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West teachers must decide Friday; SAC chair calls probe a 'travesty'

By Benjamin Herold on Jun 4, 2010 01:14 AM

Following the surprise announcement that West Philadelphia High School would not become a Renaissance School next year after all, School District officials told West’s 62 teachers Thursday that they had 24 hours to decide whether to stay or go.

At the same time, the District moved ahead with its formal investigation into allegations of a conflict of interest on the 15-member School Advisory Council that voted to recommend matching West with a team from Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now as part of the Renaissance process.

Together, the developments set in motion yet another act of the increasingly surreal saga to "turn around" the beleaguered neighborhood high school.

Teachers, whipsawed all spring by delays in the process and then the sudden reversal, are angry.

“It's almost a comedy at this point,” lamented Neil Geyette, the coordinator of West’s Urban Leadership Academy. “Everything changes every three days. It’s just a mess.”

SAC members, tainted by innuendo that they say has no basis, are outraged.

"It’s a travesty," said Shirley Randleman, the SAC chair who is also the president of the 52nd Street Business Association. 

On Wednesday evening, the District announced that it was deferring West’s participation in the Renaissance program for a year. It cited the need to fully investigate the last-minute conflict-of-interest charge – which came after the SAC had voted overwhelmingly to pair West with Johns Hopkins and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had signed off on the recommendation, and just minutes before the School Reform Commission was poised to vote on the match.

The decision left the school in turmoil, which District officials attempted to address during Thursday’s hastily called meeting to inform teachers of their options.

Many West teachers have already accepted positions at other schools through the site selection process. They were told Thursday they could either take those positions without losing their building seniority, or return to West without penalty.

Teachers who have not yet lined up other positions will still be automatically force-transferred. These teachers can either return to West or participate in the District’s seniority-based centralized placement system.

But all the teachers must let Human Resources head Estelle Matthews know of their decisions by the end of the day on Friday.

The District originally asked West teachers to state their decisions at the meeting on Thursday, immediately after learning the choices. When teachers resisted, saying that they needed time to consider their options and to learn more about what the District intends for West next year, the District officials gave them an extra day.

“[The District] clearly realizes that its going to be a bad situation if no [teachers] come back,” said Laura Boyce, a 9th grade history teacher who was present at the meeting. “But they also weren’t willing to give us much information about what is going to happen at West next year.”

Benjamin Rayer, who heads the Renaissance process, confirmed in an interview yesterday that the District doesn’t know yet how the school will be different next year or what its academic program will look like. It will remain an Empowerment School with District-directed remediation and a menu of programs and supports. “We haven’t spent time in the school to see what else is needed,” he said.

Two things were made clear at the meeting with teachers, participants said.

District officials confirmed that Principal Saliyah Cruz and her administrative staff will return next year, but would be supported by a team from the District. 

District officials also made it clear that there is no chance West will be removed from the Renaissance list permanently, even if it shows academic improvement when test scores come in for this school year. As a result, teachers who stay will undergo a reprise of this year’s turnaround provider matching process and face another forced transfer next year.

Ninth grade math teacher Ed Williams wants to stay at West, but outlined the dilemma his colleagues face. “Who wants to go through this again? You’re just delaying the inevitable,” he said.

Meanwhile, the District’s inspector general, John Downs, is looking into what laws or procedures might have been violated when four parents on West’s School Advisory Council (SAC) received small stipends from the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) to drum up parent involvement in West through a Parent Outreach Team. PEF, which has a long affiliation with Hopkins in Philadelphia, would work as a subcontractor in a Hopkins turnaround.

Shirley Randleman and Joy Herbert, the co-chairs of the West SAC, were among those to receive calls from the Downs on Thursday.

"This council has complied with everything the District has asked, even though we were all concerned about whether we would have real authority, validity, and input. It's just total disrespect,” said Randleman.

An analysis of the alleged conflict of interest by the Education Law Center (ELC) at the request of the West SAC found no legal basis for the complaint. The memo, written by attorney David Lapp, was sent Tuesday to Ackerman and members of the School Reform Commission.

District officials did not respond to requests for reaction to ELC’s analysis.

Among other things, Lapp noted that two of the four PEF-connected parents did not even vote for Hopkins, and that three of the four had finished their work and were no longer being paid.

"On the basis of the facts as we understand them," wrote Lapp, "we conclude that (1) the Pennsylvania statute on conflicts of interest in governmental decision-making does not apply to members of an advisory board; (2) even if the statute did apply, it would not be violated in this case; and (3) quite apart from the statute, a common-sense view of this situation reveals no conflict of interest or other improper relationship."

