New Application Hearing for High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter: January 22, 2020 

District Finds Deficiencies Throughout HS2L Application

by Lynda Rubin

The School District held the second of two hearings for new charter applications on Thursday January 22. The High School for Health Sciences Leadership Charter  hearing began at 2 PM. Representing the charter’s founding coalition were Tim Matheney, Incorporator, Founding Coalition leader, and proposed Board Member; Geordie Bracken, Founding Coalition member and educational consultant; Michael Whisman, CPA from Charter Choices, Inc., an educational consulting firm advising charter investors and operators; and Attorney Kathleen Nagle.

District Chief of Charter Schools Christina Grant read a summary of the Charter Schools Office (CSO) application evaluation. 

The CSO cited deficiencies in almost every section of the application, including mission, curriculum, internships and budget. The CSO found that the school’s goals and curriculum were not in alignment with the PA Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Special needs section did not meet PA standards; in fact, the application did not explain exactly how it will educate students with special needs. The internship program, around which the school’s program revolves, did not address how English Learners (EL) would be able to participate. By-laws stated that “Trustees may be removed for any reason”; the CSO pointed out that not only was this statement not customary in By-Laws, this could deter board members from speaking  their minds for fear of reprisal. The application did not provide evidence of a plan to hire qualified, certified staff. The Code of Conduct was copied from a New Jersey school district. While there was support from businesses, there was an absence of a “family voice” and family engagement. The CSO noted that the “members of the founding coalition have experience in academic programming curriculum, strategic partnership, organizational compliance, facility, finance, community outreach and marketing. However, it is evident that the experience of the founding coalition members is out of state, international or in suburban school settings.” Further, the application “lacks complete information on the transition from the founding coalition to governance by the board of trustees.”

The application names several local institutions of higher learning as participating providers of internship opportunities. However, the application never outlined any defined plans for the partnerships. In fact, the CSO stated that it was not clear whether internships were for students enrolled at the school or only graduates of the school. This lack of actual evidence of community partnerships was considered a significant weakness since they are integral to the mission of the proposed school.

Revenue assumptions were not supported by specific budgeting, according to the CSO. The 5-year plan lacked specificity, particularly in the later years. The CSO was concerned that the building, which was once a Catholic high school, could not fully accommodate Health Science’s  program; for example, the building has only one science lab. That building, at 5210 North Broad Street in the Logan section, is owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Hearing Officer Alison Peterson enumerated many of the CSO’s concerns prior to questioning HS2L representatives, including:  major gaps in the documentation of standards alignment; excerpts rather than full presentations of sample programs; no submission of some subject curricula, including consumer sciences; a minimal amount of career exploration in Grade 9. Peterson said that the main concern was that the application “didn’t submit the bread and butter of the program’s courses”. CSO staff had concerns that there was only one planned Career Pathway Course, for anatomy and physiology, but not for other careers included in the application. There were also concerns that the proposed curricular resources for these pathways appeared “to be a two-page sales document for the Act WorkKeys”, which is a packaged curriculum for college readiness. Matheny’s response to the questions about the career pathways concerns was, “What’s in our proposal are correct pathways that are responsive to our partners’ needs.” He did not address student needs. Peterson asked, since there was only curriculum for 9th grade and not even course outlines for 10th through 12th, what did they have for the Board to consider for the school’s entire program beyond the first year? When she asked for more specifics about informing students’ how the program would progress throughout the grades, Matheney responded that they were focusing on the 9th grade for students to select a pathway. “We want to be responsive to the partners as they come along”.

Extended questioning from Peterson revealed that HS2L’s proposed internship program appears to be more virtual than actual. HS2L has not established any substantial partnerships with the local universities mentioned in the application.

Peterson pursued questions about agreements the founders claim to have with the named partner programs. Matheney stated he had had one meeting with the Temple University President, unnamed Board Chair and a Dean;  a second meeting with the Dean; and a phone call with another Dean. A third meeting, attendees not identified, centered around general personnel needs. When asked what Temple has actually signed up for, Matheney referred Peterson to a general support letter from Temple’s President. Peterson pressed him with “nothing specific?” Matheney quoted phrases from the letter such as “significant enthusiasm”, and “workplace learning at Temple University”. He then said, “I’ve made it very clear what we need.” Matheney continued to refer to meetings with cabinet officials at the other universities as a selling point, but cited no actual work meetings putting plans to paper.  Peterson continued to press him for specifics that were not forthcoming. When Peterson asked Matheney whether Temple had agreed to a specific number of students or internships, Matheney replied, “Not yet.” Regarding questions about curriculum development, Matheney said that “partners told us what type of positions go unfilled and how they might help to shape the direction of the curriculum.”

Questions about specific program curricula and plans with their other partners yielded similar non-responses. There were two meetings with unnamed “cabinet level” officials at Thomas Jefferson University. Matheny said that Jefferson University President Dr. Stephen Glasko was “enthusiastic” and that several phone conversations were conducted with Jefferson “individuals”. When pressed for more specificity on what will be offered to students, Matheney referred to Dr. Glasko’s letter stating that Jefferson already has “substantial” opportunities  for existing high school-aged students in the city and that Jefferson would look forward to the opportunity of connecting HS2L’s students to those existing programs. Peterson asked him if this was actually linking their proposed students to programs already offered to District schools. Matheney said yes. When Peterson asked what Jefferson was contributing to HS2L only, Matheney responded that Jefferson is hoping to build an infrastructure that could engage more high school students in the future and inferred that the founding coalition members were “in the early phases of securing that funding”. Peterson pressed for specific agreements made with the partners, but none had gone beyond conversation. Regarding HS2L’S partnership with Einstein Hospital, Matheney admitted that Jefferson is not yet legally affiliated with Einstein, and that HS2L has no separate letter of commitment from Einstein. The same lack of specificity in program offerings or even expectations applies to Drexel University. Opportunities with St. Christopher’s Hospital and the for-profit Tower Health were vague and had no MOU’s (Memorandum of Understandings) in place. Matheney admitted that St. Christopher’s Hospital was only included because of their recent merger with Drexel University. PCOM (Osteopathic) would be consulting and advisory only, providing no internships.

