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Explosions: Looking back at the past school year

By Timothy Boyle on Jun 19, 2012 02:38 PM

My education world has exploded this school year. I feel like this is true for a lot of teachers across the nation, and especially in Philadelphia. Not that each year of teaching doesn’t bring about pain and change, but this year was something else. And I mean explosion in a lot of different ways. Some explosions were bad, some explosions were fantastic.

Ex.plo.sion - n. a violent and destructive shattering or blowing apart of something

I remember days not too long ago when teachers could look into catalogs of school supplies and furniture and say, “I would like that one, please.”

Clearly, those days are gone.

At the end of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s reign, the reality that the District had spent poorly and planned horribly hit this city like a bomb. The Knudsen/Boston Consulting Group plan could just as well have been an incendiary device.

We are clearly in the midst of great upheaval in our School District of Philadelphia, with the outlook uncertain and possibly grim. I’ve stayed up more than one night thinking about what to do and how to advocate for a school system I believe in. My wife and I have had unpleasant conversations about leaving Philadelphia, a city we both love, if certain agendas come to pass.

I take comfort in the advice and leadership from friends like Ron Whitehorne and true children’s advocates like Helen Gym. Although the outcome of “reorganization” is unknown at this juncture, I can feel good about participating in the fight to save a truly public school system.

Ex.plo.sion - n. a sudden political or social upheaval

When I was 18, it was practically unheard of for anyone to say teaching was anything short of a noble endeavor, a public good. Having parents, aunts, and grandparents in the field definitely helped form that viewpoint.

Today, there is certainly a shift away from teaching as a career, or service, or even a respectable occupation. I will never get used to, or understand, those who view my profession as a bunch of summers off, future pensioners living high on the hog.

I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want the right to collectively bargain or why anyone would describe that right as crippling our economy. What bothers me most in the current political winds is the notion that there are “free-market” principles at the ready to save public education if we only let them.

If I have learned one thing while teaching in Philadelphia, it is that those with the best ideas about education are the children, parents, teachers, and school and neighborhood community members that are on the front lines. I am hoping that winds of change shift because I know where my strong foundation is.

Ex.plo.sion - n. a rapid or sudden increase in amount or extent

I made a lot of friends, allies, and co-conspirators this year. Somehow I found the time to be involved with PhilaSoup, EduCon, CitySchoolsStories, Philadelphia Teacher Leadership Personal Learning Community (we’re working on the name), Bainbridge House, and now the Philadelphia Writing Project.

It feels really, really good to know that I have such a broad spectrum of folks I can lean on, learn from, learn with, and, most important, make sense of the crazy times we live in. I am a much wiser person, and surely a better teacher, because of educators and activists that have let me into their worlds. Whether you helped me understand how to save a school, promote innovative teachers, realize what leadership means, or just made me better at my craft, I am thankful to each and every one of you.

I’d like to thank the Notebook for playing a huge part in my successes as an educator here and always, always informing me of the not-so-fun explosions that take place. Of all the great education groups I’ve been in contact with, I am the most proud and humble to be part of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

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Comments (8)

Submitted by Pat (not verified) on June 19, 2012 4:36 pm

The focus, at this point, is on making lots of easy money for the already well to do and their political backups. A shift may occur, of course, but not until/unless, lawsuits are brought against the business model now in place. It would help if Obama acted like a President rather than a fan in the stands, not just "one of the guys." Romney will even be worse but I still think clear thinking people will beat back the lunatic fringe AKA Tea Party. In any case, America is dancing on the head of a needle right now and we all better hope the sane people prevail.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 19, 2012 5:08 pm

The worst part is that the privatization is so unsustainable. It's a charter bubble, just like the housing bubble and the bank bubble.

How can charters be sustainable when they rely heavily on staff that are young and inexperienced, and will therefore accept pay so low that most teachers would have to severely reduce their standard of living? How can they be sustainable when they count on being able to pick and choose their students? How can education reform be so explicitly not for everyone?

I hope we can weather the storm, lest there will not be any educators in Philadelphia 10 or 15 years from now.

Submitted by Bob Lendzinski (not verified) on June 19, 2012 6:58 pm

I will agree that this year has definitely been trying. I took on the role of Dean of Students and found out quickly how few resources we really had. It is a shame that the students who need the most help (ES - Emotional Support, those with truancy issues, and those with behavioral issues), have had the rug pulled from under them.

The schools themselves can expect more violent students in their schools. Instead of giving money to Charter Schools, we could be giving that money to Reform schools. REAL reform schools where the student does not leave until they are deemed worthy of a return to the general population. We are not reaching those students and that is causing a snowball effect.

Shame on those who control our interests and do not really care about these students. They care about privatizing public education.

Next year.... well, let's just say that it will take a Leap of Faith, which is my motto for next school year.

Submitted by Pat (not verified) on June 19, 2012 9:57 pm

Connect the dots. Pull resources so marginal kids get worse then move them to the new prisons. It's all by design.

Submitted by DEC'sbabe (not verified) on June 19, 2012 8:45 pm

This Philly teacher has had enough. After fighting for 15 years, for the rights of my disabled students, I am calling it quits and leaving for the burbs. The city continues to balance it's budget on the backs of the neediest students by cutting services, programs and increasing class size through loop holes in the law. The parents I've educated over the years about their children's rights have not bothered to get involved. The administrators I've allerted to possible lawsuits that could occur due to these legal misteps have told me to be silent like them. The district does not care about children. They say, children come first, but what they really mean is, until they cost too much. The teaching profession is doomed. Why would anyone in their right mind want to enter a profession where they are harrassed and demeened on a daily basis by their employer, the public and the news media? There are much more satisfying ways to make a living with a college degree, many of which have better compensation, less stress, and are more respected.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on June 20, 2012 6:09 am

This has been a very unsettling year. As a two decade veteran of the SDP, I have seen many changes in leadership, fiscal meltdowns, conflict directives from 21st St and now 440 N. Broad, etc. But, since the Ackerman administration, the constant whirlwinds are unprecedented. This is not only unsettling as a teacher but also a parent. My children and students have to navigate an ever changing system with fewer staff and more fiscal uncertainty.

When I looked at the SDP budget report ( - see "Potential impact of $94 million Revenue Reduction on School Budgets"), it is as bare bone as it can get for many schools. (The exception is the high schools like Overbrook, Germantown, Lincoln, University City, etc. who have the Department of Labor (DOL) grant - they have nearly $2 million+ more to work with which means considerable more staff and programs.)

The only solution the SRC appears to have, other than begging City Council (who all have their political agenda which often doesn't include supporting public schools), is to try to dismantle collective bargaining rights and slash teacher salaries/benefits. This unsettling atmosphere will drive out those who can leave Philadelphia. Knudson's / Boston Consulting Group's solution is not a solution for public education - it is a privatization agenda which will be, in their words, cost neutral, which means a few will benefit but it won't be Philadelphia students and families.

The so-called "free market" has not "saved" health care in the U.S. The "free market" has not preserved family sustaining jobs. The "free market" has bailed out international banks, hedge funds, car manufacturers, Savings and Loans, etc. The only thing the "free market" has benefited when public institutions "go private" are the profiteers, like the Boston Consulting Group. Privatizing public education - whether with for profits like Edison 10 years ago or so-called "non-profits" like Mastery and Universal which run like for profits - will further stratify this school district and expand the "have nots."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 20, 2012 6:27 pm

What exactly does Tom Darden do besides posture himself?

Submitted by bekim (not verified) on June 21, 2012 1:12 pm

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