by Lisa Haver
November 3, 2016
Renaissance Schools, Transformation Schools, Redesign Schools. Autonomy Network, Innovation Network, Turnaround Network. Internal turnarounds, evidence-based turnarounds. There may be a lack of classroom teachers, supplies, and support staff, but the Hite administration never wants for new slots in which to insert schools while creating the illusion of community involvement.
This year’s model: Priority Schools. Eleven schools have been chosen to be overhauled in one of five ways, most of which would involve forced transfer of faculties. The options include:
- Entering the school into the District’s Turnaround Network
- Merging the school with a nearby high-quality school
- Engaging a contract partner
- Initiating an evidence-based plan for academic improvement
- Restarting the school
For such a big initiative, there is little information about it on the school district website. There is no banner, only a small notice among a list of others under “What’s New” for which you have to scroll down; that is, either you stumbled upon it looking for something else, or you had to be told exactly where to find it. The link takes you to a district press release that gives few details on what this initiative involves for the eleven targeted schools. There was never any staff presentation at an SRC meeting.
The schedule of community meetings originally listed only the initial meeting but had no times for the two focus group meetings. Dates for focus meetings have been changed more than once. Dates for the final meeting, in which the findings of the consultants will be discussed, still have not been posted. Dr. Hite said he will announce his decision about the fates of all eleven schools in January. Those eleven schools are: John Marshall, Blankenburg, McDaniel, Heston and Hartranft elementary schools; Harding Middle School; Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Fels, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, and Overbrook high schools.
The district has cited low SPR numbers from years 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 as the reason for choosing these schools. No data is available for 2015-16.
Questions have been raised about the sincerity of the statements from Dr. Hite and his staff that they want parents and the community to contribute to the decisions about the future of the schools. Parents at the eleven schools were notified that their schools had been targeted for some type of major overhaul just after Dr. Hite’s public announcement on October 11. That gave parents at some of the schools less than one week’s notice about the first meeting. Three of the schools’ kick-off meetings were before noon; Harding Middle School’s began at 8:30 AM. Fewer than half had start times at 5 or after. Thirteen of the twenty-two focus group meetings will be held before 5PM.
Although the same basic presentation has been made at all eleven schools, information about the public process has been inconsistent. Before the focus group times were posted, the only way to know that there were focus groups, or when they would meet, was to attend the first meeting. At Blankenburg and Harding, it seemed that most of the parent outreach was done by the principal through flyers sent home with students and by robo-calls. At other schools, people were told that the Cambridge Team was doing that.
What is Cambridge’s role in this? The district’s press release says that it will use “objective third-party reviews to highlight school strengths and weaknesses”. It does not identify the third party as Cambridge, whom the district hired at a cost of $200,000 for canvassing and site visits. Although not mentioned in the October 2016 resolution approved by the SRC which approved the Cambridge contract, the company is sub-contracting with Educators for Excellence (E4E) on the School Quality Reviews and the parent outreach. Click here and here for information about who is funding E4E. (We have requested a copy of the Cambridge contract from the SRC office.)
APPS members have attended community meetings at Bartram, Benjamin Franklin, Kensington Health Sciences Academy and Bartram high schools; Harding Middle School; and Blankenburg and Hartranft elementary schools. With the exception of the 4PM meeting at KHSA, there were no more than 8 parents at any of those meetings. Parents at many of the meetings described themselves as “involved” or “regular volunteers”. They were hopeful that the district would put back some of the many resources which had been stripped from the schools over the past four years, through the “Bare-bones” and “Doomsday” budgets, which have established a new normal of austerity across the district. Community members challenged Dr. Hite’s public statement that “despite investments” made in the schools, they have failed to perform. Blankenburg, for example, had no counselor for the previous two years. They have not had a full-time nurse or a library. They have been a receiving school more than once in the past three years, but received no additional resources. Very few substitutes were sent last year, and there were four unfilled teacher vacancies for the entire 2015-16 school year.
Few details about the menu of options were given. Most of the information came in answers to questions from APPS members. There is no explanation of what a “contract school” is except to say that the district can contract with a company with special programs not available at any district school. Power-point presentations were made, but only at Bertram, Harding and Ben Franklin were audience members given any written material or copies of the page listing the five options.
We have asked at every meeting we attended whether reports from each meeting would be posted for the benefit of those who can’t come to the meetings. We were told that no information will be posted.
Two years ago, two schools were designated Renaissance schools, but parents voted overwhelmingly to stay with the district. Last year, the district chose three neighborhood schools to be placed in the Renaissance program; parents were given no choice in the matter. That same year, four schools had internal turnarounds imposed upon them which resulted in the loss of most of the faculty; at two schools, principals were forced out. Community meetings were held, but the community had no say in the district’s decisions.
Below are our reports from the initial community meetings. (Meeting are listed in the calendar order they were held.)
Blankenburg Elementary School
Blankenburg Focus Group 1
Benjamin Franklin High School
Benjamin Franklin: Focus Group 1
Kensington Health Sciences Academy
Kensington: Focus Group 1
Look at this article to see who is funding Educators4Excellence
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