by Lynda Rubin
This was the third and final Committee meeting of the day. Like the others, the pace was brisk, there were few answers to questions posed by members of the public, and there was little dialogue.
Present: Co-Chairs Dr. Angela McIver and Dr. Chris McGinley, Committee members Mallory Fix Lopez, Julia Danzy and Dr. Maria McColgan. Board members President Joyce Wilkerson and Wayne Walker sat in for most of the meeting. Minutes of the October 10, 2019 Student Achievement and Support Committee were approved and will be posted on the District website. McGiver announced that, when possible, items to be discussed will be posted one week before the meeting.
Teacher Hiring and Competency Status
Chief of Schools Dr. Shawn Bird gave a power-point presentation on Teacher Hiring and Competency Status. Board members seem prepared to ask about staffing, especially in hard-to-staff schools, and how emergency and necessary vacancies are handled.
McGinley requested information on the status of teacher hiring with emergency certifications. He noted that PA qualifications for high quality teachers required 1) Bachelor’s degree, 2) Certification in subject to be taught and 3) Subject competency. Also included is the grade level training/experience for the students to be taught. McGinley asked what the District is doing to ensure that these teachers are prepared for their jobs; for example, is the District giving subject exams to see if the teachers are capable of teaching their assigned subject and at the assigned grade level? Chief Talent Officer Larisa Shambaugh, on assignment, was not present. Bird replied that he doesn’t know, but would look into it. He did say that Praxis support courses have begun, and that Talent Office is aware of the concern.
Bird stated that 368 new teachers have been hired under the Emergency Certification Program, a decrease from 407 last year. Of those, 36% of total emergency hires include 77 teachers (21%) with certification from another state and need PA certification, 56 teachers (15%) with a PA certification but for a different subject than they were hired for and need new subject certification, and 60 (16%) were hired from non-traditional backgrounds (18 CTE, 7 Art, 16 Music, 21 Nurses, 2 Psychologists and 2 Speech Pathologists).
McGinley asked if what he has heard–that the District’s practices convey the message that certification doesn’t matter in Philadelphia–is true. Bird replied that it is not.
Fix Lopez followed up with the comment that “we may have a plan in concept, but not in reality. No plan works if it can’t be thoughtfully implemented and in a timely fashion.” She noted that some schools have difficulty attracting substitutes, especially those schools with a continuous influx of students with behavioral, emotional, or significant academic needs. She stated that the number of students with a particular need might be deemed too small to require an additional .5 teacher. Fix Lopez stated she had just been at a school where the program was affected by three vacancies due to teachers being absent with medical issues, and she asked Bird how the District deals with such emergencies.
Bird’s response was about allowing some schools to be “held-harmless” (allow a school to maintain staff above the strict student ratio guidelines). Fix Lopez replied that she was talking about the opposite issue, when there are too few students to warrant another teacher. Bird’s response did not make clear whether he was addressing only fall leveling, a recent issue, or when these conditions arise throughout the year.
Also raised was the effect of site selection on these inequities. Fix Lopez asked what the District does when sufficient teachers don’t apply for a school. Bird stated that principals are being reminded that their role includes being talent managers, especially regarding retaining and recruiting staff, and that early recruiting is essential. Bird further stated that principal requests to Assistant Superintendents can be made.
McColgan asked why a .2 or .5 teacher isn’t just made into full time position since that would make it more attractive to potential teachers. She did not get an answer.
Chief of Academic Support Malika Savoy-Brooks addressed typical District responses such as assigning teachers to cover several schools for such issues as Art, Music or ELL needs. She said that she doesn’t want to tell teachers to cover several schools, but that has been a past remedy especially when a handful of students are without any support.
Comprehensive Plan Update
Savoy-Brooks reminded the Committee that this is the 3-year plan implemented in December 2018. The three priorities are: all classrooms staffed by highly qualified teachers; early identification of students who are academically at-risk; to have systems are in place to ensure consistent implementation of standards aligned curricula for all students.
Savoy-Brooks said that included in the plan are new strategies for “hard to staff” positions and schools. The plan addresses early identification of any and all factors that contribute to students becoming academically at risk, and to plan for and provide interventions based on students’ needs. Of note is the plan for implementing Trauma-Informed Climate Plan providing staff with differentiated training and support with an emphasis on school-embedded coaching and PD. Savoy-Brooks pointed to the addition of a new Chief Academic Officer with priorities in K-8 literacy, high school and college career efforts and meeting the new graduation requirements.
