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Council brings District back for more questions

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 15, 2012 04:14 PM

School District officials returned to City Council on Tuesday afternoon and told council members that there is a public misconception about the plan to divide schools into achievement networks. Officials explained that the plan as they had envisioned it  would be staffed primarily by District officials in a “service” rather than a supervisory arrangement with principals.

“What I heard said about [the networks] doesn’t follow as I understand the recommendations,” said School Reform Commission member Feather Houstoun.

SRC Chair Pedro Ramos said that instead of requiring compliance from schools, the network employees would provide services requested by principals.

Their explanations came after Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez suggested that the District should “put the brakes” on the networks’ implementation.

“At some point we have to start speaking in a common voice so we can quell the hysteria out there in the community,” Sánchez said. 

Houstoun and Ramos emphasized that the details of the networks are still very much in development, but seemed to back off the idea that they would be mostly operated by outside managers. Ramos described the network proposal, part of a blueprint designed by the Boston Consulting Group for Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen, as a “concept.” 

“The goal is to provide more support to schools and principals,” Ramos said. “We need to understand more directly from principals what helps them, what do they want more of, what do they want less of, what should be the standards people outside the schools [in the networks] are held accountable for.”

Council called back the officials after a day-long session last week and questioned them for two hours. Other highlights:

  • Councilman William Green asked whether the District would agree to have its budget and five-year plan audited by someone chosen by Council. Ramos said yes. The plan, which forecasts a $218 million shortfall next year, relies on substantial borrowing and on Council’s approval of a tax assessment change that would bring in $94 million in additional funds. Council also said they wanted to hear quarterly from the District rather than only once a year at budget time.

  • Houstoun said that if the District doesn’t hold to the timetable of closing 40 schools next year and six a year after that, the SRC would have to come up with funds somewhere else.

    “We’d have to raise money for every school we didn’t close,” she said.

  • As part of the effort to make more efficient use of underused buildings, Ramos said that the District is looking into co-locating District-run and charter schools in the same buildings, as is done in New York City.

  • In a discussion of school climate with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Ramos emphasized that it is necessary for every adult in school to be responsible for improving school culture and climate, rather than assuming that that is only the job of school police and non-teaching assistants. Numbers of staff in both these job categories have been cut substantially.

  • Finally, Ramos said that he would love to see a school located at the now mostly empty District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.

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Comments (33)

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on May 15, 2012 5:14 pm

I sure like that last idea - except that 440 could probably host multiple schools or a branch of Philadelphia Community College.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on May 15, 2012 6:50 pm

How would having a charter school and public school using the same building work? What happens when a student leaves the charter school? Do they simply enroll in the public school within the same building? I believe that in New York City, a group of parents is actually suing to stop charter schools from sharing space in public schools.

We can't keep cutting everything that makes schools work and then expect to do even better.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 15, 2012 6:30 pm

It certainly is nice to hear that the SRC and City Council are responding to the voices of those who are speaking to them.

The issue really is how to get the best and most facilitative leadership of whatever "support structures" are eventually organized. I submit democracy works best as the best practice in choosing our leaders.

Certainly, I agree with the SRC that the support networks provide only services to the principals and schools.

The issue of whether the SRC can legally contract out to a private entity to "govern public schools" in any way is probably an open question under the law, but is one I think would open a "Pandora's box of litigation."

And as far as the Boston Consulting groups goes, they are probably well intentioned people, but they do not have any background of experience with Philadelphia and therefore can never really understand. We do not need their blueprint imposed upon us. All of the "blueprints" that have been superimposed upon us in the last ten years have proven to be failed ideologies.

We need someone to help us develop our own plan so we have "ownership of what we do." Only then will we be committed to make it work.

If they do not understand the concept of "ownership" and how it is developed, they do not need to be advising us. We need collaborative leadership to "work with us." You will find that we have some pretty smart people here with some really good ideas.

You will also find that we already have some pretty talented leaders here, too. We only need to learn how to find them and allow our school communities to choose their own leaders.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 7:05 pm

Is it true that all of transportation has been laid off?

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParents (not verified) on May 16, 2012 7:34 am

Yes, as well as all building maintenance staff as of December 31, 2012.

Submitted by lililew (not verified) on May 16, 2012 11:30 am

arts academy at benjamin is great.

