Student Achievement and Support Committee: February 21, 2019

By Diane Payne

Chris McGinley and Angela McIver co-chaired.  Also present were committee members Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, and the two student representatives, Julia Frank and Alfredo Pratico.  Board Member Wayne Walker attended this meeting and although Committee Member Maria McColgan was absent, she watched the meeting via livestream and texted questions to co-chair McGinley.

Five members of APPS attended this meeting and three spoke in defense of Public Education.  (Meeting agendas and power-point presentations can be viewed on the SDP website by going to the BOE page and clicking on “meeting materials.”   A large number of people attended this meeting.  As the room filled, members of the public had to sit in the atrium and watch the meeting on a screen.  Several public speakers had to come from this overflow room. If this first-floor meeting space constantly overflows for this meeting, it is hoped the Board will accommodate the public by moving to the larger, second floor auditorium where everyone can feel included.

Minutes of the January Student Achievement and Support Committee were approved.

District Presentations

Recruitment and Retention of School-Based Staff

Chief Talent Officer Louis Bellardine and the Deputy Staffer Teresa Ritz reported on three categories: school leaders, teachers, and support staff.  They listed the challenges and strategies in staff recruitment and retention for each of the categories (which can be viewed on the PowerPoint presentation).  Not mentioned in this presentation: the professional conduct, school-based resources, and building conditions that so many members of the public testify about before this Board (as well as its predecessor, the SRC).  Recruiting and retaining quality staff must begin with the heart and soul of the District’s philosophy–not just jargon on a PowerPoint.

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APPS Urges Board to Hold Hearings on Charter Renewals

During the 17-year reign of the SRC, charter renewals have been approved without any public review.  Charters failing to meet standards in academic, financial and organizational areas were routinely renewed without any opportunity for the public to review the Charter School Office evaluations and make meaningful comments.

We have written two letters to the Board asking for them to create a new process for charter renewal, one that is open to the public and is not simply a rubber-stamp for charters that have failed to educate their students.  We have also raised the issue in our testimony in Board committee meetings.

So far, we have received no answer to either of our letters.

March 19, 2019

Dear President Wilkerson and Members of the Board:

We write to you concerning the numerous charter renewals that have been postponed indefinitely by the School Reform Commission and the Board over the past three years.

The District has allowed several charters to operate past their 5-year terms. In most if not all cases, this is because the charters have refused to accept the remedies for deficiencies, referred to as “conditions”, that the District has recommended.  The Board should discontinue the SRC’s practice of allowing charter operators to use their own refusal to address their schools’ deficiencies as a means of extending their 5-year terms. Several of the schools in question failed to meet academic, organizational, and financial standards.  Because of the dearth of public information on these matters, we can only assume that the District has suspended all efforts to have these operators sign new charters. Thus, the idea of a 5-year term for charters becomes meaningless.

In 2016, Universal Audenried and Universal Vare were recommended for non-renewal by the Charter Schools Office. The SRC renewed Vare last year, but Audenried’s non-renewal remains on hold for three years now.

In 2017, twenty-three charter schools were up for renewal (see list below). The SRC voted to renew eight of them at its May 1 Action Meeting. No resolutions were posted for the fifteen who had refused to sign a new charter; thus, no pubic action was taken on them.

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Defenders of Public Education Speak Before the BOE, February 28, 2019

SB 7-9-18

Click on the individual’s name to read the transcript of his or her testimony.  You can view the video of the Board meeting and public testimony here.

APPS and Community Members

Susan DeJarnatt

Education Law Center

Deborah Grill

Lisa Haver

Karel Kilimnik

Diane Payne

Lynda Rubin

Eyes on the Board of Education: February 28, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

At the Board’s inaugural meeting last July, many new Board members made a commitment to transparency and community involvement. Agenda Items, alas, do not reflect these promises. In September 2018, the Board posted documents related to Action Items, including a list of new hires and terminations, City of Philadelphia documents on Authorization of Keystone Opportunities Zone, and the conditions for approving the new MaST Charter School. The Action Item descriptions were much fuller and more descriptive than the paltry information presented since then. The fact that the Board posted Contract Summaries, which we had asked the SRC to post many times, seemed to be a fulfillment of their commitment to transparency. Unfortunately, that was the first and last time anything resembling a contract was posted.  In October, the Board presented another Agenda format that actually had fewer details in Action Items. Also, despite our protestations, the Board has stopped providing paper copies of anything but the agenda at Action Meetings, making it impossible for the public to follow the discussions (if any) and votes on Action Items. The Board places three binders at the back table with a warning not to remove the materials. So are members of the public supposed to sit in the back if they want to know what is going on? Is this their idea of transparency? These are public documents and the public has every right to take them. The Board should provide adequate copies. Unfortunately this parsing of information continues today resulting in a lack of transparency. Their descriptions are uninformative and we continue to question what few nuggets of information are provided to the public.

Superintendent Hite continues to outsource services to vendors instead of building the capacity of District staff. We continue to remind him and the Board that there is a wealth of experience and knowledge within both the teaching and the school support staff. Building on these strengths would lead to greater teacher retention. When people feel respected and listened to, they do not feel the need to leave. Many ESOL teachers have come to both  Committee Meetings and Action Meetings to praise the professional development provided by WestEd QTEL (Action item 34). Hopefully the Board will listen and approve this Action Item.

Three charter school applications are going to be considered for approval at this meeting  (Action Items 4,5 & 6). The District’s Charter Schools Office has issued reports which enumerate significant problems with all of the applications. The District cannot afford to spend almost $119 million over the next five years on unnecessary charters. Our aging school facilities are in dire need of repair. Those millions could make a dent in the estimated $4 billion needed to bring every building up to code. The charter law makes it difficult–but not impossible–to shut down a failing charter, so approving a charter would mean at least a ten-year financial burden on the District. If the Board takes its promise to improve the opportunities for the schoolchildren of the city, then they have an obligation to vote no on these applications. (See the APPS charter reports here).

The next Board Action Meeting is Thursday February 28th at 5 PM.  The community must come out to urge the Board to vote no more charters! If you cannot attend please  submit written testimony by 5 PM Feburary 27 to schoolboard@philasd.org,  telling the Board what your school needs but will not be able to afford if the District sinks another $120 million into new charters. To sign up to testify call 215-400-4010 by 3 pm on Wednesday Feb. 27th.

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