Savoy-Brooks provided data and responded to questions surrounding the 2018-19 PSSA and Keystone data for ELA/Literature, Math/Algebra and Biology at various grade levels (see power-point). McIver asked about the specific percentages of students achieving Advanced or Proficient status at grade levels which appear lower than is healthy for this District. She also stated her concerns about how this data is expected to improve as students rise through the grades. She pointed to the Math goals statistics for grades 6-8 and 9 being 25% and 27% and noted that it is very problematic if the upper grade levels remain at those low levels. McIver said she was aware of the research and asked about what the 5-year goals were. Savoy-Brooks said they haven’t gotten to that point yet. McIver said she wants to revisit this topic for more specific answers to these questions, especially about how to improve the statistics at upper grades.
Danzy asked about support for teachers dealing with stress, especially regarding behavioral health if, for example, inability to get substitutes remains a problem. Savoy-Brooks responded that “relaxation rooms” might be in the future and they are working on plans. She didn’t say whether teachers would receive additional prep time, although this is a contractual issue. It may be a sincere proposal, but it is far from a solution to the need for providing schools with sufficient staff and resources, including healthy buildings and class sizes that enable teachers to be able to teach to all students, regardless of circumstances and to maximize student learning.
(PowerPoint slides accompanying staff presentations and Action Item descriptions have been added to the Student Achievement and Support Meeting Materials that can be found at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/meetingmaterials/.)
Charter Schools Office Recommends Renewal of Substandard School
Peng Chao, Executive Director of the Charter Schools Office (CSO), reported on the renewal of Boys Latin Charter School and gave an update on the CSO’s New Charter Application Process. Chao noted that the renewal of the middle/high charter Boys’ Latin has been delayed since 2017; he did not explain the reason–that the Boys Latin CEO had refused to sign a renewal contract with conditions. Chao said that Boys Latin has now signed the agreement. CSO therefore is recommending a 5-year Renewal. APPS’ co-founder Lisa Haver asked whether the conditions were still in effect; Chao said there were no longer conditions. Haver also noted that the renewal was partially retroactive. Chao stated that there has been “improvement” in the high school academic area. However, both the 2018 Renewal Report (2017) and the 2018 ACE (Annual Charter Evaluation) cited in the Action Item have “Does Not Meet Standards” or red downward triangles throughout the reports for the high school, indicating that the school’s scores lag far behind both District and charter schools.
Before the SRC dissolved, many charters refused to sign their agreements because they included “conditions” to help correct academic, organization or financial failures that did not meet standards to which charter schools had agreed upon getting their charters. Charter operators were defying the District’s right to convey any conditions on any of them as part of their oversight. Most of the other charters that had refused to sign the conditions, mostly Master Charter Renaissance Schools, have also been renewed this year with the conditions previously set dropped without explanation. All of this was finalized in private negotiations with Boys Latin administration. None of the conditions were ever publicly posted, so there is no way to know which ones charter operators agreed to follow and which they rejected. Fix Lopez questioned Chao about the status of the conditions. Chao responded that five of the conditions previously set by the SDP have been met. McGinley asked if the renewal was to be passed, would the charter renewal fall into the earlier cycle. Chao said yes. The next renewal year come due in 2022.
New Charter Applications are due Friday November 15; within 45 days of that date, a public meeting must be held; within 75 days of the first public hearing, the Board must take action to approve or deny. Chao stated that six schools have filed a Letter of Intent. However, schools that file a Letter of Intent may not actually file an application, and Letters of Intent are not required to file a new application by November 15th.
Letter of Intent were submitted by: 1) Joan Myers Brown Academy: A String Theory Charter School, K-8, for 900 students, 2) Juliet Sawyer Business Academy, K-8, for 1,170 students, New Foundations Charter School II, K-8, for 500 students, Philadelphia Real Estate Entrepreneurial Charter School, 8-12, for 700 students, Pod Academy Charter School, K-5, for 390 students and Roberta B. Kennedy Charter School for Girls, 6-12, for 875 students.
Chao noted that the CSO has received word that New Foundations II will NOT be submitting an application bringing the current number of new charter applications to five (5).
McGinley pointed out that String Theory had applied last year for this same school [and was denied] and New Foundations is a known charter operator. He asked if any of the other applicants are known charter operators. Chao said no.
Information about these Charter School applications can be found on the SDP website, New Charter School Applications page: https://www.philasd.org/charterschools/newcharter/
[Update: complete applications were sent in by String Theory and High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School.]
APPS attends all hearings regarding new charter applicants and researches all charter renewal requests. APPS has sent letters to the Board and has testified that all charter requests for renewals and/or amendments to their charters (for increases to grade levels served and enrollment limits as well as location change requests) should be conducted at a public hearing. Since a public hearing is appropriate for an initial request, any requests for changes to the school’s charter should also be conducted in public.