Submitted by lililew (not verified) on May 16, 2012 11:55 am

arts academy at benjamin is great.

Submitted by Anonymous 583 (not verified) on May 15, 2012 8:10 pm

We can best support principals by not making them be principal, nurse, and police officer. My principal hasn't helped evaluate teaching since we lost our nurse and officer.

Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on May 15, 2012 9:01 pm

And both the nurse and the school police officer have salaries which are significantly lower than a principal's salary, so how efficient is that???? Thanks for mentioning this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2012 8:22 am

mine too. We haven't even been observed since before the winter break. We are expected to do more with less. When will the SRC realize it doesn't work?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2012 11:06 am

They KNOW it. They don't want it to work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 9:18 pm

Can someone remind me of the shortcomings of co-location? I remember from The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman (why hasn't 440 screened THAT?!) that co-location was problematic but don't remember the specifics other than the district schools feeling squeezed. Interesting that the SRC is reaching for another NYC tactic after getting so thoroughly smacked down about the Achievement Networks. Keep teeing it up for us like that for us, SRC.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 10:30 pm

I work in a building with several schools (3rd grade-12th+) in it, and honestly, I think it is a benefit and not a problem.

Except for having things shipped to you and being lost, and parents/new students/agencies trying to come in for the first time and locate a student.

Why shouldn't we share resources?

Submitted by Helen Gym on May 16, 2012 11:33 pm

I hope to write about this issue this week for the Notebook.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 10:26 pm

Gotta love it. Now that the people of this city have let the SRC know what it thinks of their plan, they are backpedalling at the speed of light. There has never been a plan they could explain or defend.

Will we get our $150,000 back when it is clear Mr. Knudsen has no clue about how to run a school district? Will we get our money back from the Boston Group?

These questions should be asked at every SRC meeting.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 10:40 pm

Yes-- the only problem is that now BCG is feeling the heat. I am worried that they need a grand gesture to show that they are worth $1.4 million. Stay tuned...and keep fighting.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 1:21 am

BCG is being paid by the William Penn foundation; They are monitoring whether their money is being well spent or not.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 16, 2012 4:13 am

Every grant should be monitored to make sure the grantee follows the stipulations of the grant or, in your words, "being well spent." Big deal. Knudson was given big money ($25,000/month) to come up with a plan. Then, $1.4 million was given to the Boston group for 6 weeks of work. Imagine what a group of teachers/administrators could have done with the same money... But, this is Philadelphia where the gravy train (aka School District) is still under the Vallas / Ackerman mind set established by the first SRC in 2002.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 6:12 am

Hopefully a group of teachers would have done better than the "jump when you're told to" principals did who used Title I grant money to hire teachers to be "Instructional Reform Facilitators" when they should've been sending home educational materials with the kids who qualified for free lunches. Sorry, but principals and teachers even, don't "walk on water"; they are human beings that will favor friends and their own ideas over doing what may be the best thing for the children. Self monitoring doesn't always work - Look at Chase, who boasted of caution.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2012 9:19 am

It is amazing, Ms. Cheng, how often you have gotten into comment discussions with Rich over matters such as this yet you never seem to learn anything from the exchanges - your experience with Levering is still the rule for the entire district and it seems nothing will ever convince you otherwise (even the better run district school your children now attend). Bless him for still trying, though.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 9:43 am

Yes, bless Rich because he holds to generous ideals. I was told that there have been good kings and dictators too, and yes there have. In the end it is the cases where they have not been (good) and there has not been a check that trouble has happened (e.g. Levering).

So I repeat myself, like Rich does: Levering is NOT the only school that boasts an Instructional Reform Facilitator... how did that happen?

Rich says it is more democracy that is needed; I say it is an effective check.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 6:10 am

O.K. then, what would a group of teachers have done with the money?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 16, 2012 7:43 am

A group of teachers probably would have come up with a plan to lower class size, free teachers to develop creative and meaningful curricula and pedagogy, and govern our schools in a collaborative, supportive and nurturing manner.

They probably would want more say in who becomes their principal and their higher level leaders. They also might want to have more say in the materials which their school purchases for them to teach with. They may even create a plan to develop innovative programs and instructional designs.

