Testimony of Bob Nelson, Public Hearing for New Charter Schools, December 20, 2019

Good evening. My name is Bob Nelson. I am a school counselor at Kensington Health Sciences Academy. Thank you for the honor of speaking with you tonight. We are a neighborhood school, and Philadelphia students and neighborhood schools need your support!

I remember when Tim Metheney, the CEO for the proposed charter, had a two hour visit at our school on April 28, 2016. Tim was very interested in our program model and was highly complementary. When I was reading the proposal, I felt like I was reading a proposal from our school, about our school. In other words, I did not see anything new, different, or innovative in the proposal. Perhaps the proposal’s writer was, and is, uniformed about health sciences schools in Philadelphia and in other locations across America. There are many. For example, School District Superintendent Dr. Hite was involved in creating a health sciences high school in Maryland before he came to Philadelphia, and there are at least two such schools in Maryland alone.

There are other inaccuracies in the proposal… for example, when the proposal states they have created an unprecedented coalition of support among Philadelphia’s educational and health sciences network – that statement is uninformed, and simply not correct. Their list is so brief, I believe their list of support reflects preparation for writing a proposal only, and does not reflect an actual operational program.

Instead of picking at the Charter School proposal, I prefer to share some recent accomplishments at our school:

  • During the last three years, our two principals each received the Lindback Award for exceptional leadership in leading our Health Sciences Academy.
  • Two years ago, at the state HOSA conference, our students were awarded 13 out of the 14 medals that came to the district.
  • Our school is one of the safest high schools in the city and compares favorably with many special admit schools.
  • In our region, we have the second highest attendance rate of any high school – students like coming to our school.
  • Our graduation rate is in the upper half of the district and over 90% of our CTE program students graduate on-time, with the majority continuing their health science studies in higher education.
  • The state just completed a CTE program audit at our school and we received the highest rating.

Each year, our community school gets better. The proposal is written well. However, we, and the other health sciences CTE programs in Philadelphia,  have proven success…the proposal can only talk about what they want to do.

Of particular concern is we are a neighborhood school, while the proposal seeks to be a city-wide admit school, with a student recruitment plan that ends three blocks from our doorstep…three blocks!  Under Dr. Hite’s leadership, the district CTE office has carefully worked to spread CTE programs across the district so there would be equity of access for all students. This proposal does not do that, it does just the opposite.

Also, of particular concern is the competition for limited health sciences resources in our area. It is not fair to our students that this proposal seeks to compete for opportunities our school has developed and managed for our students for years. If the writers of the proposal actually think there is plenty of room for competition for some of these resources and all students will be winners, they are mistaken. There is no reasonable answer to this challenge.

If you chose to support another charter school, which I am vehemently opposed to, I respectfully suggest you help them find a location, with direction from the district CTE office, that will increase equity of student access to health sciences programs. The proposal may meet their business needs, but the proposal is not well thought out from a district-wide educational perspective.

Instead, I respectfully suggest you invest in our established program, and other established CTE programs across the district. More students will benefit from these programs, and this approach is a financially more prudent approach to educational service delivery.

I invite you to come to our school and see a vibrant health sciences program first-hand. I believe you will be very impressed, and happy with the transformational impact our program has on so many neighborhood students.

Help our neighborhood schools!

Thank you.