Pandemic Push-out  Stifles Public Engagement

Eyes on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes

The District’s Pandemic Push-out affects everyone in the District: parents, students, educators, community members. When we had no choice but to stay home, meetings were virtual and human contact was minimized. The Board took advantage of our isolation by continual minimizing of  public participation. Instead of becoming more inclusive and more committed to listening to the District’s stakeholders, the Board and the Hite Administration have used the quarantine as a means of putting more distance between their directives, procedures, and policies.and those affected by them. When we won the battle in 2018 to abolish the School Reform Commission, we had great hopes for a School Board, albeit an appointed one. The Board increased community engagement with the establishment of four committees: Finance and Facilities; Student Achievement and Support; Policy; Family and Community Engagement. After two meetings, the Board disbanded the Community Engagement Committee. Last year, they disbanded two more, leaving only the Policy Committee, which met only four times a year (APPS found out last month that Policy will now only meet twice a year). In an December 2020 article Board members told Chalkbeat last year that Board meetings will look different, with more public engagement and discussion of data. In truth, there has been much less public engagement and much more data analysis–up to two hours at every action meeting. Only when APPS members complained did the Board allow public speakers to be placed ahead of the Goals and Guardrails session.  In January, the Board implemented Speaker Suppression procedures capping the number of speakers and cutting speakers’ time.

APPS and UrbEd, represented by the ACLU, have  filed suit against the Board’s campaign of speaker suppression. 

Any Item in the Board’s official agenda that costs taxpayers  $3 million or more should have a description that is understandable without having to look up most of the terms used. Item 1 (Acceptance of Grant from Centerwell Solutions – Equity by Design, Community of Practice,  Learning Network 2) envelopes  the reader in a cloud of words lacking  details about how this $3 million will be spent. It appears to be an extension of this administration’s efforts to outsource contracts instead of looking within for those already doing this work.

The Hite administration pays lip service to equity but falls short on plans for implementation. It is wonderful that Mifflin School is getting a playground (Item – 2. Acceptance of Donation from The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia – Contract with General Recreation, Inc. – Mifflin Playground), but where is the District’s plan to ensure an equitable distribution of resources that ensures playgrounds for all 151 elementary schools in the District?  There is a page advising schools on “How to Start your School-based Site Improvement Project” but no survey of what actually exists.

What if…
… the District surveyed every elementary school noting if there is a playground and what condition it is in? Next step is to create a list according to needs to start allocating resources in an equitable manner.  Schools in high poverty neighborhoods should not be deprived of providing a playground but supported in their efforts. In this District neighborhoods do not have equal resources to provide for their schools. It is up to the central administration to ensure an equitable distribution of  services.

Find the full List of November Action Items here

Action Items of Note

Children Need Play and Schools Need Playgrounds

Action Item 2: Acceptance of Donation from The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia – Contract with General Recreation, Inc. – Mifflin Playground
Description:  The Mifflin School and the Friends of Mifflin, with support from the East Falls Community Council and the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia have raised funds to build a playground.  The District’s Office of Capital Programs worked with Mifflin to identify approved contractors and review project plans. The Office of Capital Programs approved an allocation of $20,000 for the Mifflin Project to move forward into construction after a four year fundraising effort was made by the Friends of Mifflin to close the funding gap.
The installation of this playground is in direct support of Board of Education Guardrails 1-3. 
Guardrail 1 and 3: A playground provides a welcoming environment for children and families that make a Philadelphia public school a place where they want to be.
 Guardrail 2 – A playground allows for more structured, outdoor experiences for the student population, enhancing the possibility for specific extracurricular opportunities.

APPS Analysis: The Mifflin school community has worked hard to make sure their children have a safe place to play.  APPS will continue to ask where the District’s plan is to ensure that the plan to build and refurbish playgrounds is an equitable one. At the October Action Meeting, both students and staff from Sheridan School  spoke about how long they have waited for repairs to their playground. Students told of sustaining injuries in the schoolyard. Again, the Administration responded that they would look into the situation. How long are Sheridan’s students supposed to wait?

WHY OUTSOURCE EQUITY WORK WHEN DISTRICT EDUCATORS  ARE ALREADY DOING IT?

