When Will Accountability Become Part of the Board’s Focus?

Written testimony of Dr. Cheri Micheau to the Board of Education, September 23, 2021

I have several questions and comments for the Board of Education, based on recent newspaper reports (9/22/21) and information distributed by the Multilingual Office.

1. Policies:  I understand that various administrative offices at 440 are being required to update their policies this Fall.  One example is Policy 138, governing the Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs. I attended a virtual meeting in Spring, 2021 in which community stakeholders hoped to learn about new OMCP initiatives, to provide input, and to ask questions about their procedures and policy; instead, frustratingly, there was very little opportunity at that meeting for interaction with OMCP.  That meeting seemed to be, instead, a cynical attempt to check something off the to-do list while silencing OMCP staff and community participants.  I recently received a request for feedback on changes to Policy 138 with a turn-around time that was too short to really allow for community input. I believe that there is a current culture at 440 in which secrecy and exclusion of community stakeholders is the norm.  In addition, important work seems to operate on a last-minute timeline; in too many instances, staff are asked to complete work without the necessary time for careful study or thorough input gathering.
My greater concern, however, is a concern that I have shared multiple times with the Board and a theme for all of the questions presented here:  Where is the accountability for SDP leaders?  I have not had an opportunity to hear at a public meeting how the current written policies are being implemented, and how implementation of the policies and compliance in enforcing these policies are being measured. My assumption is there is no process of accountability.  In the case of OMCP, I have complained many times that key elements of that policy are not implemented effectively, if at all.  What is the point of revising a policy that is ultimately just empty words on a piece of paper?  Wouldn’t the Board like to hear from each of the offices tasked with writing and implementing upgraded/updated policies, to find out what is being done, and what is NOT being done, and how well work in this area is proceeding?

2. Accountability:  On this theme of accountability, I read with alarm in a recent Inquirer article that SDP nurses are required to travel to 440 to pick up Covid testing supplies.  In today’s Inquirer (9/22/21), Dr Hite is quoted as saying, “We just need to get them more tests….We have money for tests.  That’s something we can do.”  What can you do?  You can have tests at 440?  What good does that do?  With all the staff at 440, is it not possible for these essential tests to be delivered daily or weekly to schools?  Yes, it would be possible, if there were any attempt at systems, planning, or accountability.  Where is the plan?  The administration is great at meaningless, empty sound bites and photo ops, but very short on specific plans and systems.  Hite noted, “Our people have risen to the occasion, and we have to acknowledge their hard work.”  Yet those same hard workers, although “acknowledged,” are suffering from a lack of supplies and key support——-the concrete items that go beyond pretty words!  You continue to add to the 440 administrative staff, yet professionals in the field are not seeing the benefits, not seeing the results they should be able to expect.
Covid testing supplies are not the only concern.  The Inquirer article today (9/22/21) includes comments from a teacher about inadequate deep cleaning in school buildings and a lack of cleaning supplies.  Another teacher comments, “I don’t have a lot of faith that everything’s been organized in the best possible way.”   Social distancing in classrooms with 37 students?  Lack of testing of asymptomatic students?  Firm masking policies that are enforced?

This lack of planning is obvious not only in Covid-19-specific needs of schools, but also in inadequate teacher development and late delivery to schools of curriculum materials for the new 2020-21 curriculum frameworks, as reported by another teacher. WHERE ARE THOSE MATERIALS?  In brief, there seems to be a lack of an overall plan to handle the fall school opening, also reported in today’s Inquirer.  One principal is quoted as complaining, “It’s disorganized…It feels as if there’s a lack of foresight and planning on the district level.”
That principal said it all, not just about the current situation, but in the unsatisfactory handling of many challenges in recent years.  How many failures of planning and organization will it take for something dramatic to change?  From the Ben Franklin/SLA debacle, to the ongoing mishandling of asbestos and lead remediation and the lack of transparency in informing schools, to trash-filled playgrounds, to staffing shortages, to disappointing levels of cleanliness in pandemic-era schools, to too-late notification of school closing during the recent flooding——-who is being held accountable for these many failures, and what consequences are faced by those who should be accountable?  When will accountability become part of the Board’s focus?