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More shakeup atop Philly School District

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 20, 2010 11:52 AM

Arlene Ackerman is shuffling her top leadership team yet again, the Notebook has learned.

Benjamin Rayer, chief charter, partnership and new schools officer, has resigned, sources confirmed.

The schools superintendent is also changing the structure of the business and operations side of the District. Michael Masch, the chief business officer, will have narrowed responsibilities, concentrating on financial and budget issues rather than overall operations.

Ackerman is hiring a new director of communications. Evelyn Sample-Oates, the present director, will remain in the office, but with more responsibility for internal rather than external communications.

District officials would not confirm any of the changes.

Over the last two months, Ackerman has been busy reshaping her team. She recently appointed Leroy Nunery to a second-in-command role as deputy superintendent and hired Diane Castelbuono as associate superintendent of strategic programs, including charter schools, multiple pathways to graduation, turnaround, and Renaissance Schools. Castelbuono was put over Rayer, who until then was in charge of all those areas except multiple pathways.

Rayer and Masch did not return calls seeking comment.

Castelbuono worked in the District under David Hornbeck and Paul Vallas and was most recently in charge of elementary and secondary education in the state Department of Education.

On the communications front, Ackerman and Mayor Nutter recently complained that they felt the press was not adequately covering the District's successes, including preliminary results showing an eighth straight year of test scores increases and the fact that for the first time more than half the students scored proficient or above on standardized math and reading tests. Ackerman is apparently seeking a more proactive communications strategy.

EDIT, July 26: The Philadelphia Tribune reported on even more changes including elimination of the "regional command structure."

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Comments (45)

Submitted by Tommy Tommerville (not verified) on July 20, 2010 2:32 pm

What is the latest on the changes in the regional structure?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 20, 2010 3:05 pm

I hope Nutter, Ackerman, and the Governor see all of the $$$$ being blown on the Superintendent $325,000, Asst. Superintendent $235,000, Evelyn Sample- Oates $180,000, Masch, $180,000. Geez, that is almost a million dollars in salary for 4 people. No wonder there is no air conditioning in our schools or adequate school supplies. Maybe teachers need to protest that the District should give a $1,000 per teacher stipend for school supplies NOT a measly $100. What is going on here???

Also, it is reported that the $850 million is not going to come to our state as Governor Rendell thought it would. The PA State budget was balanced counting on this money. He has already stated there will need to be 20,000 people laid off in this State. I am sure Queen Arlene will gladly cut some teachers----Jerry Jordan if you are out there reading this please take a firm stand with all of your members to keep teaching positions.

Our media needs to see all of the FAT being wasted and spent in this District. There are too many overpaid administrators and the buck needs to stop somewhere. The PFT should start doing more newspaper editorials and mentioning all of this. This stinks!!!

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:02 pm

I agree - I'd love to know who is who (including their duties/salaries). I wonder if Benjamin Rayer's fall from "grace" had something to do with West HS. Maybe Rayer didn't agree with all of Ackerman/Archie/Blackwell's shenanigans and overthrow of the West process. Maybe Rayer, unlike Archie, doesn't forget who overturned the school committee's vote!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 20, 2010 4:42 pm

I wonder if anyone has ever questioned if teachers cheated on the tests this year to increase their scores as they felt pressured to do well in order to keep their jobs. There was so much pressure and paperwork put on teacher beginning in January, including frequent walk throughs with clipboard toting administration. Maybe the scores really don't reflect true performance. Hum? I would never cheat because it hurts the students in the end. However I've heard rumors......

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 20, 2010 5:26 pm

There is an old saying, "Don't believe everything you here". Are you a teacher in Philadelphia? Try answering my comment which is listed as number 2 on this blog. Thank You.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:50 pm

In Philadelphia the saying is, "Don't believe everything you hear here".

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on July 20, 2010 6:00 pm

Standardized test cheating is rarely at the classroom level.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 20, 2010 9:09 pm

True--cheating--if it is done--is done above the teacher level. But, Anonymous, if you are going to level veiled accusations at teachers, at least use your name or tell us what schools you are talking about. Are you a teacher who was asked to cheat? If your were, you should report it immediately.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:08 am

It's not an accusation, just a random question, or thought, based upon the teacher's lounge conversations and teacher happy hour discussions. I'm not blaming teachers, or falsly accusing them. Relax. However, teacher do point kids to the correct answers. And if you don't believe that, you're in denuial. Why would I use my name? So I could be fired for insubordination? Now I understand why teachers in Philadelphia are not united.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 21, 2010 7:41 am

I know that cheating exists in some schools, however, I do not believe 8 years of gains can be attributed to cheating. The whole education community needs to have a discussion about the many and mostly harmful implications of high stakes testing. As for using your name, what insubordination could you be fired for? You can't be fired for refusing to do something illegal like cheating, you really cannot be fired for using your first amendment right to free speech on a public blog (unless libel or slander is involved).

