Priority School Report: Rhoads Elementary School

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by Karel Kilimnik and Lynda Rubin

 Kick-off Meeting: September 28, 2017

 James Rhoads Elementary is a K-8 school with 630 students at 4901 Parrish St. in West Philadelphia. Mr. Kelly Parker, principal, was newly assigned in September 2017.

Prior to the meeting, Temple University Professor Lori Shorr answered some of the questions we asked her about the community outreach process. She said there would be four night meetings for parent input: 1) tonight – breakout meetings after general presentation; 2) “randomized” selection of parents invited by SDP; 3) parents invited by principal, 4) community input and ideas on October 11. Cambridge Education would also be meeting with parents invited by principal including SAC and “everyone”. “Feedback and Findings” meeting will be held on November 8 at 5:30pm. Dr. Shorr said a transcript will be submitted to the district but will NOT be available to public.

Official representatives included Rashene Davis-Bowie, Assistant Superintendent Network 2; Chris Davies, Senior Program Manager SGS office (for past three months) and Director of Operations at Blaine & Kelley schools; three Temple coordinators in addition to Lori Shorr; Chris Finn of Cambridge Education. Family and Community Engagement (FACE ) Director Evelyn Sample-Oates and Director of Student Support Karyn Lynch were present only for the first part of the general meeting. Also in attendance were PFT staffer Wendy Coleman, Shira Cohen of PFT/WE, several Rhoads teachers and teachers from other schools, about ten parents, and two APPS members.

Davis-Bowie ran the meeting, mostly reading from the power-point presentation. Little explanation was given about the priority process. No one from Cambridge spoke as they did during last year’s process. Davis-Bowie opened with what wouldn’t occur: Rhoads would not be closed or turned into a charter school. She said that no recommendations had been made and that the district “wants your high-impact ideas”. Rhoads was selected due to 1) past three years in Intervene status; 2) no previous SDP intervention (“because change takes time”); 3) SPR average 15% or lower out of 100. Principal Parker reviewed some of the data from power point. Davis-Bowie praised teachers for their commitment and caring; she said that “the staff couldn’t work any harder” which “is not common”. She pointed out that teachers came in on their days off to work and plan. She also said that Rhoads selection was about lack of progress, not lack of hard work and that students are able to achieve with support. She said that the SDP “wants to be strategic” so students get what they need. Davis-Bowie said that Cambridge would be conducting is own School Quality Review by spending two days in the school and that breakout groups would be conducted by Temple staff.Possible options for Rhoads’ future were given:

  • Placement in SDP Turnaround Network with extra teacher professional development and coaching; the district would keep and hire “the best staff”; Mr. Parker would stay on as Principal
  • Engaging a school support partner such ISA (Institute for Student Achievement) as Overbrook HS did last year
  • Internal school created plan: Davis-Bowie cited McDaniel Elementary, which was a Priority school last year, where the principal had just gone through Relay GSE training, then brought in Jounce Partners because that reflected what she had learned in that program
  • Restarting the school: Davis-Bowie did not explain what that meant

Davis-Bowie answered some of the questions and comments posed by parents and community members:

Karel: Turmoil is created by forcing teachers to reapply for their positions, and only up to 50% may be rehired.

Answer: The retention rate of teachers is now up to 80% and sometimes 100%.

Lynda: why not retain all staff who want to stay? Why only 80%?

Answer: Teachers have to agree to participate in extra meetings, etc. and agree to the plan. [Note: agreeing to plan may include agreeing to terms other than those in PFT contract, including weeks of PD during summer.] She then said that all teachers can stay – if the site selection committee approved. (Karel noted question not asked at meeting: Who is on this site selection committee deciding which staff gets to stay?)

Shira: Who chooses the school partner?

Answer: The school. McDaniel picked Jounce. (Note: how much is actually decided by school district administration is unclear.) Davis-Bowie said that school gets additional climate staff and other supports.

Karel: Why not just give the school the extra supports?

(Unanswered)

Karel: How long do schools stay in Turnaround status and what happens afterwards?

Answer: We haven’t been doing Turnaround long enough to see how process works out. Schools are given three years, then have to find a way to pay for resources themselves.

