APPS testimony at the November 2, 2015 School Reform Commission meeting

On Monday morning, November 2, 2015 the Philadelphia School Reform Commission held a special meeting to vote to borrow $250 million to keep the schools open during the Pennsylvania budget crisis.

Phila. schools borrow $250M just to stay open | Philadelphia Inquirer – November 3, 2015

Cash-strapped Philly schools borrow $250 million as state budget impasse continues | Philadelphia Daily News – November 3, 2015

Only two members from the community testified at the quickly called meeting, APPS members Lisa Haver and Karel Kilimnik.

The meeting was reported by Channel 6 Action News with clips from the testimony of APPS members.

Below is their full testimony.

Lisa Haver - SRC Testimony - 9-17-15

Lisa Haver SRC Testimony

Today, I am delivering a letter today to Chair Neff and to the office of open records. APPS is requesting information on the payments to date to all of the law firms involved in just three of the district’s current cases: the cancellation of its contract with the PFT; the appeal to the arbitrator’s case on assigning counselors, during which they have had 9 lawyers in the courtroom; and the APPS complaint, now entering its second year, on violations of the Sunshine Act. Any public expenditure is public information, despite what we have been told by one SRC member. The public needs to know how the district which cannot afford to pay teachers a fair wage or fix crumbing buildings can afford exorbitant legal fees over many months, especially in relatively simple cases like the Sunshine Act complaint.


The children of this district are being robbed of their education because of the mismanagement of the Hite administration and the SRC. The beginning of the year, as any educator knows, is crucial and sets the tone for the entire school year. You get to know the children and they get to know you. The most important thing they need to know about their teacher is that she will be there when they need you. But when you are running around covering classes, you aren’t there. When you should be preparing interesting and engaging lessons, the ones you will be judged on, you are covering another class. When you should be calling parents because a child has a problem, or just to introduce yourself to let the parent know you are available, you are covering classes.

This administration and the SRC have moved this district into the corporate world in many ways: privatization, outsourcing, referring to parents as “customers” and talking about “customer service”, inordinate use of data. But in the corporate world, people resign or are fired for a screw-up of this magnitude. All of the people responsible for this debacle should do the decent thing and resign; that includes Dr. Hite and his administration, and it includes the SRC who voted to approve in its haste to find another way to get rid of union employees.

Karel Kiliminik

Karel Kilimnik SRC Testimony

First, I want to say that the state legislature taking a vacation without passing a budget is criminal.

There are so many ways you could save money. Eliminate hiring outside law firms. For instance, instead of settling our APPS lawsuit through the mediation process, someone sitting up there has chosen to drag it out thereby continuing payment to a high priced outside law firm. We are not asking for money. We are asking that the SRC comply with the state Sunshine Act. We want District money to be spent in classrooms not in legal wrangling.

Here’s another way to save money. Stop outsourcing. Look at the disaster created by Source4Teachers. Now the District is begging retired teachers to return as substitutes. Break the Source4Teachers contract and return to the previous system.

Dr. Hite , you claim to want to be responsive to parents so why are the parents at Cooke, Huey, and Wister not being given an opportunity to vote on whether they stay with the District or get turned over to a charter school operator. Are you saying that parents aren’t smart enough to make a decision about their child’s future? Where is their choice in this? You have stripped them of their choice by making this decision for them.

At the last Wister meeting the District staff told us “exciting news”. We were informed that 18 parents had submitted their names to be in the lottery for choosing a charter school operator. There will be 5 parents and 2 community members selected to serve on this panel. Almost 400 students and 18 parents turned in their names? When parents starting asking specific questions like where is the lottery being held and who is selecting the names there was a resounding silence punctuated by District staff saying “We don’t have the details now.” Really? Either someone is not telling the truth or it is another case of incompetence as we have seen in selecting Source4Teachers.

Dr. Hite, at the first Wister meeting parents were given an incorrect location resulting in a delay in starting the meeting. This was a deliberate act. All the District presenters were at the correct location except for a Charter School staff member who casually joined us and then turned out to be a major presenter at the session. Coincidence? I think not. At Huey this game is still being played. Parents are not given the correct location for the District-led meeting. Why is this still going on? Why would anyone trust you and the District to be truthful when you are misleading them on informational meetings?

