked to make certain choices; however, those choices are the educational equivalent of asking each principal if they would rather cut off their leg or their arm! Don’t believe that this is a free choice…it is simply choosing which alternative will do the least harm, it is not adequately staffing all schools for all our children.
So again, welcome to the work–and please make your decisions with the people you serve foremost in your mind.