Still, Benjamin Rayer, who is running the Renaissance process for the District, said that “the concerns were significant enough to require an investigation to see if the allegations require some change to the process.”

On May 26, the SRC was scheduled to vote on a resolution, printed in the agenda, approving the West/Hopkins match. On May 24, the 15-member SAC – eight parents and seven community members – had recorded nine votes for Hopkins, two for Mastery Charter, and two for the Promise Academy, a turnaround under Ackerman’s supervision. The voting was overseen by Rayer himself.

At the last minute, however, SRC chair Robert Archie pulled the resolution, citing only unspecified “certain facts” that had come to light.

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents the district in which West is located and who chairs City Council’s Education Committee, would not confirm reports that her office was behind the complaint.

"I'd like to say I have total control over what happens at West, but I don't," Blackwell said on Thursday. "If I did, we'd already have a Promise Academy."

The councilwoman is one of several influential West Philadelphia community leaders who have made no secret of their preference for West to become a Promise Academy under Ackerman’s supervision.

“That said, I'm prepared to support the will of the majority," Blackwell added.

After Wednesday’s announcement, Randleman was incredulous.

"Everyone in the process has gone through the vetting. Everything we've done has been done with Ben Rayer or other District representatives present. If there is a conflict of interest, why all of a sudden at the end of the process is it a problem, when everyone has been fully aware of [the alleged conflict] from the beginning?" she asked.

Rayer acknowledged that "it’s true that the administration did approve the membership" of the SAC, but has not confirmed the Notebook’s reports that he and Ackerman knew as early as May 10 about the four West SAC parents’ connections with PEF.

Carol Fixman, the executive director of PEF, said her organization had been contacted by Downs as part of the District’s investigation. She said the voicemail left by Downs’ office was the District’s first contact with PEF since the complaint surfaced.

A Johns Hopkins representative expressed disappointment with the latest delay, but said that Hopkins will push forward at West and in the Renaissance process.

"We are still an approved provider, so our intention is to continue to pursue a [match] with West," said Linda Musakawski, a member of the Hopkins leadership team for Talent Development High Schools.

And the West SAC met Thursday evening to figure out their next step.

Randleman said she was surprised – and yet not surprised – by the turn of events. “I’ve lived in Philadelphia all my life,” she explained. “This is how things trickle out when there is no substance to a claim."

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Comments (41)

Submitted by nikki123 on June 4, 2010 5:02 am

This situation at West is just such an obvious ploy to override the will of the community and turn the school in to a Promise Academy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 5:15 am

I want to throw up every morning when I read these stories. The pain and turmoil this woman has inflicted on THOUSANDS of students and staff is borderline criminal. What a disgrace. I guarantee this has ruined the careers of some brilliant teachers. Where is the bonus for that?

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 6:01 am

I cannot imagine the stress these children, parents and teachers are going through. How is this newest decree supposed to help? 24 hours to decide the whole future of not only yourself and your family but all those children? That is insane.
I can't wait to see this year's scores ! Bet they look much improved - which will make our "leadership" look even more ridiculous.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 5:04 am

What amazes me is that even if West somehow posts large gains on the PSSA (therefore proving things are getting better and there would be less reason to make such a drastic change), the SDP will not consider pulling West off the Renaissance list. This is supposed to make sense???

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 6:39 am

Academic growth is supposed to be the motivator in all these changes, but if you really look at the data, that was not the bottom line. The bottom line is not visible inmost of these cases. I have no doubt that West needed improvement and I am not speaking from first hand knowledge of that site, but academic growth really seems irrelevant in all of these "high needs schools". That is first hand knowledge. Growth is not considered at all in any of these moves.

Submitted by Troubled in West Philly (not verified) on June 4, 2010 6:57 am

Apparently Blackwell has no shame - from honoring LaGreta Brown to stating she wants to control everything at West. Ben Rayer also has no backbone - apparently he just says "yes" to anything Blackwell and Ackerman dish out.

