Testimony of Barbara McDowell Dowdall to the BOE, June 25, 2020

Re: Action Items – 6. Title: Acceptance of Grant from Philadelphia School Partnership – Keys to My Success – Philadelphia High School for Girls ($493,279)

It may seem counterintuitive, even treasonous, for a proud graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girls, life member of the Alumnae Association and now retired after 17 years as Editor of the Alumnae News, to raise objections to a seemingly glorious near half a million dollar grant guaranteed to raise our incoming 9th grade class to the standards we have always held dear. But all that glisters is not gold, (certainly not test prep obsession), and the Philadelphia School Partnership has been anything but a true friend of students, staff and families in our public schools.* The grant language itself lays bare the “shame” of our current status:

  1. “declining enrollment over ten years”
    (proliferation of alternate small high schools by the district itself (with, oddly, no accompanying horror at the idea of a smaller student body), loss to over-capacity acceptances at the school down the block, the raft of PSP-funded charter high school seats, and diminishing interest culture-wide in same sex schools (including my niece, both daughters and president of my high school class).
  2. school “has accepted students that fall below the traditional admissions requirement of the 85th percentile on the PSSA standardized test”

Every student is more than a test score. Girls’ High itself through test score obsession denied itself the talents of my junior high classmate and future opera singer (in 9 languages) Joy Simpson in 1960 and almost lost my Rush Middle School avid reader gifted support student who didn’t test well. Our persistence in badgering Principal Gerry Myles gained that young woman entrance to the school and four years on the honor roll.

What might have helped my beloved alma mater avoid this wolf- in-sheep’s clothing purported salvation that will inevitably be accepted this evening?

  1. Parity in funding of academics, arts and physical plant resources with Central High School since the court-ordered admission of girls to the judge-labeled “better” school in 1983. (A practice, by the way, that should extend to every other high school in the district.)
    2. Restoration of the Girls’ High library with a Certified Teacher Librarian and library assistant, a research-established key to the yearned-for higher test scores. (Also essential for every feeder elementary and middle school and every other high school)
    3. And perhaps, most important of all: recognition and praise for the generations of proud, high-achieving, tradition-honoring students and graduates of Philadelphia High School for Girls: the scholars, artists, musicians, dancers, athletes, community volunteers, up to and including the class of 2020, who chose our school after Central became an option. I invite, in fact demand, that Superintendent Hite and every member of the Board of Education come and spend some time in our Alumnae Room near the main office at the school (wearing masks and observing social distancing) to study and enjoy the collection of yearbooks that demonstrate the quality of education and joy in learning that our school has never lost.
    (A public apology from Mark Gleason and Philadelphia School Partnership is also in order.