The Battle for Wister Elementary School

Wister

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.


 

Update

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]
Newsworks

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

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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.

Sincerely,

Lisa Haver, Co-founder

Karel Kilimnik, Co-founder

Update

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.)