Submitted by Speedgirl (not verified) on June 4, 2010 8:22 am

AMEN

Submitted by SAC member (not verified) on June 4, 2010 7:03 am

Thanks for all the love and support. A special congrats to all the teachers and students for a good job this year. I will continue to fight for what's best for WEST.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 8:15 am

This all needs to be heard by our Governor, not the Mayor. The Mayor can do nothing in regards to removing Ackerman. I suggest everyone write or email Governor Rendell and let him know and his staff know how Ackerman is destroying our schools. I also believe that everyone should write or email Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Union (PFT). His address and email are easy to obtain. He needs to gather what is going on and maybe PFT lawyers can take action in this situation.

CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES NOW!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 11:32 am

You are our heroes. We will learn from this, document what happened, let others know and become stronger.

Submitted by Philly High School Teacher (not verified) on June 4, 2010 8:44 am

Jannie Blackwell, Rayer, Archie, Ackerman: you are a DISGRACE to our children. Your political connections supersede what's best for children. Your egos make it impossible to work for meaningful change. Your lack of dedication is insulting. No one died and made you all the omnipotent authority. Ackerman, Archie, Rayer ....WE DID NOT VOTE YOU IN--you are the beneficiaries of an oppressive system where the people have no say in their leadership. Jannie, your appeals to emotion betray your duty to do what's right. Shame on you all.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on June 4, 2010 9:24 am

Perhaps Archie/Ackerman/Rayer need to be reminded that

Children come first
(unless we can profit from them).
Parents are our partners
(unless we disagree with their choices).
Victory is in the classroom and facilitated by a strong instructional leader
(but victory is not what we are seeking).
Leadership and accountability are the keys to success
(and good ideas, except in our district).
It takes the engagement of the entire community to ensure the success of its public schools
(even the uneducated, venal , politically motivated bullies).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 9:47 am

Ah, the veil is lifted. I'm so glad Jannie finally came out and said that if she had her way the school would already be a Promise Academy - can't take it back now!! So here's what happens when politicians team up with District Officials, and politically connected adults who have no children in the school! However, you must know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And in a small way, getting West off the list was victory. Nothing is certain now - please don't believe their proclamations about what or what isn't coming - why would you believe them now??

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 12:23 pm

All of the comments are weel and good and I absolutely agree with them, however, there is an old saying, "Nothing changes if nothing changes". We need to email/write Jerry Jordan PFT and Governor Rendell and let him know how we feel. Saying this and that is not going to rid us of Ackerman. We need to make our voices heard. The Mayor cannot do a thing only Rendell and the lawyers for the PFT can push the Old Queen out.

Let's make it happen!!!!

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 1:48 pm

IS someone forwarding these conversations to the real media? We need more and more visible talk out there. We need the parents and our real community partners to know the real truth.
Not her truth, which we have all seen change as the need changes.

Submitted by Ben Herold (not verified) on June 4, 2010 1:44 pm

Ouch! We're not "real" media? The Notebook has consistently beaten both the Inquirer and the Daily News to the punch in covering the Renaissance process at West and elsewhere. That said, Elmer Smith of the Daily News wrote about the situation today (http://www.philly.com/dailynews/local/20100604_Elmer_Smith__At_West_Phil...) and Kristin Graham wrote about it yesterday (http://www.philly.com/inquirer/education/20100603_District_delays_overha...).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 1:47 pm

I agree with you completely Ben. The Notebook is great, keep up the great work. Having said that, we do have a responsibility to get this information to as many sources as possible for the broadest possible audience. We should also make a point of plugging the Notebook on other outlets such as talk radio.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 4:55 pm

That 's what I meant. Thank you. Sorry.

Submitted by K. R. Luebbert (not verified) on June 4, 2010 2:21 pm

Ben--of course you are real. But what I think the writer must have meant is the more "mainstream media". The comments on the notebook are much more well-reasoned and edu-savvy than the ones in the Inky. But, it would be great if more people could read these threads. West's predicament is a tragedy, and the special ed conundrum at the district schools that were given to providers is a tragedy waiting to happen. More people need to hear about these issues.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 4:49 pm

Yes. Everyone needs to understand that we are not just complaining... we are fighting for our children. To the Philadelphia classroom teachers, at all levels, our children come first. We do not just talk the talk and the world should be hearing these issues. We need the state to hear us and see the work that has been accomplished. The work is nowhere near done, but CR and CM is not going to change eveerything e=overnight, which is part of what is being forced down our kids' throats.
Thanks for understanding and trying to help me here.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 4, 2010 4:08 pm

