Student Achievement Committee Report: April 11, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

The Board of Education denied three new charter applications in February. The question now is whether they will continue the SRC’s practice of allowing back-door charter expansion through yearly amendment requests from charters and whether they will make this an open process for full public engagement.

Present: Committee members Chris McGinley, Angela McIver, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Maria McColgan and student representative Alfredo Praticò; Committee member Mallory Fix Lopez was absent. Board President Joyce Wilkerson sat in the audience.

Dr. McIver announced that Kindergarten registration begins May 31, 2019. The Board Budget Hearing will be held on April 25, 2019, 4:00 PM in the 2nd floor auditorium prior to the regularly scheduled Action Meeting at 5:00 pm.

The minutes for the March 14, 2019 Student Achievement Committee Meeting were approved.

New Pennsylvania CSI and ATSI Planning Process

A presentation on the new Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Comprehensive School and Improvement (CSI) & Additional Targeted Support & Improvement (ATSI) Planning Process for 2019-2022 was given by Tonya Wolford (The full power point presentation can be found here and clicking on the Downloaded Agenda icon for Student Achievement and Support Committee 4/11/19.)

Reading from the Power-Point, Wolford  stated that 43 schools will fall under CSI support for 2019-2020; 17 schools will receive ATSI supports and 157 fall under the Non-Designated Schools. The planning timelines, for both CSI and ATSI schools is as follows:

  • May 13-31, 2019: Plans posted for public review and editing
  • June 10-26, 2019: Final review and signatures by principal, School Improvement Facilitators (SIF), Superintendent & Board President
  • June 28, 2019: Plans submitted to PDE. Non-designated schools follow a different planning timeline.

CSI-designated schools will receive additional funded positions and professional development: School Teacher Leader to support growth in ELA and Math, more English Language teachers to support ELL growth, additional counselors, social workers and case managers to support Attendance and Behavior improvement, and a 9th grade counselor experienced in college-and-career readiness to support students in that area.  Ten state-level CSI School Improvement Facilitators (SIFs) will work in collaboration with PESO staff, Central Office leads, and Assistant Superintendents to facilitate school plan development, implementation, and ongoing progress monitoring. By August 30, 2019, PDE will also appoint core team member content specialists in the areas of: early literacy, math, science, ELL, special education, college and career readiness. These core team members will work with 10-12 schools each, based on their focal areas.

Committee member Maria McColgan asked how much teachers are involved in the plans. Wolford replied that the stakeholder committee is supposed to include teachers. McColgan asserted that teachers should be involved throughout the planning timeline. Committee co-chair Chris McGinley followed up by asking whether principals are encouraged to include teachers. There was no clear response. McGinley also stated that absent committee member Fix Lopez had submitted questions, but that they were similar to some previously asked. Committee member Julia Danzy asked if extra money was coming from the State for this effort; she was told that it would. Danzy then asked if the extra supports given by the State would reduce any services already in those schools. Director of Student Services Karen Lynch responded that additional social workers and case managers would not replace existing positions. Responding to McGinley’s question about additional counselors, Lynch replied that in addition to school counselors, the District was “ hoping to recruit counselors with behavioral health experience and counselors for college and career” so that the District would have counselors with these skill sets.  Leticia Egea-Hinton asked about any coordination the administration would provide to both social workers already in the schools and those being added. Wolford replied that incoming counselors, nurses, social workers, and case managers will be working in concert with the climate manager to complement the others’ work.

Charter School Office Presentation

Charter School Office (CSO) Interim Director Christina Grant spoke about timelines for 2018-2019 charter renewals, amendment requests by charter schools in that renewal cohort, and amendment requests from other charters in mid-cycle. As above, the CSO’s power point presentation can be found here and clicking on the Downloaded Agenda icon for Student Achievement and Support Committee 4/11/19.)

Grant cited the following timeline for charter school recommendations and Board action:

  • Thursday, April 11th– Renewal & Amendment Recommendations presented to Student Achievement Committee. (Note: 10 of 12 schools were announced at this Committee meeting. Additional recommendations will be made upon completion of their evaluations.)
  • Friday, April 12th–  School Engagement Renewal Reports are shared with individual schools for review
  • Thursday, April 25th– Publication Renewal & Amendment Reports to be published on CSO website
  • Thursday, May 16th– CSO presents recommendation to the Student Achievement Committee for any school with a signed charter agreement
  • Thursday, May 30 and Thursday, June 27 Action Meetings –  Board of  Education will vote on signed charter agreements.

Charter Recommendations (So Far)

Grant announced that the CSO is recommending the following charter schools for renewal for a 5 year term: Ad Prima, Esperanza Academy Charter School, Franklin Towne Charter High School, Global Leadership Academy Charter School, KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School, Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, MaST Community Charter School II, New Foundations Charter School, Philadelphia Montessori Charter School, and Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School.

