Will District Listen to Parents and Community for Solutions at SGS Schools?

by Lisa Haver

For the third consecutive year, the Hite administration has placed several neighborhood schools into its “System of Great Schools” (SGS), to be redesigned according to a set of apparently predetermined outcomes.  The District once again went through the motions of providing community engagement in a series of poorly designed parent focus groups. These featured the simplistic questions asked of participants and the lack of informed District personnel to provide information or answer relevant questions about possible outcomes.

Although millions will be spent, the fate of three schools will be determined, and the future of the children and staff at the schools may change significantly, there has been no press coverage.

APPS members have attended 15 of the 16 focus group meetings at Locke, Harrington and Lamberton, all elementary schools in West Philadelphia. [See links to the individual reports below.] APPS members also attended all three of the SGS kickoff meetings. Despite pronouncements from District officials about changes this year as a result of “lessons learned”, the process so far has been a replication of the last two:  the same rationale, the same power-point presentation, the same misrepresentation of the process and possible outcomes. What remains to be seen: whether there will be the same disregard for the stated wishes of the parents and community members. Unfortunately, none of the members of the Board of Education came to any of the 15 meetings. Although they might see the reports, they did not hear firsthand from parents and community members.

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Board Holds Student Achievement and Support Committee Meeting

by Diane Payne

The Board of Education’s Committee on Student Achievement and Support held its first meeting on Thursday September 13. Eight members of APPS attended this meeting; seven testified. There were several presentations by district officials: Superintendent William Hite, Head of Schools Shawn Bird, Director of Academic Support Dr. Malika Savoy-Brooks, Director of Early Education Diane Castlebuono, and Interim Director of the Charters Schools Office Christina Grant. (You can view all BOE committee meeting presentation materials at the SDP website.)

Angela McIver and Chris McGinley serve as co-chairs; Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, and Maria McColgan are members of the Committee. Also present for most of the meeting was BOE President Joyce Wilkerson.

The meeting was scheduled for an hour and a half, but adjourned after two hours due to the number and length of staff presentations. At meeting’s end, the Co-chairs acknowledged that the number and length of presentations will have to be reconsidered in an effort to be respectful of time and to allow for public discussion. The 3-minute speaker rule was invoked due to time constraints, and although some went over, no speaker’s mic was shut off.

Staff presentation topics included: Read by 4th literacy initiative, teacher recruitment and retention, System of Great Schools (SGS) procedure and public hearings, and multiple charter school organizations (MCSO). (As noted above, all power points can be viewed on the SDP website.) During the presentation, Committee members asked thoughtful questions that challenged the status quo. For example, in response to Shawn Bird’s presentation on SGS, McGinley told him that “there are elements of the model that I vehemently disagree with.” McGinley added that the Committee would be following up for more information as the hearings on the year’s cohort of targeted schools proceed. The SGS schools this year are all in West Philadelphia–Harrington, Lamberton, and Locke. In response to another presentation, Fix-Lopez asked what other indicators were used besides standardized tests to determine whether graduating seniors were “career and college ready.” McColgan, Fix-Lopez, and Wilkerson expressed concerns around equity in the administration of grants and donations.

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