The Battle for Wister Elementary School


At the December 17, 2015 meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, APPS member Coleman Poses testified that the SRC was using incorrect information for the Wister Elementary School “turnaround” to Mastery Charter.

On January 11, 2016, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite announced that he had reversed his position on Wister Elementary and that he was recommending that it remain a public school.    According to NewsWorks reporter Kevin McCorry:

The proposed conversions have been a topic of fierce debate at School Reform Commission meetings in recent months. Each school has seen parents and advocates pushing both for and against conversion.

Wister was home of the most coordinated campaign to keep the school within district control. Community member Coleman Poses correctly pointed out that the district relied on faulty enrollment data in its pitch to convert the school.

The response of local corporate education reformers was to go into overdrive, as Hite’s reversal would interfere with Mastery’s attempt to create its own charter district in Philadelphia.   The Philadelphia Inquirer, owned by Mastery backer H. F. Lenfest, published an article publicizing Mastery’s petition drive and its aftermath.

On January 18, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook published a commentary by Jonathan Cetel, director of the corporate education reform group PennCan, in which he says that Hite made the wrong decision on Wister.  He contends that regardless of the faulty data, Wister should be turned over to Mastery. In a comment after the article, Coleman Poses responded:

I take issue with several of the points that Cetel makes in his commentary. He speaks to the fact that 34% of the families in Wister’s catchment area have chosen other schools to attend. Nowhere does he mention the fact that the school’s capacity is 517, and that the school was operating at 88% of its capacity in 2013.  But even if we accept Mr. Cetel’s argument that 34% of Wister catchment families have voted with their feet, what does this say about the 66% of the families that have remained in their local district school?

Mr. Cetel points out that money alone will not solve Wister’s problems, but his argument appears to belie this point. He mentions that in the 2010-2011 school year, Wister received more money from the district, yet was still struggling academically. Missing from this argument, however, was the fact that Wister was still making AYP, and that, when the money was taken away, proficiency rates diminished at the school. Missing also, was the fact that the school was still not funded the way that schools in richer districts were funded. Given the fact that Wister also has more socio-economic challenges than many of the schools in richer districts, the results at the school are even more impressive.

What confirms Mr. Cetel’s argument might be the fact that one would expect even more progress from the cash flush Mastery Schools. His cherished view of Gratz High School appears less dazzling when one looks at the school’s rating in the Great Philly Schools database, where Gratz scored an overall 3 out of 10 for all Philadelphia high schools, with a “1” in Math, and a “3” in reading. Although I am certain that a number of Gratz students like Jerome and Terrell make it to college, those colleges will need to provide a lot of help to bring them up to the level of proficiency that they should have gotten in high school.

Joining the usual refrain of corporate reformers, Mr. Cetel contends that more resources will make no difference in providing a quality education at Wister.  He fails to explain why that same standard does not apply to Mastery, one of the greatest beneficiaries of the policies which continue to starve public schools while feeding more and more to charters.



Ignoring its much vaunted “data” which it claims is the basis for turning  “underperforming schools” over to charters, the SRC at its Thursday, January 21st meeting voted to begin the process of turning Wister over to Mastery Charter company regardless of the data.

SRC moves toward giving 3 schools to charter firms | Philadelphia Inquirer

In bombshell, SRC defies Hite, votes to turn Wister over to Mastery | the Notebook

SRC overrules Superintendent Hite, moves to convert three schools into charters [photes]

Sylvia Simms, the SRC member who changed the fate of a school | Philadelphia Inquirer

What is clear is that public schools will continue to be starved and the resulting corrupt “data” and the the interests of the community will continue to be ignored in order to achieve a privatization agenda.

An Open Letter to SRC Chairwoman Neff about the extension of the contract of Superintendent Hite


Dear Chairwoman Neff:

The members of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools call on you and the members of the SRC to table your plans to renew the contract of Superintendent William Hite. There is no need to take this action at this time. Superintendents’ terms last five years; the time to assess the performance of the superintendent is at the end of those five years. The SRC should not be locking the district and its stakeholders into a seven-year contract.

The timing and speed of the proposed contract extension appears to be another attempt by the SRC to prevent the people of the city an opportunity to be heard on the policies and the direction of its public schools.

The people of Philadelphia have clearly expressed their views on education at the ballot box in the recent mayoral and gubernatorial elections.  The voters rejected the mayoral candidate whose platform called for more privatization, more charters and more school closures.  They voted out a governor whose education policies inflicted harm on our public schools.  It is wrong, therefore, to have the SRC members appointed by the former governor and the outgoing mayor act in opposition to those wishes.

In addition, because the SRC is an appointed body and not an elected one, you and the other commissioners should make every effort to make sure the public has ample opportunity to be heard on such an important decision.  The SRC’s announcement, which comes just six days before it intends to vote on the resolution to extend, does not give the public ample opportunity to consider the merits or to be involved in this vital public policy.  And unlike all other Pennsylvanians, Philadelphians do not have the ability to vote out of office the SRC members who appear to be attempting to undermine the democratic process.

Before Dr. Hite’s contract was approved three years ago, the SRC held public hearings.  While we believe it is inappropriate, at this time, to consider a contract extension for Dr. Hite, the very least the SRC should do is to hold public hearings to allow Philadelphians to participate in this critical decision.


