by Karel Kilimnik and Cheri Micheau
There were no signs in the lobby directing parents and community members to the 3:30 SGS Findings and Feedback meeting. The person sitting at a desk in the lobby directed people to the office to find the meeting location. Karel arrived early and heard an announcement over the loudspeaker telling teachers that the meeting was in the IMC. For some reason, the sign-in sheet and refreshments were in a room across the hall; the sign-in sheet was brought into the IMC later in the meeting.
The meeting started late. No introductions were made. We counted four parents, four students, and two community members. District and school staff included Locke principal Katherine McKellar-Carter, two Family and Community Engagement ((FACE) staff, Community School Liaison Pamela Evans, an unidentified staffer from the Mayor’s Office of Education, three unidentified School District staff from 440, seven Lamberton teachers, SGS director Chris Davies, Network 2 Assistant Superintendent Rahshene Davis-Bowie, and Temple professor Lori Shorr. None of the members of the Board of Education were present.
Davis-Bowie plunged into the District Power-Point. As she read aloud directly from the presentation on screen, SGS Director Chris Davies passed out a paper copy of the presentation. The SGS Feedback and Findings Agenda included:
- Why we’re here
- Where we are in the process
- Feedback and Findings
- Next Steps
Unfortunately, the meeting was disrupted when some parents began to argue over an incident earlier that day involving their children. Our previous Locke report highlighted parents’ concerns about climate and insufficient staff. Parents felt that the school needed to deal with bullying and unacceptable behaviors in the lunchroom, hallways, and school yard. The principal and a teacher eased the parents into the hallway in an attempt to address the situation. All of the parents went out into the hallway as this situation unfolded; after this, there were no parents in the room. Locke has been a Community School for two years, yet it appears it does not have the necessary resources to work with parents to resolve conflicts. In fact, the report did not mention Locke’s status as a Community School at all. Does that mean it has not strengthened the school in any way?
Davis-Bowie returned to the Power Point, repeating the District’s often heard statements that all students can learn and achieve, improvement is possible, and all stakeholders have a perspective should be respected. It has been the clear position of those in the Locke community (and the other SGS schools) that part of being respected is having a seat at the table where the real decisions are made. At earlier Locke Focus Meetings parents and community members were clear about the necessity for their inclusion in the decision-making process. Nowhere in the District presentation was there any mention of this nor of what parents wanted to see at Locke. Despite statements that “Locke has been prioritized for additional funding and support to quickly create better learning opportunities” and “Your feedback and school data help us understand school strengths, challenges, and ways to improve”, none of the parents’ quotes about their lack of inclusion were cited by Davis- Bowie or any other District staff member. The two options were described, with few details, as follows:
- Defined improvement model [Note: did not say research-based]
- Summer Planning time
- Common network supports
- Keep and hire best staff
Develop Academic Improvement Plan
- Customized improvement model
- Commitment to deeper planning in spring
- Self-selected school supports
- Strong leader and leadership team
Karel pointed out that if Locke were placed in the Acceleration Network all teachers and the principal would have to reapply for their positions, that up to 80% of the faculty could be rehired, and at least 20% would be forced out without due process. Davis-Bowie interrupted to say she had met with teachers and told them this, but Karel spoke with several teachers afterwards who said this was news to them. Karel also raised the issue of any additional funding disappearing after 3 to 5 years. Davis-Bowie responded “that schools would have to build their capacity to continue programs and services”, but did not explain how one school’s budget could sustain additional programs. Davis Bowie moved on to “What data did we gather?” The report stated that District administrator conducted a 2-day whole school review; every classroom was visited for an average of 15 minutes. The principal, teachers, and students were interviewed, but no details about how many, for how long, and with what questions. Student work was reviewed; again, no details of how or based on what criteria. One community member asked: How can you conclude whether a student has mastered a skill after 15 minutes? The response: “we watch as the task is modeled and then stay to see if the child has mastered it”. Any experienced educator knows that this simplistic approach could not be part of any developmentally appropriate learning assessment.
The Power Point listed both “Practices that Support Learning” as well as “Practices that Limit Learning”:
- Structures are in place in classrooms and around the school to show student work, learning objectives, and standards.
- Students have strong relationships with teachers and adults in the building which creates the foundation for an appropriate learning environment.
- There were few examples of students engaged in classroom lessons and mastering what was taught.
- Not all students are being challenged and pushed towards deeper learning.
Cheri questioned the Finding that “few students were engaged in classroom lessons”–is the implication that few students were not engaged in all of the observed classroom? We spoke with teachers after the meeting who also found this point not credible. Cheri also questioned how the team could report such a finding, since the monitor spent only fifteen minutes per classroom visit. Davis-Bowie responded that the team returned multiple times to each classroom, but nowhere in the report does it mention return classroom visits.
Professor Shorr then reviewed the “Family Feedback” section that cited selected quotes from parents to reinforce the District’s conclusions.
“Awesome Teachers” was listed as a Strength, while Challenges included “more staffing in the classroom, a need for tutoring, and work is not challenging enough”. A teacher responded to the need for afterschool activities; she reported that she and other teachers are currently providing those services, without pay, out of “ love and concern” for their students. Students have joined a chess club and are rehearsing for a play.
Davis-Bowie said there will be additional funding for Locke no matter which of the two options was decided on, but again no details on how or by whom that decision would be made. Cheri asked for the criteria being used to select the plan for Locke. Davis-Bowie answered, “I don’t know.”
By the end of this sixth and final Locke meeting, it was clear that the staff members assigned to present the Findings were both unable and unwilling to respond to questions from parents and community members. The very structured Power Point presentation seemed to be a vehicle for evading discussion rather than for truly enlightening the Locke community. In some cases District staff bristled at the questions being posed. This does not instill confidence that concerns and solutions expressed by Locke parents and community members will be seriously considered.