Peterson then turned to the application’s stated intent to enroll students into a dual enrollment program at Community College and to pursue other potential opportunities with The Wistar Institute through CCP.  Peterson noted that “research technician” could be beneficial as a template for “medical technician” but noted that CCP already has a college-level program for medical technician. Matheney agreed that “template” could be useful. Peterson then asked for specifics of HS2L’s plan for dual enrollment at CCP.  Matheney responded that he thought it would be similar to the one CCP already has with Parkway Center City Middle College (a District high school) for dual enrollment, but he did not present any details. Matheney said that there was much to learn from that model. Matheney’s admission that they were looking at Parkway Center City’s Middle College reveals another example of HS2L examining systems already in use in District schools, then attempting to repackage them as their own “innovative” programs.  Peterson continued to try to nail down Matheney on specifics of a dual enrollment plan, but he talked only about what it might be. Finally, Peterson asked Matheney directly if there was an existing plan for dual enrollment with CCP. Matheney stated that they don’t yet have a plan with CCP.

Further questions addressed the cost of coordinating an internship program in locations across the city. Peterson noted that neither transportaction costs nor the position of career experiences coordinator were included in the budget. Matheney offered to submit the material, but Peterson said that to be fair to all charter applicants, “We are not able to accept additional materials.” Michael Whisman then spoke, claiming that this omission was due to the non-alignment of the District’s application with the PA  Department of Education’s format. He stated there are several attachments to the application with detailed budget information. Whisman then said that the Career Experience Coordinator position would be initially filled by the Career Experience Director. Matheney’s response on this issue was, again, vague. He stated that the projected cost of transpasses for students was $20,000 for the first year. In answer to Peterson’s question about the cost if all 150 students were in the workplace program during the first year, Matheney differentiated between the cost of traveling to Temple just down Broad Street and the cost to Jefferson at a greater distance from the school. In response to Peterson’s question about the number of students at each facility, Matheney said that he didn’t know the number of placements but that “75 sounds doable.” He then stated he was basing this on information on information from  a provider in San Diego.

Answers from the applicant revealed not just a paucity of information but instances of exaggeration.  When Peterson asked whether the “three meals” referred to in the budget narrative meant breakfast, lunch and dinner, Whisman admitted that it actually is breakfast, lunch and a snack. This example raises a question about the level of disingenuousness of other claims in the application. The Student Induction/Day of Service turned out to be the only community service opportunity for students. Questions about a budget item for Purchase of Tech Services elicited the final response that there were “no specific vendors, but several were being considered”. Nor was any specific provider named for mental health wrap-around services.

Student Curriculum costs were budgeted according to data collected from several charter schools that Charter Choice, Inc. represents. Peterson’s request that HS2L  identify specific curricular resources such as textbooks to be used in Year 1 was met by vague statements about “best practices”. In this case, best practices can be found in the application under “curriculum meets the needs of students,” and “when teachers are hired the decision will be made.” When Matheney, a former NJ principal, said “Many teachers create their own textbooks”,  Peterson replied, “Have you heard of the PA Education Department requirements?” Matheny answered that he had, but the issue remained unresolved. The application narrative did not mention curricula for 10th, 11th and 12th grade courses. Peterson asked what “actual development for those courses have you done?” Matheny responded that they had done none for Grades 10 through 12.  Peterson asked about 9th grade; Matheney admitted they had forgotten to submit this information. When asked about how teachers would be recruited, Matheney said they wanted a “teacher who knows it all”. Matheney had no idea what certification costs for teachers are. He could not accurately state what a Special Education Case Manager does. Whisman stated that such staff specifics would be included in Special Ed costs. Peterson asked him which positions he was referring to–Tier 2 coordinator, counselor, social worker? Whisman replied that “a few of those positions are in the budget.” Peterson pressed the case to determine what they actually knew about important positions in a school, for example, Case Manager.  Matheney stated that “best practices are that special ed supports are best done through those who work with the student, although it could include outside therapy or counselor.” Peterson pursued questioning about their understanding of what a Case Manager would do for the charter school. Matheney asked her to repeat the question, then said, “oversee IEPS, etc.” As she dug deeper, , Matheney reverted to citing his own principal certification. Peterson asked why the Student Code of Conduct submitted by HS2L referred to the South Brunswick, NJ Code of Conduct. Matheney’s response was that when administrators write safety plans, they draw from other resources. Matheny’s resume stated he served as a principal in South Brunswick, N.J..

In his closing statement, Matheney again attempted to draw a line from approving one more charter to lifting families out of poverty and into the middle class.  He said that with companies including Independence Blue Cross and Johnson and Johnson, the Philadelphia area has the potential to become the “Silicon Valley of health care”. Matheney  called the school’s partnerships “an unprecedented coalition” and said that “letters from university presidents are not easy to get”. He extolled HS2L’s innovative approach.

Peterson adjourned the hearing at 4:50 pm. The founding coalition had the option of submitting a concluding document by January 31, 2020. The deadline for written public testimony was January 24, 2020.