Grant announced that the CSO is recommending that the Board approve all amendment requests:

Renewal Amendments (charters currently in renewal process), both seeking enrollment increases: KIPP West (K-4), which was initially authorized for a 3-year term in 2015, to be allowed an additional 125 seats, raising their total from 375 to 500 seats; and Marianna Bracetti (K-12) – to be allowed an additional 245 seats, raising their total enrollment from 1225 to 1500 seats.

(Note: the renewal amendment requests are not posted on the District website)

Mid-Cycle Amendments (not under renewal this year):

  •      PET- Philadelphia Electrical & Technology (9-12), moving from the 1400 block of Chestnut Street (Center City) to a building to be constructed at 1525 N. American Street.The CSO Evaluation of this amendment request can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wwoZh7-ip-WWgc686rKC_BFTh138ouuX/view.
  •      Laboratory Charter (K-8), consolidating three campuses in three different neighborhoods that make up one school, Wynnefield (5901 Woodbine Street, 19131), Overbrook ( 5339 Lebanon Street, 19131) and Northern Liberties (800 N. Orianna Street, 19123) and relocating them to East Falls at 3300 Henry Ave, 19129. The CSO Evaluation of this request can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wwoZh7-ip-WWgc686rKC_BFTh138ouuX/view

Grant also reported on the completion of an agreement the CSO negotiated with the not yet opened Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School (PHPCS) also at 3300 Henry Ave.

  • The SRC voted to approve a charter for Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School (PHPCS) in May 2018 (SRC-6). PHPCS would be authorized to operate grades K to 5 with a maximum enrollment of 468 students during its first charter term.
  • PHPCS is using 2018-19 as a planning year and will open in Fall of 2019 at 3300 Henry Ave, serving grades K-1 with an planned enrollment of 156. School will use a “Diverse-by-Design” model with PA Core-aligned curriculum and language instruction in Modern Hebrew. PHPCS currently has 156 students fully enrolled from 32 different zip codes for K-1 this fall.
  • The leadership team of PHPCS has “actively engaged” with the CSO to ensure they understand systems and processes and that the School will be prepared for success upon opening.

Committee members weighed in.  McIver noted that some school location change requests are to less accessible neighborhoods and questioned whether the school(s) could lose students.  McGinley noted that these new locations for students from other parts of the city will increase District busing costs. Danzy asked about the grade-levels and ages of the students at each school as well the increased number of students in one location. Danzy also asked how many students were coming from each of the 32 zip codes for Hebrew Academy students.  She was told that there would be three schools, all K-8. However, this is not correct since Danzy was not informed that Eastern University Academy Charter School, serving 357 7th-12th students is already in operation in that building.  Although the SRC voted to revoke the charter of Eastern University in 2017, that process is still under appeal at the State level, meaning the school could remain open for some time through several court appeal processes,. Another Fix Lopez question submitted asked about Hebrew Academy’s exact location and whether the District has given sufficient thought to the issues of Laboratory Charter co-locating with other schools. Grant replied that the Hebrew Charter Academy item is to “effectively open the school” and that the CSO had approved the co-location by Laboratory Charter as long as the required space is provided by Fall 2019. She further noted that “Lab has been an amazing partner, and they if there was any problem with the new space, they could return to their previous locations”. She did not explain how Laboratory Charter could do that.  McColgan asked whether costs for the Hebrew Charter School were already in the budget for next school year. (She was informed that it is.) McIver commented that the Mifflin School community is well aware that these schools are coming and have “great concerns” about how close they are to Mifflin. As the Board members were concluding their questions, Egea-Hinton passed a noted to McGiver. Reading the note, McIver asked specifically if East Falls community serving the Mifflin School had been contacted. Grant replied. “To our knowledge, yes, that the schools had done an engagement process and I’m sure the school knows these schools are coming.” She promised to provide letters of support, and points of contact before the April 25th Action meeting. McGinley asked whether Mifflin School specifically was informed about all of these relocations. Again, Grant replied “to my knowledge, yes.”

Grant used the term “cross-partnership” seemingly to describe a collegial relationship between multiple charters moving into neighborhoods and the public schools already there. McGinley then asked Dr. Shawn Bird to come back later with information specifically about Mifflin – “their population, how many students are there, because with so many schools close by, Mifflin could lose students”. Grant promised to do “a full neighborhood school impact.”

APPS has several concerns about these charter schools’ location change requests:

1)   The creation of  an increasing “charter mall complex” at 33rd& Henry Avenue of students from different grade levels, different schools , and from all over the city as opposed to the neighborhood these schools initially stated they wanted to serve.

