Eyes on the Board of Education: August 20, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

Reading Board of Education agendas invoke feelings similar to that of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day: will we be trapped in this cycle forever?  Is there a future in which we don’t see the same items for consulting contracts, outsourcing of professional services, and growing the legal firm slush fund? We have seen little independence from the Board, which conducts business in the same way the SRC did–rubber-stamping administrative requests. 

The COVID pandemic provides an opportunity to right the priorities for the district by involving stakeholders in decision making; eliminating outsourcing and rebuilding infrastructure; using the already existing resources of educators instead of hiring outside consultants who return like cicadas; supporting Black Lives Matter and  Student Voter Registration.

We need actions to back the speeches. We need equity to guide funding so that it gets to schools with the highest needs and fewest resources. The August Agenda Items in particular keep us in that Groundhog Day cycle of privatization, outsourcing, and sending precious dollars to out-of-town consultants: Item 1, $700, 000.00 Contract with KJR Consulting for Central Office Professional Development, Anti-racism training and Change Management Support;  Item 24, Contract with the Urban Affairs Coalition at Philadelphia High School for Girls, giving non-profits the power to decide on how project money is spent at a public high school; Item 10, Ratification of Supplemental Outside Counsel, growing stable of outside law firms; Item 13, Contract with Various Vendors for Furniture and Equipment at PSLAMS, a new public school configuration brought about by the private funding of the Philadelphia School Partnership. Extensive anti-Racist training had been conducted by District educators who were told that they must do so only as volunteers; the District would not pay them–but have found $700,000 to pay KJR.  District Chief of Staff Naomi Wyatt told the Board at last week’s Joint Committee meeting that the Hite administration’s central office staff had a good relationship with KJR, who had been the recipient of previous District contracts. Wyatt did not explain what “Change Management Support” is.  The criteria for choosing leaders of anti-racism should be who can provide the best education on the subject, not being on good terms with a consulting company that has no experience in the subject. 

Click here to read the rest of The Eyes.

Eyes on the Board of Education: February 27, 2020

by Karel Kilimnik

If privatization and outsourcing are truly innovative, why don’t we see more of that in affluent suburbs like Lower Merion? As we review the list of Items the Board will consider at its next Action Meeting, there seems to be no end to the contracts with private vendors to take on work traditionally done by District staff. Companies that have been the lifeblood of the corporate disruption movement like Teach for America are now  joined by newer players Relay Graduate School of Education (which, as Board Member Chris McGinley reminds his colleagues, is not really a graduate school and is not accredited in Pennsylvania) and the District Management Group, hired to perform tasks formerly done by District Staff (Items 15, 16, 17). Dr Hite sent a letter to all District staff last week imploring District staff to aid in recruitment efforts under his “Teach Today. Change Tomorrow” initiative.  Why is he recommending spending $325,000 on TFA Recruitment if this campaign was just launched? Hundreds of thousands have been spent on teacher recruitment in the past three years–where are the results? Is the push for TFA an indication that that recruitment effort failed? The Board does not have to take on the rubber-stamp function of the SRC. The Board can take a stand and restore teacher recruitment and professional development to the District.

Dr Hite, a 2003 graduate of the business-oriented Broad Superintendents Academy, continues to outsource rather than build internal structures and capacity. The primary belief by the Billionaire Boys Club, of which Eli Broad is a member (note more details under #15,Contract with Teach for America to Support Teacher Hiring $325,000)), are described succinctly by Curmudgucation blogger Peter Greene “… Broad does not believe that schools have an education problem; he believes they have a management problem. School leadership does not need an infusion of educational leadership–they need business guys, leadership guys….there is no external governing or certifying board of any sort declaring that the Broad Superintendent’s Academy is a legitimate thing, and yet, it exists and thrives.”

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High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School: New Application Report

by Lisa Haver, Deborah Grill, Lynda Rubin 

Clearly Inadequate Application Should Result in Board Rejection

High School of Health Sciences leadership Charter School (HS2L) 

Proposed Location: 5210 North Broad Street (former Holy Child School)
Neighborhood: Logan
Grades:  9—12
Enrollment:  150 students Year one; 600 students at scale, Year 5
Estimated cost to District for first 5-year term:  $29, 111, 817. 
Estimated stranded costs to District:  $11, 524, 500.

Founding Coalition Members

  • Tim Matheney, Charter School Consultant, CEO Spire Leadership Group
  • Sharifa Edwards, Manager of School Investments, Philadelphia School Partnership
  • April Gonzalez, [consultant] Spire Leadership Group
  • Kenric Chua, Creative Arts Director, Spire Leadership Group
  • Geordie Brackin, CEO, Brackin Placement Group

Proposed Board Members

  • Laura Siminoff, Dean, School of Public Health, Temple University
  • Geordie Brackin, CEO, Brackin Placement Group
  • Janine Yass, Vice-chair, Center on Education Reform
  • Sharif El-Mekki, CEO, Center for Black Educator Development, former Mastery Charter administrator
  • Candace Kenyatta, Managing Partner, Grovider
  • Tim Matheney (ex-officio), CEO, HS2L

Does the District Need A Health Sciences Charter School?

Once you get past the flowery rhetoric of the opening narrative, it quickly becomes clear that this application contains very little of the advertised creativity and innovation.  The High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School (HS2L) would be yet another data-driven school measuring success by standardized test scores, with a curriculum that includes blended learning and test-prep to boost those scores. It invokes rigor, grit and differentiated learning.  The curriculum relies more on packaged learning products than the expertise of teachers. HS2L proposes a CTE (Career and Technical Education)  program that differs little from the CTE schools and programs offered in District public schools. And how innovative would any school be that offers “Building Grit through Art and Music”?

The application itself provides many reasons for Board denial, but serious issues arose even before the application was submitted.  Principal Nimet Eren and teachers from Kensington Health Science Academy, a neighborhood high school, testified at two separate meetings at the Board of Education in December that representatives from the applicant’s front group, the Philadelphia School Partnership, had come into their school under false pretenses, and through repeated deception, took information about the school’s methods and programs to use as the basis for its application.  Is stealing ideas from another school “innovative”? In addition to denying the application, the Board of Education should be considering legal action for theft of intellectual property against PSP and the members of HS2L’s founding coalition. The institutions named as partners–including Jefferson, Temple, Community College, and PCOM–should disavow these fraudulent tactics.

Read the rest of the report here.