Lisa Haver, Co-founder

Karel Kilimnik, Co-founder


Hite deserves extension
Philadelphia Inquirer – December 14, 2015
SRC Chairwoman Neff doubles-down on her support of Hite. (Scroll down to  the last letter. Read the comments.)


Rushed reforms fail our schools

This column by APPS co-founder Lisa Haver was published by the Philadelphia Daily News on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

Lisa Haver

The school formerly known as Roosevelt Middle School in East Germantown landed at the bottom of the list of Philadelphia schools’ Pennsylvania System of School Assessment reading-proficiency scores this year. Math-proficiency scores are 0.3 percent. It pains me to say that, because I taught there for four years in the ’90s. It wasn’t a bad school then. We had a good principal who respected teachers, many of whom had been there almost 20 years. There was a full-time librarian, a full-time nurse and two full-time counselors. A committee of teachers developed a series of innovative project-based curricula.

Roosevelt has made it through serial budget cuts and district neglect. But the most recent, perhaps fatal, wound was inflicted by the School Reform Commission’s decision two years ago to convert it to a K-8. When community members protested that three schools in the same area – Germantown High School, Fulton Elementary and Roosevelt – were on the list of 24 neighborhood schools to be closed in 2013, the SRC came up with a last-minute scheme to add six lower grades in a matter of months. The district provided little support during the transition.

It appears, though, that disruption and failure are not a deterrent to repeating mistakes in the School District of Philadelphia. Superintendent William Hite unveiled a plan earlier this month to reform 15 district schools at an estimated cost of $15 million to $20 million. Some will be part of the Hite-created Transformation Program, in which curricular and personnel changes, including forcing out the entire faculty, can be imposed with no public hearings or vote by the SRC. Others will be placed into the Renaissance Network, which is the administration’s way of giving up on a school it has done little to improve and kicking it to the curb for a private company to pick up. Some will have several grades added at once, as Roosevelt did, changing its mission and climate overnight. Contrary to promises made by Hite at public meetings, two schools will be closed permanently. Enrollment and class size in nearby schools will almost certainly increase.

The hurried approval process will give parents little chance to have any say in the future of their children’s schools. Teachers and staff have been shut out of the process altogether, even though many will be forced out of schools whose communities they have been part of for years. But since the decisions about which schools will be overhauled, and how, have already been made at the top, what purpose do these meetings serve other than window-dressing – until the inevitable rubber-stamping by the SRC?

 Are these radical changes worth the financial and emotional costs to be extracted from those school communities? Looking at the latest standardized-test scores clearly shows that these rushed overhauls do not work.

Hite cites reading and math proficiency scores, which hover around 30 percent, as justification for placing three more schools into the Renaissance program. But the latest PSSA scores show that none of the 21 current elementary or middle Renaissance schools achieved a math score over 20 percent; only eight topped 30 percent in reading. Three have come up for nonrenewal proceedings in the past year alone. The School Performance Rating of Audenried High School, placed in the Renaissance program in 2011, was among the lowest in the state.

If Hite’s plan represented real reforms, maybe it would be worth the $20 million price tag. But the facts show they are not. Overnight expansion has been a disaster for Roosevelt and other schools. Transformation schools, so far, show little more than cosmetic changes. Data on Renaissance schools clearly show that the whole program should be scrapped. Hite is a lifelong educator, and he knows what real reform entails: smaller class size; one-on-one reading interventions; a library in every school; full support staff including classroom aides for students with special needs, English language learners and kindergarten. They have always been worth investing in.

Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.


APPS member Diane Payne responds to Hite’s Sweeping Changes


The story by Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks titled District proposes sweeping changes for 15 schools reads as though it was interesting news rather than an alarming catastrophe.  The Philadelphia Public School District is being dismantled and it is being reported as though it is an interesting school feature by news outlets across the region.  The dismantlers are shrouded in cloaks of double-speak and everyone just nods their heads as though these double-speak words are their true intentions.

Let’s start with Dr. Hite, a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.  An academy instituted by the uber rich Eli Broad who has a mission to dismantle public education across the country and thwart the democratic process. See Who is Eli Broad and why is he trying to destroy public education and More on Broad in Philadelphia at Defend Public Education!

Broad trains like-minded individuals in this academy and sends them across the nation to further these goals.  Lucky for him, Dr. Hite secured a position right here in Philadelphia and has been furthering those goals of privatization ever since.  There are many takers in this privatization grab because there are trillions of dollars in education.  Where there are dollars there are grabbers!

Recently, Dr. Hite made a slew of new hires…did we notice they were out-of-town folks with strong charter backgrounds?  One even came under a cloud of suspicion.  Do we care?

Then there is Philadelphia School Partnership with a very influential seat at the school district table. PSP is shrouded in secrecy, most board members are not Philadelphia residents, they are pro-privatization and does anyone care?

Then there are the SRC meetings where teachers, parents, advocates and community members ask, beg, and yell week after week and never get answers.  Does anyone notice or care?

Then there are the frivolous lawsuits that the district engages in to continue to thwart transparency and the democratic process (even when there is no money for basic necessities for our children). Do we care how much money the district spends on these lawsuits?

Then there is the very real fact that the two-tier, double standard system of charters and public is costing a sh$% load of money and at the end of the day has no silver bullet fix to show for it. Does anyone care?

Then there is the churn, chaos, disruption that is ever present in this two-tier system that sucks the life out of our district. Does anyone care?

This is alarming! We are watching the demise of public education and we are reporting it like it just another news story.