2)   The recognition that the establishment of this complex site is for several unrelated schools to increase their enrolled student populations now and in the future. Laboratory Charter School currently consists of two schools in West Philadelphia:  K-4 with 266 students, a K-8 with 145 students and a Northern Liberties K-8 with 160 students for a total number of 571 students. Laboratory Charter School, however, has an authorized enrollment of 1,065 students. So the total number of students for these three schools could soon be doubled. The District has also authorized Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School which will be also be situated at 3300 Henry Ave. currently with 156 enrolled for 2019 K-1 students, but which can now expand to K-5 with 468 students from 32 different zip codes. These schools together will occupy the same complex with the total number of students of 1,039 (actually 1,396 with the addition of Eastern University students). Note: Since there was no mention of the fact that Eastern University Academy Charter School (7-12) is already housed with 357 7th to 12th grade students at that complex, the District staff is not being completely upfront with the Board members’ questions.

3)   The belief that this site was picked by these schools to maximize the real estate development many charter schools use for a monetary return for their investors and interested companies with whom they work. Notebook reporter Greg Windle and others have written about how the driving force behind many charter chains is to use the tax dollars of new students to fund the bonds that are issued to pay for these development loans which are then guaranteed by the school (read School District) and not the charter board members or investors, thereby making the taxpayers liable for paying back any outstanding loans should the charter school fail to make payments.

4)   The effect that these schools have on the neighborhood schools that they’re moving close to. Part of the CSO’s recommendation states that the new locations are “…0.7 miles away from neighboring schools”, as if that’s a protection for existing neighborhood schools. Mifflin School parents and staff have been vocal about their concerns. And this is not just one charter school, but many charter schools.

Discussion of Selected Action Items

Chief of Schools Dr. Shawn Bird spoke about four Action Items that involve Special Education, specifically students with IEPs who receive services outside the District due to IEP needs, such as medical needs or in juvenile justice system. He then gave brief summaries for the Action Items on the agenda. Bird did note a vote will be taken about changes to the school calendar for 2020-2021 as follows: Winter break would be 8 days, Wednesday 12/23/20 through Friday 1/1/21,  returning on Monday 1/4/21. The City will support providing food resources to students during the break.

The Lunar New Year on 2/12/21 is being added as requested by community members. The winter break change thus makes the last day of school on Friday 6/11/21 instead of Monday 6/14/21.

When Board members asked for better identification for the Action items, Bird said he will change it in future and mentioned that APPS member Karel Kilimnik had raised the same point previously.

Committee Questions on Action Items

Bird addressed the Contract with Relay Graduate School of Education – Principal and Instructional Coach Professional Development for the Acceleration Network. He stated that this contract has been proposed because many of the schools’ staff have gone to their 2-week summer trainings and trainings during the school year, that it is the “foundation for what the Acceleration schools do”, and that “many other schools have gone to this training and have seen improvements and graduated out of the Acceleration network”. McGinley reminded Bird and the Committee that Relay is not an accredited graduate school in Pennsylvania. McGinley then noted that the SRC emphatically asked the District to bring principal training and support in-house, so the fact that one Network is not doing that is of concern to him. McGinley also raised concerns that the resolution to be voted on refers to certain skill sets that seem very basic for the role of principal and that they are things that principals should have learned before becoming principals, not after. He stated he would not be supporting that proposal.

Danzy asked about the contracts with various PA approved private schools, specifically about the funding source, including whether the funding was from IDEA. McGinley said that the full cost does not come from IDEA. Danzy then said there was one school (CB Community) on the list that the Board had raised questions about before and was never given an answer. Another district staff member spoke about how such referrals are made. Danzy then asked about the process of listing schools in a contract before returning to CB Community, stating that the Board had asked questions, never received an answer and now that school was included for a contract vote. “It seems like you side-stepped us and used another technique for getting it done,” she said.  The staffer said she would check on that particular school. Egea-Hinton then said, “But the question seems to be that we asked for additional information about the school and it was taken off [a voting item] and never received it, but we had questions about it and weren’t given complete information.” McGinley stated that there had been a resolution in the Fall and that the Board had questioned the funding for it, so the school got their own funding, thus removing the school from the list. But he agreed with the concern that the school is on a new list. The staff person again promised to check on it.

When McIver asked how many students the District has in APS (approved private schools) she was told 1,150, but that they anticipate an additional 144 students, bringing the total to around 1290. It was noted that some schools don’t have any Philadelphia students; therefore, there is no payment.

McGinley also raised concerns about whether that there will be adequate notice to parents of ESY students (extended summer school year) for certain IEP students) and that the District should make sure that parents have as much time as possible to make plans which has not been the case in past years.