Board Needs Transparency in Search for new Superintendent

Eyes on the Board of Education, October 28, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” James Baldwin

Will the Next Superintendent Be an Educator or a Business Manager?

Searching for a new superintendent opens a world of possibility in a District starved for transparency and genuine community involvement. Selection of the last superintendent occurred in a cloud of secrecy hidden from the public until the final two candidates selected by the SRC were unveiled. There was great hope as we transitioned from state rule to local control a mere three years ago but this Board has deflated those expectations as they instituted Speaker Suppression and continue rubber stamping whatever Items Dr. Hite presents. The Mayor’s selection process for appointing Board members also hid behind a brick wall. Transparency and public participation were blatantly missing. The Board could step out of their box, be bold and listen to the public.  Will they actually listen to the public or will shadow donors continue to pull their strings in this selection process? 

 For the past ten years the District has been led by a superintendent committed to balancing the budget no matter who suffers. Teachers and school staff, students, and parents have been traumatized as schools were closed; counselors,nurses, and teachers were shifted around the District like pawns on a chessboard; ongoing remediation of unhealthy buildings was ineffective. We need a leader with a vision for rebuilding what we have lost, restoring trust, and listening instead of mandating. Someone who has at least ten years experience in a school and has not roamed the country climbing their career ladder. Is the Board up to this responsibility or will we simply have another business oriented superintendent? 

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Board Finds New Ways to Disrespect Community

Ears On The Board of Education: September 23, 2021

by Diane Payne

The Board’s deliberate and mean-spirited disrespect for the students, parents, educators, and community members  was the lowlight of this meeting. Board President Wilkerson moved speakers way down the agenda, calling on them after a lengthy presentation. At this “hybrid meeting”, the Board allowed into the auditorium only those who signed up to speak in person. With about 80% of the room empty,  at least 50 people could fit with more than adequate distancing.  After all, the Board has no problem with filling classrooms  with little ventilation to capacity or having students, in the words of Student Representative Rebecca Allen,  “packed like sardines” in hallways.  In fact, half of the Board members attended virtually, including Julia Danzy and Marie McColgan, who have supported all of the administration’s plans for full return to school buildings since last year, falsely claiming that most parents supported the administration’s plan.  Once again, there was a persistent echo in the auditorium, making it difficult for attendees to hear. The camera was positioned so far back that those viewing at home could not see the faces of the Board members or tell who was speaking. 

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Eyes on the Board of Education: August 19, 2021

by Karel Kilimnik

The August Agenda continues the ten-year spending spree of the Hite administration that sends money out of the District and into the coffers of consultants and contractors. This agenda includes a $175,000 contract with Old Sow for a School Leader Coach (Item 43); a $371,000 contract with Partners in School Innovation (Item 40); and a $129, 870 contract with SupportEd, LLC. The services enumerated in Item 40–professional development, teacher coaching services, school leadership development—used to be provided by in-house staff.  Central office staff have been systematically diminished, along with knowledge of curriculum and ability to provide consistent, informed, and relevant support. In the past, people rose through the ranks into top administrative positions. Some started as parent volunteers and classroom assistants before gaining college degrees. Others rose from teacher to principal to regional supervisor but came up within the District, not imported from elsewhere. Teachers and other school staff spent decades in one school, forging bonds with families and each other. Today, increasing staff turnover, following the corporate model of disruption for disruption’s sake,  continues to destabilize school communities. Is this really what we want for our students and our District?  These two contracts for professional development may seem small,  but they represent the ongoing commitment by this administration to undermine the experiences, education, and knowledge of educators. Given what we continue to experience as we make our way through this pandemic, instability and erosion of trust undermines academic progress.  Years ago there was robust professional development in the District provided by teachers, principals, and other school staff familiar with both the District and the city. College credits were often granted, sometimes stipends given to purchase resources to be used in classrooms. Philadelphia is home to a wealth of museums, archives, libraries, environmental centers, and nature preserves. Decades ago, this helped to create the original Parkway School, a place where students engaged in hands-on learning.  Instead of nurturing educators to grow and share, there is now a full-fledged thriving business sector. One recent example: the District contracted with consultants eager to create financial opportunities instead of hiring local educators from the Melanated Educators Collective and the Racial Justice Organizing Committee who are already offering anti-racist work in schools. 

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Ears on the Board of Education: June 24, 2021

By Lynda Rubin

This last Board Action meeting of the 2020-21 school year should have been a time for the Board to reflect on the difficulties encountered during this past school year and the weaknesses of the Hite administration to provide a cohesive and well executed reaction to the pandemic. Yet  the meeting was mostly business as usual. One victory:  the board is now hearing all public speakers before the Goals and Guardrails data analysis that has gone on for up to two hours at each meeting. APPS pointed out to the Board that parents who must feed and put their children to bed and teachers preparing for the next day’s lessons cannot wait for hours to be heard.  When we fight, we win! 

All Board members were present: President Joyce Wilkerson, Vice President Leticia Etea-Hinton, Angela McIver, Mallory Fix Lopez, Julia Danzy, Reginald Streater, Cecelia Thompson, Lisa Salley and Maria McColgan, along with current Student Representatives Keylisha Diaz and Toluwanimi Olaleye. Both Student Reps have contributed insights and suggestions throughout the year. Among their recommendations: a hub on the District’s website for mental health concerns and services; separate counselors for academic and behavioral/mental health issues; at least two counselors in every school; more funding for after-school activities and programs; that Student Board members have the same voting rights as adult Board members. 

Click here to continue reading about the Board’s votes on outsourcing and a new charter application.