Board members had many questions and concerns about Action Item 24, Ratification of contract with KIPP Philadelphia ($323,750) and Ratification of Letter of Agreement with The Neubauer Family Foundation ($361,250). The proposal was to have a KIPP-trained counselor supplement the College/Career program at Ben Franklin HS. Actually, this program started September 2019, following the KIPP College Match program to promote college acceptances and success. If successful it will eventually be rolled out (as a professional development only re the College Match program to existing counselors) to all District high schools. Board members present expressed confusion and concerned because the Action Item was substantially different than the original Item submitted. They summoned Karyn Lynch, Chief of Student Support Services, to explain. Lynch admitted that this was a different version than had been submitted; that was because the Neubauer Foundation wanted a monetary commitment from the District. The original version appeared to them as a grant to one school to promote KIPPs College Match program. The District was now being asked to commit its own money for several years and to expand the project to all other high schools if successful at Ben Franklin. As a stand-alone grant, the lack of prior approval could be excused. As a grant tying the Board to future costs for years 2, 3 and 4 of the contract, several Board members asked how this was allowed to have begun without Board approval. All Board members were in agreement that all schools needed more counselors, but this long-term project didn’t provide them and the terms were very vaguely explained in general. The Committee ultimately voted not to recommend this Item for approval by the full Board.
Fix Lopez raised concerns about Action Item 25: Contract with HISD Pennsylvania: Extended Learning & Support Services for Immigrant and Refugee Students ($607,023). She said that this contract does not provide for equitable distribution of services across the City, particularly where there are a handful of children requiring the services, who might then be left without any support. Some Board members voiced approval for HIAS as an organization, but Fix Lopez cautioned about equity issues that would arise if approved.
Lisa Haver thanked the Board for their action on the KIPP/Neubauer Item. Haver voiced objection that the District would select KIPP for any District program in light of KIPP’s history of psychological abuse on its own students– mocking and isolating them from their peers for minor infractions. She reminded the Board that KIPP has proudly talked about ousting students who didn’t measure up and noted the irony of using that school’s personnel and methods as a guide to equitable student coaching for higher education. Haver also voiced her objections to the CSO’s recommendation for renewal of Boys Latin Charter. The CSO’s presentation showed that the school failed to meet standards in every category and rated a DOES NOT MEET in academics. She cited several areas in which Boys Latin was in violation, including lack of due process when students were expelled. Haver asked the Board to explain why they would renew any school that failed to meet standards. None of the Board members responded.
APPS member Lynda Rubin spoke on Action Item 7, Amendment of Contract with Attuned Education Partners – Action Plan Support ($76,000). She asked why the District was outsourcing once again to a company that was created and staffed by pro-charter personnel, particularly as advisors and influencers of our own Action Plan. As this Item is an Amendment, it appears that this company has already been influential in deciding on our Action Plan goals and methods. Attuned Ed Partners is run by devotees of Broad ideology, KIPP, TFA and Relay graduates and instructors, none of which have a stake in promoting true public education. She also noted that “The District is seeking an external partner because it does not have the internal resources…” and asked why the District did not. This policy of continual outsourcing to education reformist groups will undermine public education values and our system itself.
APPS member Zoe Rooney, high school math teacher and parent of a special-needs child, spoke on the continued changes to the (in this case Math) Frameworks. She cautioned that good educational practice includes giving teachers time to work on aligning relatively new standards into the current curricula. Rooney pointed out that Keystone and PSSA have become less reliable metrics to support today’s Math education goals. While this is a statewide problem as well as the District’s, this embedding of more resources of this current program will not serve us well in the future. Rooney also questioned the continual use of the term “Trauma Informed teaching”. Students actually need more content support, in smaller classes, with teachers who are not overly stressed about meeting data goals. Providing more and more professional development about additional directives only adds to that stress, with less attention possible on helping students feel supported and safe.
Cherie Micheau, APPS member and expert on ELL concerns, submitted written testimony about Action Item 25, the HIAS contract mentioned above. Micheau expressed doubts about a proposed contract with HIAS and Council Migration Services, Inc. for over $600,000 for services to English Learners at five District schools. The contract calls for the organizations to support English Learners during in-school and after-school language and math classes, trauma-informed support, career and college preparation, and PD for teachers in those schools. She questioned the fairness in the selection process for this contract (was there a call for proposals, for example), the selection of the targeted schools (are they the neediest EL schools), whether college and career preparation should be outsourced, and the need to outsource PD given an entire 440 office (OMCP) whose mission is exactly that. In addition, she shared her concern that this contract would cause other programs and services to be cut to the many other District schools with ELLs.
The actions discussed at this Student Achievement/Support Committee will be addressed at the Board of Education’s Action meeting on Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 5:00pm. The Board does pay attention to the importance of their actions when teachers, parents, etc. attend their meetings. Those who would like to sign up to speak must do so by Wednesday, November 20 at 5:00pm. Call 215-400-5959 to register or sign up on-line at https://www.philasd.org/schoolboard/speaker-request-form/.