No hard feelings, please. That's not what I meant. We need more coverage - we need more eyes and ears on the issue.
You are covering in more depth these issues, more fairly and faster that any where else - there is no doubt about that. My point, even though I said it poorly is that we need more - not just the notebook and it needs to be louder, with more detail and gain more attnetion than any of these issues is getting.
What is happening here in Philly will pull our children down, not raise them. The growth has been evident in many places. I am in pretty constant communication with teachers in other places and they cannot believe what is happening here. I have had more than one teacher ask if I am making it up.
The reclassifications of schools in spite of data and marked growth is a huge surprise across the country, but the word is not getting there. The changes that the promise accademies are being expected to live with, and the fact that they are against our contract is amazing... yet it is reality. Teachers in uniforms? Get real. We are professionals. We are not security guards, trash collectors (which are others jobs I could not do and know this - so I am not trying to insult them, too...). We are adults, not children. Why is it asking too much to be given the respect of these two titles?
I am a teacher and proud of the fact. As a teacher, I know what my kids need and I know to ask for help when I cannot meet those needs, yet teachers are being treated like puppeets with no brains in their heads. As a teacher, I am continually studying my craft and leaning on my peers to improve. As a teacher, I should be trusted to dress myself.
Forgive the insult. It was not intentional. The Notebook is doing right by us, but we need more.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on June 4, 2010 4:40 pm

Sorry, was really just kidding...no offense taken. We were really glad to see the dailies doing good coverage of the Renaissance process as well. We also hope it continues and expands, and I'm happy to keep the conversation here on the issues. Expect more from all three outlets shortly...Dr. Ackerman and Commissioner Archie just finished discussing the situation at West during a conference call with reporters (and whatever we at the Notebook are....)

Kidding again, btw.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 4, 2010 6:09 pm

I find it really amusing that even if West makes progress this year they are still going to make West a charter or some private run school, it is about the bottom line, they will not pay teachers what they are paying the teachers at West. Dr. Ackerman's job is to cut back on public education cost and that is why she is here. It is always about the bottom line, how to save money watch and see. We are Rennaissance and the new principal from Young Scholars stated that they will have 3 vice principals, we had one, they will have hall way security we had one school police. They are going to pay new teachers substantially less and staff the school like it should have been staff by the district, Remember NTA's they are saving tons of money on those positions........

Submitted by SAC member (not verified) on June 5, 2010 7:07 am

Please see today's inquirer/daily news statements by Dr. Ackerman and Commissioner Archie. When you don't do as the Romans do this is what happens.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 5, 2010 1:00 pm

In the article, it says "West Philadelphia principal Saliyah Cruz said only 19 of the school's teachers had requested transfers to other schools when it was believed West would be a Renaissance school in September." I'm guessing they had the same issues I'm seeing at my current location (a Promise school), meaning that only 19 or so were able to find jobs through the Site Selection process, about an equal number wanted to stay, and the rest were waiting to be force-transferred elsewhere. BTW, now that that process has begun, there are already some (myself included) that have not received notifications to come choose a new position because there is no place to place us. Apparently that falls under "running smoothly" in Ackerman's book.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 5, 2010 3:14 pm

These Force Transfers are happening at all schools, not just the "Renaissance" schools. Believe me, I know. I can guarantee that EVERY school this year had colleagues that were 204'd for invisible and made up reasons. My belief is that Principals were DIRECTED to Force Transfer teachers (or make it so bad, they voluntarily transfer) out of schools. We all knew what would happen when (I guess at least more than a thousand teachers) started looking for the very few jobs available in the district. So what happens to these teachers? They are FORCED to accept these ridiculous Promise Academy and bad Charter jobs because there are NO OTHER POSITIONS AVAILABLE. It's a ploy to get hardworking tenured teachers to work under "NON-UNION" positions at a much cheaper salary. There are serious concerns of "profiling." Yes, I said profiling. We need to look closely at schools and see what teachers have been harassed and force transferred. There are clear trends in that regard. And of course the children suffer because of the HORRIBLE climates and upheaval at these schools. Don't people realize that the students clearly see what is going on and when a climate is that bad starting from the top, the students pick up on it. It's not about the kids...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 5, 2010 4:56 pm

Would you please say what you mean by profiling? Who do you see as being force transferred?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2010 9:17 am

As a UNION teacher you cannot be FORCED to teach in a Promise Academy even if there are no openings in traditional public schools. You do not have to give up your rights!!!! You will wind up downtown doing administrative work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2010 1:01 pm

TEACHERS ARE NOT FORCED to take Promise Academy Schools. It is specifically in the Union contract that a teacher cannot be forced to take a non-union position in any school. READ the contract. When there are no positions left to choose, you go downtown and sit in the Administration building and still get paid. Taxpayers should hit the roof because this is what ACKERMAN is creating!!!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on June 7, 2010 2:42 pm

 Promise Academies, unlike those Renaissance schools that will be operated as charters, will continue to be covered by the PFT contract and employee union teachers.   If those are the only positions open teachers will be forced to take them.   