Dr. Hite, it is time for you to go. SRC commissioners, your time is up. Vote to dissolve.

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 testimony at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission – October 15, 2015

In order of appearance.
Click the picture to view the video.

Karel Kiliminik

This video is of APPS member Karel Kilimnik testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commissionn meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Karel’s testimony.

Diane Payne

This is video of APPS member Diane Payne testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Diane’s testimony.

Lisa Haver

This is video of APPS member Lisa Haver testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Lisa’s testimony.

Barbara Dowdall

This is video of APPS member Barbara Dowdall testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Barbara’s testimony.

Deb Grill

This is video of APPS member Deborah Grill testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

The written transcript of Deborah’s testimony.

Peg Divine

This is video of APPS supporter school nurse Peg Devine testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

Robin Roberts

This is video of APPS supporter parent Robin Roberts testifying at the Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting – October 15, 2015.

Corp ed fails the test – Lisa Haver @ Philadelphia Daily News

phila students

How  long do you keep a failed experiment going before you pull the plug – especially when you are using children as its subjects?

About 20 years ago, the seed of corporate education reform – the idea that education should no longer be a cooperative endeavor governed by school district residents, but an experiment in free-market economics overseen by millionaires and billionaires from afar – was planted.

Investors and lobbyists spun the narrative that schools were failing and that teachers and their unions were to blame. Budgets were slashed while standardized testing was ramped up; test results were used to justify handing over neighborhood schools to charters or closing them permanently. The untested Common Core standards were adopted in every state. And in cities including Philadelphia, local school boards were replaced by state appointees. Lasting decisions on the mission and direction of entire districts were being made in the corporate boardrooms of reform heavy-hitters, including The Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton foundations. Their grants came only with mandates to “turn around” schools – by forcing out faculty, converting to charter or closing permanently.

But after all of the billions spent and all of the laws passed to institute these reforms in every major city in the country, those vastly improved school systems, meeting the needs of children and communities, have yet to appear on the horizon.

Yet disasters like New Orleans are still held up by reformers as models for other cities. Before the flood waters had receded 10 years ago, with many thousands of residents still displaced, the New Orleans public school system was dismantled and replaced by a web of privately managed charter schools. The firing of more than 7,500 unionized teachers contributed to the further destruction of the city’s black middle-class. And because there is no longer one district office, thousands of young people who should be enrolled in school are still unaccounted for.

But it seems now that the bloom is of the rose of corporate education reform.

The findings of the 47th annual PDK-Gallup Poll show that a cross-section of Americans and parents believe that the biggest problem in education today is not teacher quality or unions, but underfunding. Only 14 percent of public school parents rated standardized testing as “very important”; in fact, 47 percent believe they should have the right to opt-out their children from standardized tests. The majority of Americans reject the need for national standards or the idea that it is crucial to use tests aligned to those standards to compare test results across states. Most want an end to more federal control in general, having seen the failures of both the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top.

What has education reform done for us? Philadelphians have lost over 30 neighborhood schools, and ongoing charter expansion threatens the future of those remaining. Imposition of the Common Core standards and the accompanying test-prep curriculum has sucked the joy and creativity out of teaching and learning. And we are stuck with a School Reform Commission which seems to have better things to do than explain its decisions to the public. Could anyone make the case that this experiment in corporate reform has delivered a more thriving public school system?

What would real reform look like in Philadelphia? Every school with a librarian, music and art teacher; aides in all kindergarten and special education classes; lower class size; full-time nurses and counselors; proven reading programs taught by reading specialists; sufficient security to keep schools a safe haven for all children.

The corporate model creates winners and losers. It diverts public resources to create profits for private entities. It has not worked in education and it never will. Time to pull the plug and give our schools back to the people.

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

The Op Ed is posted at:

Corp ed fails the test 

Philadelphia Daily News – September 18, 2015