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Introducing our new blogger: Ryan Bowers

First, I’d like to acknowledge what an honor it is to join the Notebook’s blogging community. I’m looking forward to making a small contribution to the growing debate around school choice, a topic of importance to me both personally and professionally.

I’m starting to feel the weight of school choice at home as my wife and I are faced with figuring out where we’ll send our 4½-year-old son to kindergarten next year. I'm taking a hard look at our neighborhood school, as well other options that might be on the table.

Although I’m currently consumed by the puzzle of navigating the best educational choice for my son, my experience in the education field goes back a few years from several vantage points.

Just out of college, I taught 6th grade at Potter Thomas Elementary (at the time run by Edison Schools) through Teach for America. Later I worked with a few hundred community-based organizations through the process of becoming qualified providers of supplemental educational services (SES). You might remember SES, the free-market model created by No Child Left Behind that sparked stiff competition among tutoring services for low-income students. I worked under a grant from the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives, helping community-based organizations throughout the country qualify and compete against larger for-profit providers.

Later, I worked with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education, doing community engagement in the early days of the Nutter administration. It was during my time at City Hall that I became involved in one of the planning working groups that guided the development of the School District’s Imagine 2014 strategic plan. By sheer circumstance the working group I was on happened to be tasked with developing the blueprint for one of the most high profile parts of the strategic plan, the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

After my stint in the Mayor’s Office I became a partner in a small social change consulting organization, Frontline Solutions, working with non-profits and foundations across the country to improve the quality of life in low-income communities. One day while at Frontline I got a call from the District’s Charter School Office asking for help supporting the fledgling School Advisory Councils for the Renaissance Schools initiative. That was two years ago and I’m just now wrapping up the second round of managing the facilitation of the Renaissance SACs.

Through the Notebook I’m eager to write about the unbelievably brilliant, caring, and savvy parents in our communities who are weighing the various school choice initiatives that are popping up and increasingly impacting our communities. To me, nothing would be more exciting than creating a space to hear parents’ ideas about improving schools, in a way that honors them not as passive objects of school reform but as having valuable insight into what makes their communities thrive.

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Philadelphia citizen, former PSD parent (not verified) on May 25, 2011 6:03 pm

Renaissance SACs have not necessarily been places where parents get listened to. A year ago the School District ignored the wishes of several parent groups (including West Philadelphia High, Frederick Douglass). This past spring the School District bypassed community input at Audenried and Vare and would have ignored the Martin Luther King group's opinions -- if Archie's behind-the-scenes input hadn't become so public.
Research for Action released an interim report about Renaissance Schools. The report mentions SACs (and parents in general) having limited influence once the takeover group starts running the school. I hope you're aware of all this recent history as you continue your laudable quest to involve parents in important policy decisions. I also hope you’ve been following the posts from parent activist Helen Gym at this website. She seems to have the ability to look behind the pleasant words of School District rhetoric to find out what’s actually going on.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 25, 2011 6:09 pm

I'd also like to hear your explanation of how you facilitated the Renaissance SACS since most were failures. They appear to have disengaged more parents than they supported. Ultimately, Ackerman got her way. West's SAC was publicly humiliated and defamed. At Audenreid and Vare, there wasn't anyone's input other than Ackerman, Archie, Gamble and ???
So, what went so dramatically wrong or was there no intention to do more than provide a "face" of parent involvement by the Ackerman Administration? What was your company paid to "facilitate" this failed process?

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on May 26, 2011 9:17 am

Ryan--could you speak to your TFA experiences a little? Did you complete your teaching certification? Did you stay a teacher (in a public, charter or private school classroom) for more than the two required years? When you joined TFA did you intend on making a career of teaching? By that, I mean actual classroom teaching--not educational consulting or any other aspect of the education machine that has grown up in the U.S. in the last decade. If so, what happened to change your mind? TFA and the varying motivations of what is a great talent pool have been much discussed on this forum this year, so it would be interesting to get one person's perspective.

Submitted by Erika Owens (not verified) on May 26, 2011 10:18 am

Just as a reminder, two of our (now retired) bloggers also participated in TFA. They both wrote about TFA, too.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on May 26, 2011 12:25 pm

Thanks, Erika.