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on June 7, 2010 4:23 pm

Yes. Take those slots, teach untested material and programs, work two Saturdays a month, work an extra hour every day, work July and do all of this in uniform.
I do not see respect in this setting. I do not feel valued. I would feel like a monkey, not a trained professional constantly working on her craft.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 8, 2010 2:20 pm

Good Afternoon Ron,

I believe you may be misinformed. No Philadelphia Public School teacher can be forced to teach in a Promise Academy School. Those schools make it mandatory to work longer hours, teach 2 Saturdays per month, and teach in July. No teachers can be forced to do that period. Nowhere do I see what you are writing in the actual contract. If you can find it in the contract please provide the Section and Part so I can identify it. Thank you!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on June 8, 2010 2:33 pm

 Your right that teachers cannot be forced to take positions that require them to work a longer day.   So I guess from the standpoint of the contract it is wrong to say teachers will be forced to take these positions, although if there is an absence of any alternatives this will act as a form of coercion.   Perhaps the administration will be forced to modify a mandatory longer day in the Promise Academies in order to staff them,   

Thanks for the correction.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2010 8:30 am

Thank you Ron for responding again. I know you are very knowledgeable especially when it comes to topics involving our Philadelphia schools, its teachers, etc. In your opinion, do you think the PFT will act on this if teachers are coerced into taking Promise Academy positions???

Also, if possible, is there anything that you think the PFT could do to try and oust Ackerman? For example, file a lawsuit with the courts, etc. over everything that is going on within the schools? Thank You!!!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on June 9, 2010 2:00 pm

 Here's the problem as I see it.   Promise Academies will hire staff by means of site selection.   Since no one will be force transferred into these schools there is, technically speaking, no coercion.   However if there are large numbers of Renaissance refugees who have not been site selected, either because they chose not to apply or they applied and were not offered positions, and if there are insufficient numbers of vacancies that will be filled based on seniorirty, than that means that effectively these teachers will be "forced" to apply for positions at Promise Academies.   Under these circumstances I think the union would have a case to argue that the mandatory longer day should be waived.   I don't know what the PFT's view on this is but I will try to find out.   I would urge union members to press for clarification on this issue.   

It is far from clear that enough vacancies exist to meet the commitment that all teachers will have jobs (jobs that don't compel them to work the longer day etc.)   This monumental mess is the consequence of an ill conceived and mismanaged Turnaround effort.   A moratorium on any more Ren schools is needed until the process is reviewed.

Your question about getting rid of Ackerman will take more space than I can give to a short comment, but you raise some important issues so I will try to respond to them in my own blog.   Thanks

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2011 5:43 am

it's my understanding that after 8/15 all openings become available through the forced transfer process. PA opening will be on this list as well. If teachers are only left with PA's to choose from they will need to choose from what's available. If they don't want what's left they will be considered resigned.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 5, 2010 4:24 pm

Jewish teachers and administrators.

Submitted by Nameless de Tractor (not verified) on June 5, 2010 8:12 pm

So no white Gentiles are being profiled?

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on June 9, 2010 5:54 pm

I was interested in the comment about principals being directed to harass some teachers constantly in order to force them out. At our school two (long-standing) teachers seem to have been targeted. The latest insult has been to tell them this week that they are teaching different grade levels in their subject areas next year, even after having been department chairs. I believe the principal is going to succeed in getting one of the two to retire, and possibly drive the other to leave. This is such a sad situation (we are all depressed about our new administration and the negative climate in the school) that just about everyone is assessing their other options (not a lot during the current recession). I'm sure this is what Ackerman and cronies are after -- the old (expensive) guard leaving, and the new cheap hires filling their places. And in all this, no one is even thinking about the actual education of the kids! What a world!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2011 5:29 am

While it may seem insulting, there is nothing in the contract that provides grade teachers with the security of teaching the same grade/subject every year.. That decisions is up to the building administrator. As long as they are within license they can be asked to teach anything in that license area.

It may seem insulting but it's not against the contract (not that you said it was....:)

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