by Karel Kilimnik
The District scheduled this meeting for the same date and time as the Board’s first meeting of their Partnership and Community Engagement. The Lamberton Feedback and Findings Meeting was originally scheduled on the same evening as the Board’s November 13 Action Meeting. APPS notified the SGS office, and the Lamberton session was rescheduled. Unfortunately, the subsequent change to November 29th resulted in a second conflict. APPS sent a letter to the System of Great Schools (SGS) office and the Board asking again that Lamberton community members not have to choose between the two. Both the Board and the SGS office declined to reschedule either meeting. Apparently, community engagement does not extend to those whose school is facing uncertainty and possible faculty upheaval.
At previous Focus Group sessions, both parents and community members said that attendance could be higher, but the start time was too early for working people to attend. Temple Professor Lori Shorr held an additional meeting at a later time at a nearby church at which attendance was much higher. No such option was provided for this final meeting.
There was no sign posted on the school’s front door but two FACE (Family and Community Engagement) staff members greeted people at the sign-in table and directed us to the meeting location. District staff included Chief Schools Officer Shawn Bird, Chief of Academic Support Malika Savoy-Brooks, Assistant Superintendent Network 2 Rahshene Davis-Bowie, 2 FACE staffers, SGS director Chris Davies, 3 unidentified District staff. Temple professor Lori Shorr, 1 Lamberton teacher, 6 parents, 5 students, and 5 community members attended. No members of the Board of Education were present.
Shawn Bird started the meeting by introducing himself, Malika Savoy- Brooks, Rashene Davis-Bowie, and Lori Shorr. Bird read the Agenda from the Power-Point presentation –
- Why We’re Here
- Where We are in the Process
- Feedback and Findings
- Next Steps
Bird repeated the District’s stated reason for placing Lamberton in this year’s SGS cohort: the school’s SPR (School Performance Rating) has been below 15% for three consecutive years. He gave no details on what these interventions might be or which interventions have been chosen for SGS schools in the previous two years but added that “eventually all schools will go through this on a regular basis”. Actually all District schools do go through the SPR process so it was unclear what he meant. The District evaluates every school, assigns each a numerical value and assigns them to one of four categories:
- Intervene: less than 25%
- Watch: 25-49%
- Reinforce: 50-74%
- Model: 75%-100%
Bird then mentioned the two options under consideration for Lamberton–entering the Acceleration Network or developing an Academic Improvement Program–but gave few details. I commented that the Acceleration Network stipulates that all teachers and the principal have to reapply for their positions and that only up to 80% may be retained. Bird responded saying that up to 80% of staff can remain (which means at least 20% would be forced out). For some reason he said that there is a teacher shortage (which would be an obvious reason not to force teachers out). This option would leave Lamberton with a less experienced and less cohesive faculty. He said that teachers in the Acceleration Network have to agree to participate as there would be many hours of additional professional development and the school would use “prescribed materials”. I asked him why the District did not simply ask teachers if they would agree instead of forcing them to reapply and thus creating turmoil. He did not respond.
Once again, I explained to parents that funding for either of these choices ends after 3 to 5 years; additional resources would then be paid out of the school’s budget–if the school could afford to keep them. As to the Academic Improvement Plan (AIP), Bird said that some of the schools have actually “wanted to swap out teachers”; he did not explain how that works or what that would accomplish. APPS members have attended SGS meetings for the past three years and have never heard parents say they wanted most of the faculty forced out. In fact, parents and community members have consistently asked to keep their teachers and increase support staff, for smaller class sizes, anti-bullying programs, new books and supplies. And because parents do not identify the teachers as the source of the school’s problems, not one has ever requested more professional development. Bird did say that if Dr. Hite decided to allow Lamberton to develop its own Academic Improvement Plan there would be a “planning committee” made up of the principal, school leadership team, parents, and a teacher who would select from a “menu of things”. The “menu” was not described nor was the exact composition of the Planning Committee or how they would be selected.
Davis-Bowie then narrated the Power-Point section on Findings. “Practices that Support Student Learning” listed:
- In K-5 classrooms–objectives/agendas, standards/learning goals were posted and clearly visible
- Leadership recognizes the need to prioritize a focus on instruction going forward, and that students are ready for more rigorous instruction.
- There is a core group of teachers and support staff that have the important historical knowledge of students and the community.
She went on to enumerate the “Practices that Limit Student Learning”, concluding with “the school climate interfered with instruction.” Lamberton has had several principals over the past three years. The current principal arrived last August, less than a month before school started. I asked for the current number of teacher vacancies at Lamberton. Davis-Bowie replied that there was one vacancy but there are several long-term subs due to both maternity and illness. One parent said that she came to Lamberton to enroll her son two weeks ago but the paperwork has yet to be processed because there is a substitute secretary from Kelly Services at Lamberton who cannot do it. She said that the forwarding school has contacted her about her son’s truancy since they have no record of his transfer to another District school. Another parent said she recognized the understaffing and signed up to volunteer. She said she filled out the paperwork but nobody ever contacted her. Another parent raised the issue of lack of communication between the school and parents.
Lori Shorr presented the “Feedback: Family and Community Challenges” section. She acknowledged that “parents felt they should have been consulted and/or informed about new programs being moved into the building.” Shorr added that it may have been in reference to “Catapult or Wordsworth or whatever they’re called” moving into Lamberton without notifying parents. In previous meetings parents expressed their concerns over students running the halls out of control. They observed many students needing support services that are not being provided.
One major “Strength” cited in this section was the community’s long history of engagement with Lamberton. Shorr also acknowledged that holding additional meetings at the church brought out more parents and community members because of the later start time.
One community leader said he and others are organizing a SAC (School Advisory Council), and he invited everyone to that meeting next week. He said there is no money for flyers needed to inform parents and wanted to know why the 1% Title 1 money for parents is unavailable. Another parent said we need to get students involved. She suggested peer mediation, restorative practices, and mock court as ways to improve the school’s climate.
Many questions were asked of District staff during this presentation, but few substantial answers were given. Participants were informed that “school teams and the Central Office will be reviewing data from December to January”. There were no details on who these people are or what data they would be reviewing other than SPR scores. According to the Power-Point timeline, February and March will bring:
- Supports for Academic Improvement Plan(AIP) examined
- Principal and teacher hiring begins for Acceleration Network
- Allocate funding for SY 2019-20
This timeline raises more unanswered questions:
- What are the specific AIP supports?
- What role will the “Planning Committee” play as it seems that a “menu of things” has already been created?
- Who decides which teachers will be allowed to stay and what the criteria is for that decision?
- Does the community have any input into whether the principal is retained?
- What role will parents and teachers play in these decisions?
Once again, we see that parents, school staff, students, and the community will be shut out of the actual decision-making process. Lamberton has been starved of resources for years, suffered through a rotation of leadership, had an outsourced Special Ed Program placed in the building without consulting or even informing parents–and now they do not have a seat at the table where decisions are being made about their school. Lamberton has a very strong community organization that has been involved with the school for years and has sent representatives to every one of these SGS meetings, which is why Temple recognized their involvement as a “Strength”. Why are they being shut out of the most crucial step in the SGS process?