Submitted by Ryan Bowers on May 26, 2011 8:34 pm

Hi K.R. Luebbert-

I applied to Teach for America after having worked in several after-school programs during my college years at Temple. I went in with the intention to stay a teacher - though I didn't have a pre set timeline in mind. I never did obtain my certification.

If you're interested we could arrange a time outside the blog context to talk more about it. It would be great to hear more about your thoughts, too. Feel free to send me an email through my company's website (http://frontlinesol.com/contact.html) and we can go from there.

Submitted by Teacher (K.R. Luebbert) (not verified) on May 26, 2011 8:33 pm

Thanks, Ryan. I look forward to reading your blog. I may contact you, thanks.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 26, 2011 8:12 pm

I'd also like to hear your explanation of how you facilitated the Renaissance SACS since most were failures. They appear to have disengaged more parents than they supported. Ultimately, Ackerman got her way. West's SAC was publicly humiliated and defamed. At Audenreid and Vare, there wasn't anyone's input other than Ackerman, Archie, Gamble and ???
So, what went so dramatically wrong or was there no intention to do more than provide a "face" of parent involvement by the Ackerman Administration? What was your company paid to "facilitate" this failed process?

Submitted by Ryan Bowers on May 26, 2011 10:15 pm

Philadelphia Parent & Teacher and Philadelphia Citizen-
 
My contract was only to facilitate the SACs that went through the match process, not the Promise Academy or Promise Neighborhood SACs. I worked together with a team of facilitators, though I personally facilitated the West Philly HS, Douglass and Harrity SACs last year. Both years we oversaw all the facilitation for all the match schools, and the first year we were in charge of recruitment. Both years we did not set the timeline, we did not determine the SAC's roles and responsibilities and we were not involved in selecting whether a school was involved in the Renaissance process or determining the pool of turnaround teams from which they could make their choice. Those aspects were determined by the District and the Renaissance School Advisory Board.
 
Part of the reason the District went with outside facilitators was to distance themselves from the day to day work, which I think made sense. That left my team members helping parents walk through and analyze the lengthy turnaround team proposals and school audits, supporting SAC members in planning and conducting site visits to the schools run by the turnaround teams, facilitating their conversations to determine what their schools really needed so they knew what to look for, and overall helping them coalesce as a team and as leaders in preparation for their big decision.
 
Obviously it’s impossible to have the SAC members themselves comment on the process through a blog venue, but if you’ve had a chance to talk with some of them, I’d love to hear their feedback on our facilitation as well as the rest of the process.
 
I was honored to work with every parent, student and community member who volunteered long hours and sometimes tense meetings on behalf of their students. But if you haven’t already talked with some of the SAC members and you’re interested in doing so, I would highly recommend it. Organizations like Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth have hosted public roundtables with a few SACs members, though I’m not sure if they’re planning to do them again in the future.

 

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 27, 2011 5:07 am

Thank you for responding but you did not directly address my questions. I live in the "catchment" for West and Harrity so this concerns me directly as a parent and citizen. Again, the treatment of the West SAC was outrageous and obviously the facilitation and support for the SAC was extremely flawed. You may blame Ackerman et al but the SAC at West was poorly supported since they were "left out to dry" so to speak. Based on what I've read, Douglass was also a failed process.

This is not a "personal" attack against you but rather the entire Renaissance enterprise. Is it really providing "school choice," as you mentioned in your post, or is it a means to give schools and related contracts to the "best connected?"

Submitted by Philadelphia taxpayer (not verified) on May 27, 2011 8:08 am

You say "obviously it's impossible to have the SAC members themselves comment on the process through a blog venue." But this site has had plentiful comments from SAC members (including parents). See for example comments to the article at http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/102801/smedley-first-day. Many of the responders (Jabrieka Bagby, several of the 'Anonymous') are North Philadelphia parents who were not happy with the way the SAC process raised their hopes for having a voice and then disregarded their voices.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 27, 2011 12:16 pm

I was a member of the SAC at West Philadelphia last year, and although the efforts of Ryan and his group eventually got overturned by the Queen, I thought they were very fair to us and did a great job at involving the community and parents.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 27, 2011 12:27 pm

Thank you for your post.

Submitted by Anony (not verified) on May 27, 2011 12:47 pm

Hey Ryan,

You mention that you never got your certification. Is that because of the program (TFA), the certifying program, or did you leave the classroom before two years?

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