Robert E. Lamberton Elementary Focus Group 1: October 10, 2018
by Karel Kilimnik
There were no signs on the front door or at the desk in the lobby announcing this first parent and community Focus Group session. Present were System of Great Schools (SGS) director Chris Davies, Family and Community Engagement (FACE) staff member assigned to Lamberton Angela Butler, Temple University professor Lori Shorr and two graduate students, and seven parents. No members of the Board of Education were present. Davies came in after the beginning of the meeting, answered a few questions and left.
Shorr opened the meeting with her description of Temple’s role: to record the sessions, create a transcript, “code it” to look at the themes, and write a report based on “what you say”. Temple representatives will ask about the following topics: School Climate, Classroom Academics, Leadership, and Parent Community Involvement. She said that no District staff are present and that “what’s shared in this room, stays in this room”–that is, no names of participants would be included in the report. After witnessing two years of this SGS process, it seems that the focus groups, where no information is given about the process, can also be seen as a way of letting parents and community members feel part of the process without their having any real decision-making ability. I addressed this issue by informing participants of the two available options for Lamberton: inclusion in the Acceleration Network or writing their own school-based plan. I said that placement in the Acceleration Network means teachers and the principal have to reapply for their jobs; up to 80% of teachers can be rehired, so at least 20% would not be able to return to Lamberton. This creates more instability in an already struggling school. The FACE staffer gave no description of this process. When Chris Davies came in, I asked him to explain the two options. He said that going into the Acceleration Network meant receiving an assistant principal and Math and Literacy coaches. In answer to my question, Davies said that Dr. Hite will make the final decision on which option would be chosen. This generated a number of concerns and questions from parents.
One parent stated that Lamberton already has too many new teachers. The principal, assistant principal and counselor are all new this year. She wanted to know the purpose of rehiring teachers already at the school. Stability is the key, she continued, and relationships are essential. At this point Davies said that the other option is for the school to create its own plan. I asked about the criteria and timeline; Davies said that information would be forthcoming after the decision was made by Dr Hite. Parents inquired as where this additional money ($850,000 for Acceleration Network and $ 750,000 for school plan) comes from and whether there is a report detailing how this money has been spent in other SGS schools. Davies told them that the Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee is where this report would be presented. The SAC president answered that she was never invited to the table last year for decisions on the budget.
Shorr turned the discussion to stability at Lamberton, and Davies left, leaving no District staff to answer subsequent questions on the SGS process. It soon became evident that parents with students in the Little School House had very different experiences than those with children in the main building. Little School House parents spoke about the positive climate and good communication with teachers. Other parents spoke of overcrowded classrooms and too many substitute teachers. They felt that the older students are running the school and that teachers are not supported by the school administration and feel “besieged”. Parents want the new principal to put an end to the bullying that has plagued the school. One parent said she wants to be able to send both her hcr children to the same school in her neighborhood. There has been an influx of students needing academic and behavioral supports that the school has not provided.
Parents expressed a lot of frustration when Shorr asked whether they felt their child was getting a good education at Lamberton. Several said their children are not being challenged and are simply relearning what they were taught last year. Almost all said they would rather see funding for a Reading teacher rather than for more professional development for teachers. There were concerns that children are having to share textbooks and are not able to bring books or materials home. One parent noted that climate affects academics–when some children are out of control that affects the entire class. Someone noted that last year the climate staff were removed from the school and not replaced. There was a general consensus that this new principal needs a lot of support in dealing with all of the issues raised here.
What Lamberton Parents Want:
- Smaller class size
- Teacher stability through regularly appointed teachers
- Anti-bullying programs
- More resources for students needing emotional support
- Camera in classrooms
- Use parents/grandparents as classroom volunteers
- Reading Teacher
- Support for Principal
- Reinstate Climate Staff (removed last year)
- After-school activities
- Home & School chapter at Lamberton
Lamberton Focus Group 2: October 16, 2018
By Karel Kilimnik
Once again there was no signage announcing the meetings either outside or inside of the building for the 5 PM meeting. Present were Professor Lori Shorr and two Temple grad students; District staffer Dave Zega of the Superintendent’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Communications; two FACE staff; two parents; one student; four community members. No members of the Board of Education were present. When I asked for his card, Zega said didn’t have one because the District was “going paperless”. Does community engagement include not giving people your contact information?
