Will Budget Office Cherry-Pick Results to Fit Their Priorities?

by Daniel Scholnick 4.22.2021

Dear members of the School Board,

We are facing a crisis. Of course, though, we’re already in a crisis. On the whole, our students are behind, and we have no experience in how to catch them up after a rupture like this one.

I’m a parent of a kindergartener and a second grader at Samuel Powel, a neighborhood Elementary School in West Philadelphia.

We have an unfair advantage at our school, and it might not be the ones you’re thinking about.

When the virtual school year started, my expectations were really low. I didn’t think they’d be learning anything. I was picturing sore backs, weary eyes, and a few bits of knowledge gained, but certainly nothing of what normally happens in Kindergarten and 2nd Grade.

Instead, I witnessed a kind of miracle. I kept telling people all through the fall, “My kids are actually learning!”

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I learned how this was possible. Our Principal, Kimberly Ellerbee explained over zoom one day all the things that she did with her staff in August. She’d had one month to pull together a plan, and they did their best. What became immediately clear to me was that she had a team, exquisitely designed, to figure out how to pull this off.

Powel has some external sources of funding – Grants, Partnerships – these enable us to have a Climate Staff. These folks were able to focus exclusively on the hearts and minds of the students, and how all of them could be lifted up.

This is what is so unfair. This funding also enabled us to have a fully released Literacy Lead Teacher who could focus exclusively on figuring out how these kids would be taught this year, and help the grade teachers to learn how to do it. We have a fully released Math Lead as well, who did the same. When I talk with my kids’ teachers, these two people come up again and again in our conversations.

Just last week, Teacher Jackie told me that my daughter Sage would be ready for 3rd grade, but that to really hit the ground running, she should start memorizing her multiplication tables. I know math is taught differently nowadays, so I asked her if she had suggestions on how to meet this challenge. She thought for a minute, and said “I’m not sure. Let me talk to Teacher Chris and get back to you.” She can focus on her classroom, because she has the support she needs when a new kind of pedagogy question comes up.

All of our students should have this. The challenge the district faces in preparation for this Fall is unlike anything we’ve ever encountered. Just like last year! Every single school needs a Math Lead like Teacher Chris. A Literacy Lead like Teacher Cole. A Climate Manager. Those are the roles that I can speak to myself, but I support all five positions that the administrators’ union is demanding.

I’m concerned that the very confusing budget survey that went out last week will pit our interests against each other, and allow the budget office to cherry-pick results to fit their priorities. Let’s not let that happen. We need you, the School Board, to set the policy that allows us to hit our goals and guardrails, and come into 2022, amazed at our success. We Can do this.

Thank you for your time.