Action Item 1: Acceptance of Grant from Centerwell Solutions – Equity by Design, Community of Practice – Learning Network 2 ($3,000,000)
From: Centerwell Solutions, Inc., Schusterman Family Foundation, Neubauer Family Foundation
Purpose: The aim is to co-create the blueprint to recenter equity, innovation, and design into our schools.
Description:In alignment with the work of the District’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, acceptance of this grant will allow for the professional development of school leaders and teachers  through the EquityXDesign program. 
Key components to the EquityXDesign program are: 
21st Century Instructional Design: Hybrid learning model including synchronous virtual and in person learning and asynchronous self-paced learning. Courses include Design Achievement at the Margins, Cede Power and Liberate Discourse, and Make the Invisible Visible: Designing Systems for Equity.
Mastery and Competency Based Learning: Competency-driven and ability to earn micro-credential in equity centered design.
Healing Capital: Capital to heal, build courage, and launch small tests and prototypes throughout the Community of Practice
Community Driven Learning: Join a community of national educators committed to equitable design.
Experience of Students: An express focus on social studies curriculum and instruction (year 1), school culture and discipline (year 2), and a team identified problem of practice (year 3).
Demonstrations of Learning: Equity X Centered Design Showcases that narrate the school’s journey through the EquityXDesign process.The professional development of school leaders and teachers in practices to better serve all students aligns with Board Guardrail 4: Dismantling racist practices.  The Office of Diversity, Equity and Design will monitor the implementation of this pilot program; the intent is to expand learnings into more networks over time. The work supported by this pilot also serves as the grounding principles for the development of the SDP Equity Framework. 
Expected Outcomes and Measurement
Unlimited Access: 100% of staff members in Learning Network 2 gain unlimited access to high quality anti-racist and anti-bias professional development. This will be measured by course enrollment and progression. 
Build Capacity: 90% of school-based innovation teams, including principals, earn microcredentials in Spring 2022 and Fall 2022. This will be measured by the number of micro-credentials that are earned. 
Insights for Improvement: Each school design team successfully reveals insights for improving the student experience and growth using human centered data sets (e.g. student interviews, family interviews, student interactions, etc). This will be measured by the insights generated, the plans for improvement, and the capacity built by engaging in deep learning around the problem.

APPS Analysis: If the purpose of this $3 million expenditure is to “ co-create the blueprint to recenter equity, innovation, and design into our schools”,  why does it not begin with inclusion of teachers and school staff, students, and parents? Hold meetings to hear what the problems are and collect possible solutions. Spend money on arranging these sessions led by a local facilitator to gather information, create a plan, and implement it. Two local organizations are already doing this work, the Racial Justice Organizing Committee and the Melanated Educators Collective.

These educators, currently working in the District, are aware of the challenges our schools face in implementing true equity. They are already embedded in these neighborhoods with local knowledge and experience. This Description raises more questions than it answers. Is this Professional Development tailored to meet the needs of each school, or is it a one-size-fits-all program? Network 2 schools cover a  wide range of neighborhoods; it is unclear from the Description how these different needs will be recognized and met. As to the grant itself: How will this PD be delivered? Is someone coming into each school? Who is actually getting the grant–EquityXDesign? Is there capacity at 440 to implement and sustain this $3 million contract? Who at 440 will administer this grant? How was Network 2 selected? The  website for the Office of Diversity,Equity and Inclusion has ample headings but no information is provided. The Headings say only “coming soon.” There is no Equity Audit available.
The only direct link to Centerwell Solutions is on OpenCorporates
The Open Database Of The Corporate World”, where  Centerwell Solutions ,Inc  is listed as a for-profit corporation based in DC. It notes that Centerwell Solutions is also known as 228accelerator. 
Googling EquityXDesign leads to Caroline Hill, founder of 228 Accelerator. According to the 228 Accelerator web page Hill “…is a thought leader who lives, works, and designs at the intersection of education, innovation, and equity. Her work inspired the creation of equityXdesign, a powerful design framework that merges the values of equity work and innovation with the intentionality of design. Her latest venture, 228 Accelerator, catalyzes the redesign of the relationships that normalize mistreatment and oppression, builds bridges between the powerful and the powerless, and accelerates our journey to a more inclusive society.”
The Board should question the Administration’s tendency to bypass local expertise and experience in favor of contracts with vendors. Board Member Lisa Salley raised this issue months ago. She should raise it again at the November Action Meeting.
We must look at the other funders for this contract, beginning locally with the Neubauer Family Foundation. The Foundation initially supported arts and cultural foundations such as the Barnes Museum and Foundation. But they have now joined the local corporate education disruptors. In 2013,  they donated anonymously to save libraries at Masterman and Central, two elite magnet schools.  Neubauer, recognizing the value of influencing school leaders in the disruption ideology,  created the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders. In 2019 Neubauer supported the clearly deficient new charter application from the High School for Health and Sciences Leadership Academy, ultimately denied by the Board.