Zega began the meeting by saying he was there to “answer your questions”. He also said that the District wants a lot of input from stakeholders, although he left less than ten minutes later. He stated that the System of Great Schools (SGS) has evolved over the years but did not explain in what way this evolution took place. In response to my question about who decides the fate of Lamberton, Zega disclosed that “Dr. Hite and Chief of Schools Officer Shawn Bird look at information and assess what is best for Lamberton.” He said the final decision will be announced in January and initial resources would be allocated in the Spring. Once again I asked him to describe the two choices. He talked about the name change from Turnaround to Acceleration Network but didn’t explain why it was changed. I then informed participants that teachers and principal have to reapply for their positions, thus creating tremendous instability, and that the SGS funding lasts for 3 to 5 years before the school has to see whether it could afford to pay for the additional resources out of its own budget. Zega said that choice of the second option–a school-based improvement plan–would be up to the Lamberton SAC and school leadership. However, parents said that there are there are problems with the SAC and parent involvement at Lamberton, so creating a school-based plan might present a problem. Zega then accused me of trying to persuade parents rather than inform them. Of course, it is the District’s job to inform parents and community at the SGS focus groups, but they have only done so when APPS members ask the pertinent questions. A community member stated that his stakeholder group is looking to do what is needed to help Lamberton’s children receive a good education. Zega replied by saying we want the decision to reflect your input. But getting input is one thing, allowing the school community the opportunity to make an informed decision is another.
The Temple students took turns leading the discussion; they informed participants that neither teachers nor the principal were invited to this session. They asked the group to name some of the positive things at Lamberton. Some responded that the new principal was having some success in improving the climate; fewer children are running in the halls during class. The discussion quickly veered into problems at the school. Many said they do not feel welcome; despite having reached out to the Principal and the Assistant Superintendent more than once, they are getting no response. There is still a lot of fighting in the building; although incidents have been reported, many felt that nothing is being done to improve conditions. There is no security at the front door. I suggested taking their concerns directly to the Board if they got no response by going through the regular channels. Participants said that an overwhelming number of special needs students have been placed at Lamberton without appropriate supports. One parent said her second grader does not have consistent homework assignments and lacks a permanently appointed teacher. Another parent said she requested her child be tested for Special Education services last year and still has not received a response to her request.
A parent asked how her child can receive a grade when there is no regular classroom teacher and her child receives homework assignments erratically. She went on to note that if you cross City Line Avenue these problems do not exist. No answers were given.
In answer to a question about Temple’s role, Shorr stated that their role is to get parents’ experiences and feedback and to collect data. I noted that Temple has a contract with the District to collect this data and asked whether their report would be available to the public. Shorr responded that Temple’s report will be posted on the District website. I asked why the focus group process is taking place over just three weeks. No answer was given.
A community member described his group’s efforts with Lamberton parents. They are building parent voice by offering workshops and bringing teachers and parents together. There were two FACE staffers present, but the FACE representative assigned to Lamberton was not. The FACE staffers explained that their job is working to bring in community partnerships. A parent asked how their information is shared as she had never heard of them before. Another parent said she has not heard of any FACE workshops being held at Lamberton. She requested that the FACE staff member assigned to Lamberton be present at their next Focus Group meeting.
Parents and Community Want:
- Security – someone greeting and checking people at the front door
- Help with Climate – additional staff
- More information on Title 1 process
- Better communication with Parents
- Supports for Special Needs students
- More FACE support at Lamberton
- Welcoming parents and community into the school
- Staff trained in dealing with trauma
Lamberton Focus Group 3: October 18, 2018
by Cheri Micheau
Participants included: Temple professor Lori Shorr and two Temple grad students; one District FACE staffer; a representative from Councilman Curtis Jones’ office; two parent/community members. SGS Director Chris Davies attended briefly and left soon after the beginning of the meeting. None of the members of the Board of Education attended.
When asked to describe the climate at Lamberton, there were a number of reports of bullying and lack of discipline at the school. One parent said that despite meeting with the Principal and Counselor, her child was still being bullied. She asked for clearer rules and consequences for violations. Another parent had transferred her child from another District school, hoping for a calmer school, but was very disappointed. Another parent said her child had a substitute teacher for most of last year. Parents complained about a lack of regular homework. Parents reported that there have been three different principals in the past three years, a problem because the Principal “sets the tone” for the school.
