Eyes on the Board of Education: April 25, 2019

by Karel Kilimnik

Board Rolls Out Red Carpet to Charter Operators

Spring has arrived along with the annual crop of charter school amendments and renewals. Renewals come due when charters’  five-year terms are up. Amendments requests–for enrollment increases, name changes, relocation–can be submitted at any time, but often at the time of renewal.  Incredibly, charter schools who have refused to sign renewal agreements have still been granted amendment requests. First, let us deal with Renewals. Presently on the Charter School Office (CSO) website is the 2018/19 cohort of 12 schools–with no active link for any school, so no way to see the renewal evaluation report.

Of the 18 schools in the 2017/18 cohort, one link is not posted ( Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School). The April 25 Meeting Agenda lists two Charter Amendments under consideration. Laboratory Charter School is requesting a change of location (Item 3). Laboratory operates one school across three separate campuses in three different neighborhoods–a K-5, a 5-8 and a K-8.  Now Laboratory wants to consolidate all three into one location in East Falls at 3300 Henry Avenue. The District’s School Profiles page gives information on the Northern Liberties campus but not the other two; our written request for explanation has gone unanswered. The CSO Mid-Cycle Charter Amendment Evaluation Report specifically cites lack of community outreach about the relocation,  yet still recommends approval of their request.  The CSO page states that the Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not require districts to consider amendments: “The Pennsylvania Charter School Law does not provide for amendments to charters, and thus the Charter Schools Office (CSO) of the District is not required to review amendment requests from charter schools.”  This may provide a legal basis for denying this request. Why is the Board in such a rush to grant this charter school’s amendment?

The Board has made several pronouncements about making community engagement a key part of its mission. It has created a District Partnership & Community  Engagement Committee along with a Parent & Community Advisory Council. It is incomprehensible that they would consider approving this Action Item while excluding the community from the process.

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Student Achievement and Support Committee: March 14, 2019

by Lynda Rubin

Co-chair Dr. Angela McIver called the meeting to order and chaired the proceedings.  All Committee members were present: Co-chair Dr. Chris McGinley, Julia Danzy, Mallory Fix Lopez, Dr. Maria McColgan. Board President Joyce Wilkerson and Student Representatives Julia Frank and Alfredo Pratico were also present.

Dr. McIver announced that the focus of the Committee meeting would be on Multi-Lingual Curriculum and Programs. Several public speakers had signed up prior to the meeting, most on the subject of EL policies and practices. She suggested that prospective speakers could sign up to speak at the Board’s Action meeting. She also noted that written testimony can be submitted at any time for Committee attention and to become part of the record by emailing it to: schoolboardcommittees@philasd.org.

The February 2, 2019 minutes were approved and will be posted on the website.

Multi-Lingual Curriculum and Programs Presentation

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Malika Savoy Brown, along with Deputy Chief of MultiLingual  Curriculum and Programs Allison Still and Director Patricia Ryan, gave the presentation and answered questions.

Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks stated that the Multi-Lingual Curriculum and Programs Office is part of the Academic Supports Office. She noted three main goals: 1) ensuring that all students have access to grade level instruction, 2) supporting students through rigorous coursework and compelling programs, and 3) ensuring that teachers and leaders are equipped with the knowledge they need to ensure effective teaching and learning in the classroom. Savoy-Brooks said that there has been a shift in the programs to support schools and fill gaps with comprehensive efforts in the high school multi-lingual program as well.

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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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Defenders of Public Education Speak Before the BOE, January 17, 2019

SB 7-9-18

Click on the individual’s name to read the transcript of his or her testimony.

APPS and Community Members

Tonya Bah

Christine Del Rossi

Teresa Engst

Deborah Grill

Lisa Haver

David Hensel

Karel Kilimnik

Robin Lowry

Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Cheri Micheau

Diane Payne

Coleman Poses

Ilene Blitzstein Poses

Lynda Rubin