Good evening Dr. Hite and members of the School Board.
I am Maddie Luebbert, an English teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy, and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. KHSA is a neighborhood school, which brings along with it many joys and challenges. Tonight I want to help you understand why our neighborhood schools need more investment.
In schools, January is a notoriously difficult month. The promise of winter break has come and gone, the days are short, and the weather gray. January is enough to deal with on its own, but at KHSA it has come with some extra challenges this year.
In the past month, we have welcomed roughly 10 new students. In fact, I got a new student today. We are proud to welcome them, but they are put in a difficult situation when transitioning into a new environment, placed in classrooms that are already bursting at the seams and stretched very thin.
Our school is already overpopulated by more than 100 students, and at any given moment there is no office, classroom, or crevice available, meaning that serious conversations with colleagues or students may have to take place in an emergency stairwell. ACCESS testing and speech therapy sessions have to take place in the back corner of the cafeteria or gym. There are 35 or more students in some content area classes, and not enough chromebooks or desks to go around. Despite this, our principal had to battle and reallocate funds to ensure we didn’t lose a teacher to the biased leveling process at the start of this year.
I count myself lucky in the School District of Philadelphia. I work in a building that is only about thirty years old. It’s nearly spotless thanks to the ceaseless work of our maintenance team. On the other hand, my mom worked in a building full of environmental hazards for two decades and was diagnosed with asthma a year ago. My sister works in a building where asbestos was found in the air ducts, and she and her colleagues were told not to worry.
So naturally, I try not to complain. However, a few weeks ago someone told me, “We shouldn’t stop at not poisoning our students.” Yes, we need to make sure our students’ physical well-being is taken care of. However, building conditions are much more than that. Learning conditions are much more than that.
When our neighborhood schools are obligated to accept students at any time, and responsible for a high standard of education, our system needs to support this work. It is immoral to say that we cannot possibly do more for our neighborhood school students. Instead of investing in shiny new interventions, or exciting new charter proposals, or non-emergent remodeling projects, we need to allocate more to our neighborhood schools and our students with the most severe needs.
Invest in our neighborhood schools. Improve our existing programs. Show our kids that they are worth it.