Break-out parent groups: (Last year’s process allowed for full parent and community input during large group meeting.) Two groups had to be consolidated since so few people attended. One group only had three parents, one of whom had just enrolled child two days prior. Temple coordinators (Maya Cuccharia and Kamal), FACE representative Angela Butler and other FACE representatives who several times promoted the idea of “school volunteers” and tried to recruit parents to get clearances and training to be volunteers in the classrooms.

Parent expressed many concerns about school climate (bullying and altercations), communication and academics. They took the facilitator’s questions seriously, but Temple staff apparently didn’t know enough about how schools operate internally to accurately decipher the meanings of parents’ stated concerns and then elicit data and feelings pertinent to those concerns. For example, parents were talking about non-school district personnel such as crossing guards. Some complaints were about individual teachers, not staff overall. Temple coordinators’ questions seemed generalized and simplistic, even scripted; they were not designed to elicit parents’ deeper concerns of the school’s needs as well as its strengths.

Complaints were made that there aren’t enough staff for students requiring special services and that Emotional Support class size is too large. Parents agreed that classes in general are too large (at 30:1 ratio) for their student population and that additional adult support needed in all classes. They said that there were no gym or music classes, although the school does have art. They want more extra-curricular activities for children that would inspire and interest students and provide opportunities to build self-esteem and bonding among students. Parents were united on wanting support programs for students and parents.

Shira asked parents if cuts have affected school progress and got a resounding Yes! Parents felt that the teachers and staff generally had too much to do and needed more support. Parents all seem to like and support Mr. Parker and are happy with change in school so far this school year.

Parent quotes of note:

“The School District needs to come out two or three times a week to observe instead of just cutting”, and “Our kids are not just a number.”

Rhoads meeting #2 – October 11, 2017

 No general meeting was held prior to or after breakout groups. On the previous night, FACE held a scheduled a meeting for which they had done outreach to parents, but only seven parents attended. (This meeting was not publicized on the SGS page of meetings on the SDP website.)

Present: Dr. Lori Shorr, Ebony and Monica from Temple as facilitators; several Rhoads teachers; a teacher from a nearby school; Adina Shapiro from ArtWell (a non-profit working at Rhoads); two parents who identified as Democratic committeepeople; about ten other parents and six children; Lynda & Karel from APPS.

There was much less district presence at this second meeting. Chris Davies from the district’s SGS office was present when community members arrived, but left before the breakout group began. Thus, there was no SDP staff available to answer questions in breakout groups, leaving Temple moderators to answer frustrated participants’ questions. No Cambridge staff was seen. There was one Rhoads teacher of eleven years in the breakout group.

We were told that the plan for the evening was to have two different groups—one for any parents who returned from previous night and another for new parents. Only two parents came who had attended the previous night’s meeting, one a grandparent who knew Rhoads generationally, the other a parent who appeared knowledgeable about the district and said that this process was about privatizing schools for business gains. She reported that she had approached both Representative Dwight Evans and City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell about this meeting; she said that Blackwell told her she knew nothing about the meeting or what was happening at Rhoads. Because the returnee group consisted only of Dr. Shorr and only two parents, they decided to join the group of first-time parents.

Temple coordinators asked their scripted questions, but parents did not answer most of them because they did not address their concerns, including:

  • Not enough staff in lunchroom, resulting in one parent’s daughter being jumped.
  • There has been improved supervision coming to school. Another parent said safety had been raised at last night’s meeting also. She noted that counselor and full time nurse were finally assigned just the previous year.
  • Parents in general spoke well of Rhoads teachers.
  • One parent said, “I really feel we’ve been brought here to speak negatively about our school. That’s what they want.” Several suggested that parents should be a team. Karel raised issue of how the parents in this room had power and should continue to get to know each other and meet about how school moves forward. Another parent said the school had a functioning SAC last year but it was rebuilding as many SAC members’ children graduated from school in June.
  • Parent asked: “Is this process the beginning of a slow kill of the school”? She objected to changes in teaching methods and thought that students should spend more time learning with manipulatives and less on computers. She wanted students to continue to learn to read and write cursive.
  • Parent complained about lack of organized and timely notification process of this meeting.