Good evening Dr. Hite and School Board Members.
My name is Maddie Luebbert, and I am a teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. I am proud to work at a neighborhood high school, and I believe we do essential work every day with very little, providing a life-saving community for students who do not have a place elsewhere.
This week, I heard about the proposed High School of Health Sciences Leadership Charter School, and I immediately feared for my school and other neighborhood high schools with health-related career and technical programs. This school is proposed to open in North Philadelphia, intending to serve several zip codes including 19133, where most of KHSA’s student body lives. As we know all too well, charter schools are “public” when it comes to funding, but private when it comes to the ways they are allowed to operate, especially in regards to admissions.
As a neighborhood school teacher, I’ve learned to roll with the punches, including welcoming new students into my classroom at the end of May, and losing students to the criminal justice system with no transition or closure. My school has an extensive multilingual population, with 21% of our student body identified as English Learners. An additional 21% of our population are students with IEPs, including two classes of students with low-incidence disabilities. We have worked hard to build a loving and inclusive community for all of our kids, who may only see structure and consistency on school days.
We have students who work nearly full time, students who are parents, students who are undocumented immigrants, students who have incarcerated family, students who have been incarcerated and wear an ankle monitor, students with unstable housing, students who spend most days hungry, students who don’t have a clean uniform to wear to school. We have students who are award-winning at the state and national level in the healthcare field and hold prestigious internships. Every day, we welcome these students and educate them with love, meeting them where they are and doing our best to provide a quality school experience.
Charter schools funnel public money away from traditional schools and then play games with enrollment that systematically exclude students like mine. Those end of year transfers we welcome often come from charter schools. They control what kind of families even have access to their lotteries, and as soon as students stop conforming to their unreasonable academic, behavioral, or attendance standards, they are removed from the school or counseled out. These are my students, who do not “fit” anywhere else, and deserve the best resources we have to offer.
I am concerned that by opening a health sciences focused charter in North Philly, we will be undermining all the good work done by traditional schools with healthcare CTE. This school will be in direct competition with us, especially considering health-related community partnerships and funding opportunities.
Ostensibly, charters provide “choice” to our students and parents. However, our students already have this choice available to them: high quality CTE programs preparing them for the health field, and a school community that will welcome them no matter what, not cast them aside when they become inconvenient.
Before you approve a new health sciences focused charter school, please consider how we can do right by our kids and strengthen our existing healthcare programs in traditional schools.