Watlington Launches Administration with Questionable Contract

Ears on the Board of Education: June 23, 2022

by Diane Payne

Dr. Tony Watlington’s tenure as superintendent got off to an inauspicious start with his request to the Board, made before he was sworn in and granted by the Board without deliberation at its last meeting, for a major contract with Tennessee-based Joseph and Associates that came with a $450,000 price tag. The three-phase consulting project begins with the firm focusing on the “development and execution of a 100-day entry plan” for the new superintendent.  When the Board conducted its months-long superintendent search, with members of the community devoting significant time and effort, did they make their final choice with a caveat from the Board that Dr. Watlington was not prepared to take on the job as soon as he got here? Is this the message the Board and Dr. Watlington want to send the school communities—that their priority is not funding classrooms but outside consultants?  That a new superintendent wants to conduct business as usual? 

Continue reading

What Did Board Accomplish in Eight-hour Meeting?

Ears on the Board of Education: May 26, 2022

by Diane Payne

For Dr. Hite’s last meeting as superintendent, Board President Joyce Wilkerson introduced a slideshow of his accomplishments through the decade.  (Those viewing remotely couldn’t hear so it may have had an audio component.) Mayor Kenney appeared in person to honor Hite.  Going-away tributes accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Hite achieve some success on the surface, and in the interest of those holding the seats of political and financial power.   The budget, at least for now, is in  better shape.  But the people on the front lines can attest that those successes came at a price to students, staff, and families. 

Continue reading

Consultant’s Report Does Not Reflect Community’s Priorities

Eyes on the Board of Education:  December 9, 2021
by Karel Kilimnik

Why tell a lie when the truth is available?
Dionne Warwick

Almost every day we lose another Philadelphia student to gun violence.  Students from Feltonville, Strawberry Mansion, Fairhill and many other neighborhoods have been gunned down while walking down the street or waiting for the bus. Last month, APPS members stood with principals and other members of CASA to call on the district and city officials to act now to save our students.  APPS calls on the Board again to curtail or eliminate the Goals and Guardrails session and devote that time to finding a way to protect our students. Start by saying the names of the children we have lost just this month.

Rather than engage in true dialogue with the public, the Board contracts with public relations firms, consultants, and multinational professional services companies such as Accenture. Community engagement now means hiring outside vendors to hold public meetings that are highly scripted, then issuing a report based on selected comments. The Board and its consultants, in this case Brownstone Public Relations, have produced a glossy document rife with corporate language, devoid of educational knowledge or expertise, that looks and sounds more like a stockholders report than one about educational leadership. In fact, the first 17 pages of the 27-page report have nothing to do with the superintendent search. The obvious exclusion of community comments that were critical of the Board and its selection process serves to exacerbate the broken links between the Board and District stakeholders–parents, students, school staff, and the community. Outsourcing public engagement simply widens the divide. Last year, the Board implemented speaker procedures that limit the number of speakers (both student and adult) and shorten the allotted speaking time. APPS members attended many of the “listening sessions” but none of our comments are included–for example, that the Board should not consider any candidates trained at the Broad Academy.

Continue reading for description and analysis of Action Items

Secret Deals and Speaker Suppression

Ears on the Board of Education: November 18, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board practices speaker suppression in many ways. They abolished the committees that offered the school community a way to engage in real dialogue and deliberation. They gutted the official speaker policy, changing the rules from month to month and meeting to meeting. Those are obvious methods. But there are other ways to silence people. One is to add official items to the agenda after the sign-up window has closed, such as the charter renewals, so that only charter company representatives have a chance to be heard. Another is to add staff presentations to the agenda the day of the meeting, making it impossible for people to have a chance to comment or question. The Board does not post staff presentations before or even during the meeting, with the same results. And with only two minutes to speak, it is difficult if not impossible for people to address their issue and also ask a question about information presented during the meeting.  Of the thirty speakers allowed to sign up, eleven did not show up. That meant the Board only had to listen to nineteen adult speakers, silencing an unknown number of speakers (including three APPS members who were barred this month), disenfranchising the public, undermining democracy, and shielding themselves from accountability.  

Continue reading