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 21, 2010 11:53 am

Hello, Teacher.
I agree. 8 years of steady progress shows we know what we are doing and we are effectively doing it. Nicely said.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on July 21, 2010 5:24 pm

I'm a bit stunned at an admission of "steering." Not even considering the lack of values that this implies, it makes a number of assumptions. One of these is that the tests are somewhere not being administered as mandated. In my experience as a classroom teacher,a monitor for the state and in support positions, I have heard of this one time.

While proctoring teachers are often NOT given the administration manual in sufficient time to more than skim it, and while all allowable accommodations are not always done, reasonable administration is the overwhelming norm. Another is that teachers, some minimally educated themselves, figure out the answers of ambiguous questions correctly.,

I fail to see how this segues to teacher unity. Unity to cheat?

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 21, 2010 11:25 am

I can honestly say I have never cheating in any form for the administering of any standardized test, no matter how unfair, biased or developmentally wrong the test was.
I resent the implication that it is the teachers who cheat.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 21, 2010 11:17 am

I think what this person may be getting at is something Ron raised in a comment last year, security and differing conditions during standardized tests. I don't think raising these issues means blaming teachers, but that it is more about raising potential problems with high stakes testing.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:42 pm

The PSSA has very lax testing security. For example, tests arrived weeks before they were administered. Did anyone look at the test and get "ideas" for review? Did anyone phrase a question similar to the PSSA or cover a topic from the open ended passage? There are many opportunities for disregarding testing procedures / "cheating" besides the obvious (e.g. giving a student an answer, pointing to the correct answer, reading a question/defining terms on the reading test, telling a student a formula for math, etc.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:28 pm

So if a teacher has kept copies of the Benchmarks given that year and uses them to review they are cheating? There is a difference between using actual questions that are on the test and using questions that made up, but reflect the type of questions that are on the PSSA. After all, the core curriculum is suppose to prepare us for what is going to be on the test.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 3:24 pm

I wrote the PSSA - not the benchmark tests. The PSSA is the test that "counts" and comes with a detailed booklet regarding test security. The benchmark are administered by the SDP supposedly to assess student (and teacher) progress.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2010 11:02 am

You're missing my point. Nobody said you had written "benchmarks". You did bring up the issue of teachers looking at the PSSA (a little hard to do since we don't get it until minutes before we give it) and getting "ideas". The whole reason we do the Benchmarks is to give us ideas, especially after we take one. Whatever our classes do poorly in is what we are told to focus on in the next few weeks. Yes, Benchmarks assess progress, but that is progress aimed at scoring high on the PSSA. They are connected. As far as pointing out answers teachers are forbidden from signaling in any way the answers. However strictly they observe that rule is debatable. It would be hard with thirty some kids to "direct" them all to specific answers would be hard to pull off for the entire test. The teacher would be setting themselves up by directing the entire class to a specific answer. Coaching a couple of kids would not make that much difference in the wholeall class scores either. The district use to have classroom aides in during the test, but Ackerman removed those so she could hire some more overpaid flunkie administrators.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 21, 2010 8:24 pm

You are right Erika--but the original anonymous poster did say "teachers cheating". I agree that test security in some schools is not what it could be, but I know at my school we are never allowed to look at the test ahead of time. I have heard tales (in the past and not verified) of administrators at some schools changing answers or having kids change answers. I am somewhat skeptical of the allegations of having kids change answers because I truly believe that the kids would talk about it (most of my students talk about EVERYTHING).

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on July 21, 2010 10:26 pm

Test results won't be accurate until testing is proctored by persons unrelated to the district. Seriously. When I arrived here several years ago from another state (where, among other "hats", I had also been the testing coordinator) I was surprised to see "steering" both in classrooms AND in the principal's office during the PSSAs. I was very shocked, but no one seemed to even realize that what they were doing might have been considered unusual or unethical!

I have to say that testing protocol has tightened up quite a bit in the last year or so, so I think results are slowly becoming more reliable, at least in our school. But again, I think all responsibility for high-stakes testing should lie completely outside the district. Just my two cents.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 22, 2010 5:40 am

There is another side of this. Many children do their very best on the tests in front of them, when asked to by their teachers. SOme of these kids will blow through a test given by someone they do not know. The test itself is not enough of a reason to do their best. They work through these tests because we ask, we encourage, we rub their shoulders and tell them we kow they can keep going. Without us, some kids will not score well because they have no one present to do this for.
I have seen it first hand from kids that would surprise you.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 22, 2010 9:08 am

