Click the picture above and move the slider to timestamp 15:55 to view Ken’s testimony. (Be sure to view testimonies before and after Ken’ s testimony to see what the Strawberry Mansion community is saying about what has happened to their school.)
The video above has a greatly abridged version of Ken’s testimony because of the three-minute time limit. The full transcript is below.
My name is Ken Derstine. I am a retired teacher with 37 years of service in the School District of Philadelphia. I have attended almost all SRC meetings in the past few years, but I rarely give testimony. I am speaking today because of a flyer that was put out by your office last week. I found it to be so egregious in its claims that I have to speak on it.
I have given you a copy of this flier that apparently is being used in the Stawberry Mansion community. It is titled “Envisioning the Future of Strawberry Mansion High School”.
The very first paragraph is titled “Strawberry Mansion is NOT closing.” Apparently this is to reassure the community that Strawberry Mansion will not become an abandoned building, thereby contributing to a downward spiral like so many low-income communities that have lost their community school.
The next claim is that current students will graduate from Strawberry Mansion. You have already announced that there will be no ninth grade next year so that is not true for all students since what would have been the ninth graders will not graduate from Strawberry Mansion.
The next paragraph is headlined “Few students are choosing Strawberry Mansion now.” going on to point out that the school currently has 294 students. The implication is that the students and community are to blame for the schools current condition and the abandonment of it. In April of 1992, Strawberry Mansion had 1,600 students. The school was known for its science club named Science Force 2000 that won many awards. It had thriving art and music programs. It had begun to revive its football team that had been suspended for many years. Heroic efforts were made to turn the school around with little support from the District. However, in May 2013 the school only had 435 students.
How did this happen? The school had major problems such as a high dropout rate and frequent violent incidents. This was reflective of the social and economic conditions where the students were coming from. On December 14, 2012 the District announced Strawberry Mansion was one of 22 schools that would be closed. For some reason the school was later taken off of the closure list but nothing was done to change its starvation budget and this certainly didn’t help the downward spiral of the school. In 2013, however, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took Strawberry Mansion off of the list of “persistently dangerous high schools”.
Was there a war that caused the decline in enrollment? Actually there was an economic, social and psychological war waged against the school over years. The school’s mascot for their football team is a Knight. They have a Knight in armor in their lobby. This is appropriate because in the last ten years the school has been under siege. In the Middle Ages, if a king wanted to take over a town, he would have the town surrounded by his Knights and cut off all commerce in and out of the town. When the town was reduced to starvation, the Knights could easily occupy the town. This is what has happened to Strawberry Mansion. For ten years, like all public schools in this period, it was starved of resources, lost counselors, had a part nurse for many years, and lost a library with a certified librarian. In addition the school has been made even more unsafe with the removal of Non-Teaching Assistants and classroom assistants who had ties to the community. Instead of putting resources into the school such as lower class sizes and returning support staff, the school was pushed over the cliff.
The next paragraph in the flyer is titled “Hundreds of neighborhood children are going to alternative education programs in other parts of the city.” People do not casually travel long distances away from their community school to go to an alternative school. The lack of support was obvious and at the same time alternative programs such as charters were receiving millions of dollars from philanthropists that made them an appealing alternative. The feeder schools of students for Strawberry Mansion received various forms of privatization. Blain and Kelly were made transformation schools with $1.5 million from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). Douglas became part of the Mastery system of schools. Gideon became a Priority School. Rhodes went from a middle to an elementary school in Turnaround Network. LP Hill and Whittier were closed in 2013.
Recently PSP gave a $945,000 grant to KIPP to open the North Philadelphia Charter School. Kipp has several charter schools in the Strawberry Mansion community. This was part of the starvation of the school through depriving it of enrollment.
The flyer ends with the heading “We are adding academic options that neighborhood students want.” It lists accelerated school, the Educational Options Program; project based learning, workforce development, and expanded recreational opportunities for neighborhood development. Nothing is said about who will fund these programs, but you can bet that, based on the millions spent by the SRC each month on outside contractors, it is they who will implement these programs. Why weren’t such programs developed ten years ago when Strawberry Mansion was a thriving school, with many problems, but great potential?
This is the end game of all the chaos and shattered dreams of a generation of students at Strawberry Mansion. This was not done ten years ago with public school programs because it did not fit in with the corporate privatization agenda. Whether the author of this leaflet knows it or not, hiding in plain sight is the agenda of this ten year plan probably developed by the Boston Consulting Group in 2012, a management consulting firm experienced in hostile takeovers in the corporate world. All of this chaos is to drive students from Strawberry Mansion in order to bring in outside contractors to provide these programs and transform Strawberry Mansion from a public school responsible to the community into a school contracted to corporate profit making interests for whom education is secondary.
This flyer is part of the psychological warfare waged on the Strawberry Mansion community over the last ten years.
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