Taggart teacher Angela Chan said that some of the most painful cuts of the past few years were to bilingual staff who helped make sure that immigrant families could connect with schools.
“Our BCAs [that] we used to have two years ago and our parent ombudsman [another staff position that was cut] used to have really good relationships with parents and the larger community,” she said. “They made sure that families who were immigrants felt welcomed and that their voices were heard.
“Not that nobody tries to reach out to all groups now, but our school community isn’t the same without them.”
Changes in the teaching staff also took their toll, she said.
“We had some younger teachers who were truly passionate about improving their craft and reflective in their practice, but they were laid off and took their talents elsewhere.
“The layoff of extra teaching staff who are not homeroom teachers eliminated the regular grade group meetings we used to have weekly,” Chan added. “We were struggling with creating a collaborative culture ... and a lack of staff made it hard to provide to provide coverage for teachers to get together.”
Then, she said, there are the informal tasks that have been added, such as copying textbooks when new ones aren’t available. “It’s too time-consuming and we’re already short on paper.”
Chan will be returning to Taggart, but counselor Diane DellaVella may not be. She was one of the almost 4,000 District employees to receive layoff notices this summer. DellaVella said she felt the loss in recent years of Taggart’s part-time librarian and of a school police officer “who really took time to work with the kids.”
Personnel, other resources lost
Nina Liou, president of Bache-Martin’s Home and School Association, said that the most serious cuts there came three years ago, which was when federal stimulus money dried up.
“Last year, we didn’t lose any teachers,” said Liou. “It’s the resources we can’t maintain.”
Earlier, she said, the school lost a computer teacher who had taught social media skills, and an art teacher who had been available two or three days a week had been cut back to one-and-a- half days at the school.
Teachers talked of maintenance problems as well as personnel problems.
“Getting a repairman to fix things is a challenge,” says Kristen Luebbert, who teaches 7th and 8th grade social studies at Bache-Martin. “Everyone’s praying that the copier doesn’t die. A lot of what’s wearing out won’t be replaced. We’ve had very few new books in the past two or three years. You can’t get new phonics workbooks.”
Hensel said he has had a similar experience at Taggart, where the technology lab got new computers but there isn’t anyone to teach computer skills to the lower grades. The few computers in the classrooms, he said, are “slow and outdated.”
He said that the school also lost about 15 teachers two years ago and that while some of the positions were later filled, it was with different people. “That took a real toll on the kids,” he said.
From his new office at Bensalem High School, Brandt makes the same point: Educators and key staffers aren’t interchangeable parts.
“If a secretary is furloughed at Roxborough and called back, she may be placed somewhere else,” he said. “Having a secretary who knows the students, the parents, and the staff is critical.”
Brandt, who earlier this year received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Principal Leadership, said he left the Philadelphia School District both because of the professional opportunities at Bensalem and out of concern whether he would be given sufficient resources had he stayed.
Brandt did see one benefit of his having left. “It saved my assistant principal, [Dana Jenkins],” he said.
“Had I not left, the position wouldn’t have been there for her to be promoted into, and she would have been laid off. She’s certainly ready to lead that school.”