Testimony of Barbara McDowell Dowdall to the BOE, September 17, 2020

Contingencies: provisions for unforeseen events or circumstances

COVID-19 is not the first unforeseen event or circumstance to challenge our city and school district. Pennsylvania’s takeover of the district in 2001 began not with provisions to insure stability and equity, but with a standardized test score-based trifurcation of 70 of our schools for an odd experiment in outsourcing, but proving that when substantial resources were added to district- run schools, those schools did better than any of the random privatizing management entities. The School Reform Commission’s decision: ignore the results and continue to fragmentize our system in a dizzying array of strategies, including virtually unchecked charter growth.

Next came the Doomsday budgets of 2011 and the years following. Drastic cuts of staff at all levels. Accelerated decimation of school libraries with librarians. More standardized test-based labeling of schools and the neighborhood destabilizing closing of 23 schools. No adding of resources. No second chances. No appeals.

None of us, none of us, was prepared for the suddenness, the devastation of normal life, the loss of life, the upending of city life, and the banishment of our young people from their schools and the in-person learning that was bringing them both joy and skills.​

Administration thus has been profoundly challenged to ponder quickly then invent new provisions for these circumstances and, I would emphasize, especially for the youngest. A new way of monitoring and assessing attendance needs to recognize that if a first grader (whose kindergarten year was cut short) turns off the camera on her computer in frustration, sadness, and anger, he is still attending and should be counted as such. And we need to hold onto, build up and build back our sense of community with fully-resourced neighborhood public schools to assure continuity of staff through elimination of leveling now, and the restoration of Certified Teacher Librarians, the experts in digital literacy, in every school for online availability now ** and to begin planning the re-establishment of school library collections.

Penn Alexander has proved that well-funded public schools draw both students and taxpaying community residents. Surely, board members know this.

** We strongly believe that school districts can adhere to CDC and the PA DOH guidelines while school librarians retain their current roles. This will enable school librarians to provide information literacy and digital instruction and be able to support students and teachers who need access to vital digital and print resources. In the event that districts need to implement online learning from home, school librarians play a crucial role in providing library services, instruction and support to students and teachers via their library websites, portals of curated resources and digital tutorials to students​