That is absolutely true! in a perfect world, the students would test well for themselves, but they are too young to see all the implications of this. Kids truly do better when they are working for someone they trust and connect with--someone they feel knows and understands them. I do think that the commonwealth should pay for many more test monitors so several can be in EACH and EVERY school throughout the testing window (which is really quite long). I really do wish that the people who say they KNOW of cheating would go ahead and say who they are, and what they know, and where and when it happened--that would stop cheating for sure and they would be protected as whistleblowers.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 22, 2010 11:27 am

I agree. If there is any cheating out there, those people need to step forward and not hide. Cheating on any test does not help any of us.
If we teacher what we are supposed to teach and use our skills to teach it in ways that make sense to our children, that engage them in their own learning, there is no need for cheating. Of course, letting our special education population take tests on thier educational levels, not their grade levels, that would help, too.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on July 22, 2010 5:09 pm

It is very easy to say what people "should" do without knowing any of the circumstances. When I witnessed the "helping" I was new to the East Coast, new to the inner city (formerly West Coast rural), hired as Special Assignment Emergency Certified, yada yada (able to easily be let go). I knew nothing about this place nor about its "culture". Years later I am fully certified and established and would probably handle what I witnessed quite differently.

But in terms of the outside proctors, I stand by my convictions. Just because most teachers and administrators are honest (I think they are) doesn't mean that others won't do whatever they think necessary to raise scores. Also, I don't think the public will ever trust the results unless they believe the process is transparent and totally above-board. If, as it seems possible, teachers' jobs and salaries come to depend on test scores in a big way, the public will probably DEMAND that others administer the tests.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 23, 2010 7:35 am

That lack of trust from the public, as you call it is a lack of respect. This is an issue here in Philly and will continue to be one until we start getting respect from the top. Our administration and even our president have shown major contempt and mistrust of teachers. The public will only respect teachers after opour leadership does.
Having someone else administer the tests will lower scores, because our children do truat us and will perform at higher rates for us. This will not increase our respect levels in those public opinions. To most, it will seem as if we have been cheating for years, which is not the truth.
Why is it not enough that the city and state both send around observers??

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 23, 2010 9:59 am

You are right, Meg. It is a lack of respect from the top. Arlene (who really was not actually a classroom teacher for very long) has little respect for her teachers. Obama has appointed a former basketball player as Secretary of Education. Working in a tutoring program and having parents who were teachers (one a professor at the university of Chicago--not exactly in reality), sitting on lots of boards, and having lots of ideas about education (all Arne Duncan's activities) is NOT the same as being an actual educator. These sorts of people really believe that anyone can do what we do, but in reality, they would be lost in an actual classroom with the true cross-section of students we work with everyday. Proctors for PSSAs are not the answer (because you are right about kids' comfort levels), but maybe more observers are.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 23, 2010 10:31 am

I have said it several times and say it in reality, too... I dare these people to spend a day teaching in my classroom. I will keep the phone off, the parents away from the door, the sick child will stay home, the classroom will be comfortable, because it will not be my room (They can work in an air conditioned room, not mine.), the class size will be the reduced size class we have all been promised, and I promise no fire drills. I will gather the supplies they will need, make the copies for the lesson, go to the library for the recommended read a loud and even sharpen the pencils (that I will have to buy).
Then we would all be interested in the opinion of these people. Then, maybe they would understand why that prep time is so vital, why the class size matters so much and why we deserve more respect than teachers get.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 23, 2010 9:00 am

It is true that it is easy to say what we "should do"--and it would have been very hard as the new unfamiliar person to say anything. But I agree with Meg that proctors ARE NOT the answer for our students.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 23, 2010 10:46 am

My classroom door is always open. We have nothing to hide. It is building policy that visitors check into the office, but that is a safety issue. We love company.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on July 23, 2010 5:48 pm

Of course proctors aren't "the answer"! But outside proctoring would give the public one less point of mistrust of teachers and administrators. I think we need to do as much as possible to encourage public trust of our educational system, which, if I read the endless negative press everywhere, is about as low as it ever has been. If they don't trust us, work with us respect us, and support us we may as well resign ourselves to a reign of Washington, D.C.-style reform. (303 teachers fired today, 737 on the chopping block for "low effectiveness", likely gone next year. Go Rhee!)

[About the "my kids will try harder for me" -- well, maybe little kids will, but my high schoolers are motivated by tangible rewards (shall we pay them?) not my presence. (This year we promised the juniors a series of celebratory events for higher scores, which seemed to help, and our scores went up.) Anyway, in my high school the teachers don't necessarily proctor the kids they teach -- like many other schools, we sort the kids by their advisory groups for PSSA testing. And the kids aren't performing for Mr. So and So the teacher who is two floors away -- maybe they didn't even HAVE his geometry class this year ... ]

Personally I hate all this testing ....