Parents also complained of chronic understaffing of teachers and support staff. Someone complained that there is no security guard at the front desk. Parents are concerned about the number of families pulling their children out of Lamberton because of school climate and transferring to charter schools. Parents were disturbed by the lack of cleanliness in the building although they said it was a little better this year. Some felt the school needed to do a better job of communicating with parents. A former Lamberton student whose grandson attends the school described the great music program and sports teams available when he attended. Most participants agreed that Lamberton needs more extracurricular activities. Parents including the SAC facilitator had ideas for engaging more parents: phone conference for parents to call into, texting of questions/answers, meetings held at a more convenient time for parents.
When told about the two options open for Lamberton in the SGS process, parents were very concerned that there would be even more disruption for students and families if the staff and principal were replaced. They were alarmed by the possible chaos if more teachers had to be replaced in the Acceleration Network.
What Parents Want
- Regularly appointed teachers
- Electives (such as computer and gym) year-round
- Regular homework and summer projects
- Consequences for students breaking school rules
- Stable leadership–Lamberton has had 3 principals in 3 years
- Trained climate staff and NTAs
- Security at front door
- Better communication with Parents
- Conditions/Cleanliness of facilities (rodent and insect problem as well as no soap in bathrooms)
- After school/extra-curricular activities
- More services for students in need of Emotional Support
Lamberton Focus Group 4: October 24, 2018 Focus Group
by Karel Kilimnik
For the first time, at this last Focus Group held at 5 PM, there was a small sign on the table staffed by two FACE representatives. Despite a request made at the previous session, the Lamberton FACE staffer was not present. In attendance were: Temple professor Lori Shorr; three Lamberton students; two parents/grandparents; seven community members; two FACE staffers; and SGS Director Chris Davies (who stayed for a brief time). No members of the Board of Education attended. At the last evening meeting it was pointed out that many working parents cannot make a 5 PM meeting. Shorr announced that she was leading another SGS focus group at 7 PM, just after this meeting, at a nearby church. This was a surprise to the participants as no notice was posted on the District website announcing this additional opportunity for providing feedback, nor was there any knowledge of robo-calls or flyers sent home about it. Why are evening meetings arranged without taking into consideration the best time for parents and community members?
Davies passed out two papers. One was the initial PowerPoint presented at the September 26th meeting, the other gave some information about the two options–entering the Acceleration Network or developing a school-based Academic Improvement Plan. Davies said that the District had identified schools needing more funding; the biggest factor was low test scores resulting in an SPR lower than 15 and a rating of “Intervene”. I said that Lamberton has clearly suffered from a lack of resources that the District has failed to provide. One parent questioned which data is being used; Davies told him it was the reading levels on standardized tests, attendance rates and school climate. Davis told parents that funding would increase at the SGS schools: $850,000 should the school enter the Acceleration Network, $750,000 for the Academic Improvement Plan. A community member asked where that funding would be coming from; Davis answered “the District”. He went on to briefly explain that entering the Acceleration Network means that teachers have to agree to sign up for additional hours involving professional development. I commented on the impact of entering the Acceleration Network for school staff–that it creates instability as teachers have to reapply for their positions and only up to 80% can be rehired, thus 20% would be forced out. I told the group that APPS members have attended these SGS meetings for three years and spoken to teachers who wanted to stay at their schools but were forced to apply to other schools because they could not be certain the principal would choose to keep them. Principals may also be replaced under this option. What we have consistently heard from parents, students, school staff, and community members is they value their children’s teachers. They want more resources put into their schools but do not want to lose their teachers.
Shorr asked the same questions about climate, academic work, and how parents are treated. Her comment–“last year when we did these meetings parents were unbelievably perceptive”–rang hollow as those parents expressed similar demands for their schools but were still forced into the Turnaround Network (now Acceleration Network).
Parents expressed concerns about safety for both students and teachers. One parent told of her child’s teacher leaving last November after being hit by a student. No action was taken by any school staff member. Parents asked Shorr “How many climate staff are in a school this size?”; she admitted she had no idea. Parents were upset to learn that teachers were forced to leave this Fall due to leveling. Parents also remarked that neighborhood fights spill over into the school. One parent remembered that there used to be student safety monitors and suggested reactivating this program. Shorr asked whether there was a SAC or Home & School; none of the parents had any knowledge about it. The FACE staff were silent on this question as well. Another community member asked how many teacher vacancies there were. Neither Shorr nor the FACE staff had an answer.
What Lamberton parents want:
- More security – the one school police officer does a good job but needs help
- Resolution of bullying
- Stop leveling
- Permanently appointed teachers–there are too many subs
- Problem-solving by leadership
- Students as Hall Monitors
- After-school activities
- Parents want to know about FACE services and meet FACE staffer assigned to Lamberton