Ears on the Board of Education: December 13, 2018

by Diane Payne

All members of the Board were present with the exception of Leticia Egea-Hinton. Seven APPs members were present; five testified on behalf of public education.  Edison High students gave a beautiful performance of Christmas music. In a very touching ceremony, honorary diplomas were awarded to two World War II who enlisted before they graduated. The student violinist played Pomp and Circumstance as they walked down the aisle. (All Board meetings can be viewed on the District website at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/ scrolling down and clicking on Watch Previous Board Meetings )

Superintendent’s Remarks

Nurses

Dr. Hite acknowledged the dedication and work of school nurses, particularly Ben Franklin High Nurse Santos. She had attended to a student in cardiac arrest until the ambulance arrived; she undoubtedly saved his life.  The student is recovering. This incident illustrates the crucial role of school nurses and shows that the District should never let budget cuts, or any circumstance, undermine the safety and well-being of our students. Many remembered the termination of 50 school nurses in December 2012.  In June 2011, nurses positions were decreased due to attrition leaving District children’s health and safety in a precarious position.

Computer Science

Hite reported that the district is increasing its computer science offerings including expanded digital learning experiences for both elementary and high school students.  Without further information, it is hard to decipher whether this is increasing computer literacy using technology as a tool or there is an increase in “personalized learning”, a misnomer if ever there was one. This model places children in front of screens for algorithm-driven programs in lieu of classroom teachers.  Technology, as a tool, is useful; algorithm-driven programs need close inspection. Our students are not guinea pigs to be used for the benefit of edu-vendors.

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Facilities and Finance Committee: December 6, 2018

by Diane Payne

Present were Co-chairs Leticia Egea-Hinton and Lee Huang and Committee member Joyce Wilkerson; Committee member Wayne Walker attended via phone.  Also in attendance were Board members Chris McGinley, Angela McIver, Julia Dancy, and Mallory Fix Lopez. Minutes of the November 1, 2018 meeting were approved.  The agenda included four staff presentations, two in response to requests from community members at previous Committee meetings.

Public Speakers

Special education advocate Cecelia Thompson and APPS co-founder Lisa Haver were the only public speakers at this meeting.

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SGS Findings and Feedback Meetings: November 2018

 

By Lisa Haver

Public meetings for the three SGS schools have concluded. Six meetings were held at each of the three schools—Harrington, Lamberton and Locke.  Four of those meetings—the parent/community focus groups—were not informational meetings. They were facilitated by Temple University professors and graduate students for the purpose of finding out what members of each school community felt were the schools’ strengths and weaknesses and what additional resources the schools needed in order to improve student performance. An initial informational meeting was held where District staff narrated a power-point presentation and answered audience questions.

The sixth and final public meeting was held in order to present “Findings and Feedback”.  Although the report refers to its findings as “data”, the report includes mostly anecdotal information gathered from 15-minute classroom visits and answers to questions posed to students during those visits.

For the first time in the process, meeting participants heard about a “planning committee” which would review the reports and make recommendations about which option should be imposed upon the school. Conflicting information was given about who would serve on the committee and whether it would be only District administrators or would also include any community members or teachers.

Chief of Schools Shawn Bird presented the SGS Findings and Feedback report to the  Board’s Student Achievement and Support Committee at its December 7 meeting. Committee members Angela McIver and Julia Danzy both asked Bird to clarify this statement from the report:

“Not all instruction was aligned to grade level expectations.”

McIver said that because these schools are struggling, we would not assume that all children are learning on grade level. (Of course, it is a fact that not all children are learning in the same way at the same time at any school.)  Committee member Julia Danzy also asked what “grade level” applied to–the student or the instructor?  Bird replied that the statement about grade level was based on “what the student is doing”, even though the report says “instruction”, not “understanding”.

Mallory Fix Lopez told Bird that she attended the Harrington meeting and that it was not clear to her that the community knew what the potential recommendations were.  It was good to hear a Board member come to the same conclusion we have: that the District did not provide the parents and community members at any of the three schools with sufficient information about the possible options, how they would be decided on and by whom, or whether teachers and staff would have to reapply for their positions.

The final decision for all three schools will be made by Dr. Hite and announced in late January or early February.  We will then see whether the concerns and wishes of the school communities align with the options chosen.

Click on the links below to read the Feedback and Findings report for each school:

Harrington Elementary School

Lamberton Elementary School

Locke Elementary School

Eyes on the Board of Education: December 13, 2018

By Karel Kilimnik

Educators and defenders of public education across the city were shocked to see Dr. Hite and the Mayor as guests at a press conference called last Wednesday by Philadelphia School Partnership Director Mark Gleason. Unknown to anyone but a few insiders, the Hite administration had entered into an agreement with PSP in which that private organization would direct applicants for teaching positions–district, charter and private–to a website created and controlled by PSP.

Why is the Superintendent of a public school system handing over control of one of its most important functions to a private organization? Is the District Office of Talent now accountable to the Board of PSP?  PSP was created in order to carry out the privatization and charterization of the district. The news media unquestioningly repeats PSP’s identification of itself as a “non-profit” that funds schools.  PSP is on record as saying the district’s teachers make too much money. PSP lobbied then-Governor Corbett to WITHHOLD funds from the School District unless PFT members took a substantial pay cut and surrendered long-held collective bargaining rights. Did the Board of Education give its OK for this move? We’ll be asking that and other questions about this latest PSP power grab at this meeting.

The Board’s website continues to present hurdles.  The Agenda may number each Action Item, but click on it and you are delivered to a page  bearing no identifying number. Whenever an additional Action Item is posted, it automatically changes the numbers of all of the Action Items below it. The SRC at least would add a Resolution with an entirely new number. They also listed the Resolutions according to topic (e.g., Operations, Donations).  Hopefully the Board will change this practice. Each Action Item needs its own number and every reference must include that number. We await the return of Contract Summaries as posted in August and September, then discontinued for some reason, as the Board continues its journey into becoming more transparent.

Seeking Equity Across the District

While the Hite administration invokes the term “equity” in City Council and Board meetings, the ongoing issue is the lack of equity.  Some schools have Home & School Councils (Action Items # 42 and #43) able to raise large sums of money.  Philadelphia retains its position as the poorest of the country’s ten largest cities. Our rate of deep poverty (those living at 50% of the poverty line or less) has actually risen. Given these statistics, what is the District’s Plan to ensure that every school gets support, not just those in more affluent neighborhoods? How is the District planning to level the playing field for all schools? The SGS initiative has targeted  “underperforming” schools with long histories of lost resources, leaving them with no choice but to accept unrequested professional development services from businesses with a foothold in the district. In the past two years, SGS schools have seen the imposition of vendors and the forcing of all teachers to reapply for their positions without due cause–things no parents have said they wanted.  This only leads to destablization of already struggling schools without providing resources the school’s community has said they need.

The APPS articles on the SGS Focus Schools provide a detailed list of what parents, staff, and community members at the three schools in this year’s SGS cohort have said they want for their schools. As we review this month’s  Action Items we see other ways of providing financial support to individual schools such as contracts with non-profits (Action Items # 44–Steppingstones and # 30–Playworks) and/ or universities (# 29 and # 38–Drexel).

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