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on July 23, 2010 5:15 pm

High schoolers are a little different, but our kids are tested with PSSA starting in THIRD GRADE! I teach in a K-8, and even the upper grade kids work better on PSSAs for teachers who know them. I agree with you, however, that all this testing is just too much.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 23, 2010 8:05 pm

With the Keystone exams, I assume there may be some more ownership by high school students since they will count toward graduation (unless, that is also watered down...)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 20, 2010 9:59 pm

Yet another change? How can an operation of a district be effective at all if there is a continuous change. An indication of things not going well is when too many people are demoted, fired, retire or simply resign. This is what is happening at the SDP.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on July 20, 2010 10:08 pm

 I know I haven't seen a leadership hierarchy flowchart of any SDP leadership regime, could we make one? Inspiration or like program would be easy enough to use. Looking at the District's current leadership page Rayer is gone, Masch, Hanna, Brown, and Sample-Oates are demoted. It would be nice to have a few years running of hierarchy charts, to actually be able to follow the changes and prevent the amnesia of school district history. I image the notebook, wikipedia, and a few other sources complied would get us going well.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 11:48 am

How is any of this change actually helping the school district? Why are there so may changes? It mirrors the changes teachers have to make yearly, grade switches, curriculum, class size. It's no wonder that we have to have an IMAGINATION. Reality is seldom present.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on July 21, 2010 11:00 am

It is not meant to help the schools. When they keep moving things around like this, we get to play find the answer... and they complain that the newspapers are not reporting the positive things, which they are not telling anyone about, but there is no one to call to ask... see the cycle? It's just a shell game... if you can nail down the right administrator, you can have the supplies you requested.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on July 21, 2010 5:03 pm

You are correct: the moving target is hard to hit. Queen Arlene is the model. Think of all the things this past academic year that she doesn't know: ethnic violence, principals' qualifications, magnet application rules, exact figures on almost anything.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 12:29 pm

Anyone wanna make a bet that Rayer ends up back at Mastery?? I bet he's been offered a job.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 8:20 pm

I don't know Mr. Rayer and have no idea if Mr. Rayer has a job at Mastery but I know he may be another victims of Ackerman's "pass the buck." Ackerman consistently takes responsiblity for nothing. I assume the appointment of Castelbuono, Rayer's would be boss, is pay back for Rendell. (Why, is Catelbuono returning to SDP???) Rayer was put in the middle of "rumors" about charter votes in June - Ackerman denying she knew nothing about the mess. How many "bodies" has Ackerman trampled upon for two years? Ackerman creates one train wreck after another and consistently blames everyone else.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 8:53 pm

Everyone should read "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" by Diane Ravitch.

She makes a good case that the focus on testing is warping our teaching.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 21, 2010 8:46 pm

Kind of conevient, since she IMPLEMENTED them under "W" I have never been one for deathbed (oh I can write a book and make millions) conversions. Where was she when she could have done something about it, instead of getting rich off of public opinion against it, What hypocrisy and nerve!

Submitted by Terry Martin (not verified) on July 21, 2010 8:54 pm

There are other changes. Elana Cupingood has been moved from Masch's office to the CEO's office where she will oversee Masch's doings and explain the financial implications to the CEO. This is meant as a direct slap at Masch whose office is shrinking daily. Also, former Chief of Staff Claudia Averette is back for 90 days--is this a tryout to see if she can work for Ms. Ackerman? John Frangiopani is no longer head of school operations and some are saying that the CEO will be eliminating the regional offices as we now know them.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on July 24, 2010 9:06 am

As a publicly funded entity, doesn't the SDP have to publish its leadership structure, a who's who, and salaries/benefits? Wasn't Averette brought in by Vallas and then left under a cloud because of her enormous expense account? How many of the "new" leaders, especially those dealing with academics, have ever been a teacher? Neither Cupingood nor Averette have any background in teaching. Cupingood is another Board Residency with a business background and Averette is now with Foundations and also has a business background. Leroy Nunery comes out of the corporate world as well - no teaching experience at all. Weiner is now Chief Academic Officer. How long did he teach? How long as a principal?

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on July 26, 2010 5:46 pm

The Philadelphia Tribune reported on more changes this weekend.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 27, 2010 10:18 pm

Let's get this straight - Diane Castelbuono WAS NOT hired. Ed Rendell made Ackerman take her. Come on Queenie, let's call things they way they are are quit trying to fool people.

Seriously, where is the SRC in all of this entire mess? The last SRC board was hands on and held people accountable. This new board just shows up and passes everything the Queen wants. Even Denise Armbrister, a Nutter "family member" (because of her husband) sits back and allows anything to happen.

SRC - ignorance and lack of action on your part makes you equally at fault. WAKE UP and take a bold stand on the Queen. She is showing you up as you sit idly by.

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