Distinguished Members, my name is Susan Wienand. I teach Dental Assisting at Kensington Health Sciences Academy (KHSA). I was upset to hear of the potential opening of a health sciences Charter School in North Philadelphia.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) is a viable option for many students who wish to learn career-oriented skills. It prepares students for both college and career success. I have been teaching CTE since 2012, and with the school district since February 2019. I fully believe in the benefits of learning a skill or trade in high school and have seen first-hand successes of past graduates. I currently have several students who never thought of a career in dentistry. Now that they have been exposed to dentistry through a CTE program, they are pursuing advanced education in the field as either an Expanded Function Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist or Dentist. These students, my students, will go on to be successful regardless of whether or not they are working in the dental field because of the foundational training they’ve received at their neighborhood school. Through CTE programs, they are provided an opportunity for a viable career right out of high school that allows them to make a good living and either pursue personal or additional academic goals, such as attending college for a bachelor’s degree in the healthcare field, or maybe even a completely different field. The bottom line is, the foundational skills they have learned as a part of a CTE program of study will help them by not only increasing their earning power, but by showing them additional pathways to success.
If a Health Sciences Charter School opens, we are also afraid that KHSA and the other district schools that host these health-related programs will lose students. The new Health Sciences Charter that is being proposed will draw students from our catchment area. If we don’t have students interested in our programs, we will lose funding for them and in essence, throw up obstacles on the path for students who wouldn’t be able to gain admission to a selective school such as a charter. In addition, a new charter trying to duplicate our school’s mission will expand the teacher shortage that already exists amongst health related programs. Resources are already very thin, and pulling them away from our students who very much need and deserve them is irresponsible. Having just gone through a comprehensive review by the State to prove the worth of my program and to receive Perkins funding to purchase equipment and supplies that are needed to teach the Program of Study, it hurts that a similar program may open. This means that my program at KHSA will be forced to compete with a charter that works under a completely different set of rules than I do and could potentially exclude students who wish to attend.
We already have difficulty finding work-based and educational opportunities for our students. We have worked hard for many years to establish partnerships with St.
Christopher’s Hospital, Jefferson University, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State and Temple University. These partnerships provide our students with internships, mentoring, dual enrollments and other educational opportunities. Perkins, a national primary funder of CTE programs and the Pennsylvania Department of Education require CTE programs to provide students with work-based opportunities to receive funding. There are a limited number of spots for students; we currently cannot accommodate all our students that need placement, and we are afraid more competition from a charter school program will result in even fewer opportunities and ultimately result in our program not being funded or even closed.
It is my understanding that one of the programs that is expected to open is a dental assisting program. Two programs currently exist in the District, one of which is not fully enrolled. Instead of investing in a completely new program, which would require at least an initial investment of $450,000.00, why not invest in the schools that already have these programs? We have worked very hard to establish the first dental assisting program in the district, and we know what help and resources are needed to service our students. We continue to identify and secure partners and work experiences in the form of internships, externships, and job shadowing for our kids. I believe the investment should be IN our students, the students who go to neighborhood schools. They deserve the investment and the pathway to a career.
Thank you for your consideration. It is my hope that you will deny the application for the establishment of this charter school.