They also would come up with a plan to professionalize the profession of teaching so we stop treating teachers and support staff like factory workers in a "business model." They would eliminate schools as "test preparation factories."

I assure you they would come up with a better plan than just say "privatize our public schools." They would stop turning our schools over to privatized educational management organizations euphemistically being called "charter operators."

They may even develop a plan to turn more of our schools into caring learning communities.

There is no limit what the teachers might think up if we empower them to become and be the true professionals that most of them already are....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2012 8:49 am

This is an incredible post. A multi-billion dollar corporation wouldn't hire a teacher to run it. They would hire someone with a business and finance background. Why doesn't the SRC ask the experts in this case? Educators!!!

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 8:59 am

And obviously the education experts (Ms. Ackerman was an educator at one time also) that have been our superintendents so far are not financial experts. Reminder: Mr. Knudsen was not hired to be the long term superintendent, only to sort out the finances.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on May 16, 2012 9:55 am

A basic concept of effective leadership is the 'leadership team." No one person is capable of running every aspect of an organization. A good leader is a good "team builder." A Good leadership team might include, among other things, a brilliant financial expert, an instructional leader, a special education leader, a bilingual and ESOL leader, a career and technical education leader, a school governance and leadership leader, a group dynamics leader, a parent involvement leader, a student involvement leader,a partnership development leader, a cultural proficiency leaders, etc.

When I participated in the LEAD principal's development program, Marilyn Moeller, who was a principal and lives with a disability (she had lost most of her eyesight) said something which always resounds in my mind:

She said to us, "If you want to become effective principals, get off of your ego and surround yourself with people who are more knowledgeable and intelligent than you."

That is one reason why I surround myself with the Notebook community....

Submitted by Mike C. (not verified) on May 16, 2012 10:41 am


Those are two great posts! The only problem with having teachers run the schools is that we are most likely not as politically driven. Also we would not say that our ideas will work immediately but given time will result in the best outcome.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 8:52 am

Unfortunately $1.5 million and $150,000 does not go far when spread out over more than 200 schools.

It is not true that adminstrators and teachers have not been given creative jurisdiction this whole time. In the School Improvement Plan, and the use of Title I money the only stipulation has been the grant money can not displace, that is be used for, core curriculum. There was complete freedom given, and a collaborative effort was even directed. I have yet to hear of a disapproved School Improvement Plan. Was this taken advantage of or even acknowledged here in all these complaints? It is a heck of lot more than $1.5 million x more than 10 years we're talking about. The administrators and the teachers have had their chance.

It is a mistake to use "inside" District administrators to run the "networks" without other supervision. That was the problem, job security and advancement took precedence (and of course/that is to be expected) over what was best for the kids.

If we want real change, then we need to have a real third party check. Ideas here?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 15, 2012 10:55 pm

Is anyone ever going to apologize for the state of Pennsylvania, which is wholly and materially responsible for the mess they now refuse to clean up?

Is anyone ever going to acknowledge what a complete disaster Arlene Ackerman was? That teachers were saying it from the beginning and 440 refused to listen?

Is anyone ever going to admit that the state takeover of the district has been an abject failure?

No? They haven't wrung every penny out of our children yet?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 1:28 am

How about sub-leasing space to businesses for office space? They could provide the security. And maybe there would be interest in a public service arrangement with the school where interested employees would volunteer time. Of course Philadelphia is busy making it hard for businesses to operate, and driving families out of the City, dropping the student population...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 16, 2012 9:39 am

When I brought up the point of selling/renting 440, Nunnery who at the time was Acting Superintendent got all defensive and said there were aspects of the building's ownership (the financing to buy it initially?) that made it difficult to rent it out. Something about working out the taxes being tricky I forget. Why he still employed with the district again?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 16, 2012 9:09 am

Perhaps the rent paid by the businesses could be simultaneously classified as a business expense and a charitable donation, and that is where the difficulty is?

Right -whatever the complication, I'm sure it could be worked out. The PSD is a nonprofit, so it shouldn't owe taxes for anything. It would certainly be better to keep the current schools available as schools rather than closing them and disposing of them as "surplus property". It seems to me that putting in cubicles is a lot easier than putting in playgrounds.

Submitted by lililew (not verified) on May 16, 2012 11:01 am


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