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More questions for Hite at second forum on school closings

by thenotebook on Dec 18 2012 Posted in Latest news
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Superintendent William Hite

By Connie Langland

More students, teachers and community members found their voices Monday night at the District’s second of four community forums on the looming school closings. They challenged Superintendent William Hite on whether the plan makes sense, questioning whether it assures student success and safety and supports programs that are working, even flourishing.

Hite even got chided for apparently texting during the meeting by John Hopkins, an 11th grader at Robeson High School for Human Services, which would be moved to Sayre High School under the plan.

Hopkins questioned why so many closings were contemplated now when the District has had financial troubles for years, then pointedly noted: “You’re just sitting there texting instead of answering these questions.”

Hite quickly refocused his attention and took the microphone to respond. “I’m asking the same question,” said Hite, who has been at the helm for just three months. “No one chose to take these actions when many families were choosing to opt out of district schools” over the past decade.

Hopkins stood his ground. “This is bigger than closing a school down. You’re closing a family down.”

Monday’s forum, held in the Sayre High School auditorium in West Philadelphia, drew about 200 students and adults. Along with Hite, about 20 senior administrators were on hand to answer questions, standing virtually the entire time at the front of the auditorium.

Time and again, students and teachers from Robeson, University City High School, Bok Technical School and the Military Academy at Elverson echoed Hopkins’ viewpoint: Students have formed strong bonds and found academic success inside their schools and they foresee upset, even violence with relocation.

David Kipphut, deputy superintendent for career and technical education, attempted to reassure students from Bok and the other career-oriented programs.

“Students are going to be able to complete their programs in other buildings with better facilities,” he said, adding that one outcome might be “greater opportunity for more students to access those [relocated] programs.”

Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey, the District’s new safety chief, sought to quell concerns and predictions of student clashes.

“We have to learn to respect one another. The world isn’t West Philly. It isn’t University City. It isn’t Paul Robeson, or Sayre. We have to find ways to live together,” she said.

Amara Rockar is active at  Lea Elementary in West Philadelphia, which is staying open but will be affected by an influx of students from schools that are being shuttered. Rockar, a local schools activist, noted that 23 elementary schools are slated for closing across the city. “We believe elementary children deserve to be able to walk to their school,” she said.

Repeatedly, speakers expressed skepticism of and frustration with District bureaucracy. “What are we here for? You don’t listen, not for the last 10 years,” said Naeemah Felder, of the Southwest section of the city.

Hite responded that she made a good point. “Customer service is something we have to improve. We have to answer the phones. We have to return phone calls. We are working on that,” he said.

Theodore Yale, a science teacher at Elverson, took the microphone to reiterate what one of his students had said earlier -- that many students in his school would have a commute of up to two hours to reach the new combined military academies at Roosevelt Middle School in Germantown.

“There’s one facility that you can’t build and that’s location,” said Yale. Elverson now is in a convenient locale near Temple University and the Broad Street line, he noted.

Among others, Anissa Weinraub, English and drama teacher at the alternative school El Centro, swept her arm wide and spoke directly to Hite.

“We learn as teachers that actions speak louder than words. Look around this room. People are hurt, discouraged, disappointed,” Weinraub said. If “you don’t want people yelling at you,” she told Hite, “show moral leadership. Get all of us on your side. What commitments do you have to all of us in this room?”

Hite agreed that rallying students, parents and teachers to his side was his goal as well, but the deficit crisis looms. Said Hite: “We are completely out of time." 

 

 

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Comments (28)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 00:51.

Nobody likes to give up their free stuff. I wonder how much some of these people pay in property taxes. The scary part is that these steps only close $28 million of the $200 Million deficit. More changes are on the way.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 01:27.

Uh-oh, sounds like you're hearing from an angry taxpayer. i know there's a lot of them, but we don't see many around here. you're more likely to see a fish walking down the street in fishtown. more changes should be on te way. how can you close so many schools, but lay off more staff? i thought knudsen was a restructuring whiz? let's stop rolling around in the backseat and consummate this relationship.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 08:18.

Why is Ed Williams still running around collecting tax payer money?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 10:56.

Perhaps because he brings some institutional knowledge back to the district. Knowledge that Ackerman tried to eradicate. Oh and, just maybe because he was the chief architect of the only successful plan that had a long term, positive impact on student learning and achievment in the past fifteen years... the Restructured Schools Region?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 08:42.

Customer service? What are we, Sears?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 08:49.

These closures will be very disruptive for some but I doubt they'll really hurt education in this city except for in a few cases where quiet, successful little schools are being thrown into horrible, large, chaotic schools. The funny part is that no one really thinks this will help.

How about this for a solution SDP. Fire the 5% of teachers who make everyone's lives more difficult and SUPPORT the 95% who are doing a decent job.

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 11:43.

How come nobody is questioning the cost of converting these Middle and High schools into Elementary schools? They might be saving by closing buildings but what is the cost of the new facilities that will be required for the now much smaller children, who will now be attending these buildings built for older and much larger students. Toilets, sinks, hand towel & soap dispensers, water fountains, handrails will all have to be lowered or replaced with smaller facilities to accommodate the little people coming. Classrooms that were set up for students with lockers will now have to have coat closets installed for young students. How about furniture are they going to pay someone to move the old stuff or purchase new? There are a lot of question we as parents should be asking Dr. Hite and we deserve answers! (Not AVOIDIANCE by replying, we’re working on that now.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 10:52.

Seriously? What on earth makes you think they are going to make any physical plant changes when they re-purpose these schools? They never have before.

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 11:00.

Yes, you are correct I forgot they care not for the children!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 13:31.

Wake up Philadelphia this is not about education it is a business and political strategy of social engineering. Public properties sold cheap to the private sector.
This is not an educational plan it is a real estate strategy that was implemented in cities like Chicago. Cynthia Dorsey, the new safety chief and Dr. Hite are aware of the blood bath that took place in Chicago when students were transfered to other schools. Those who implement the plan like Duncan got promoted to head the US Dept of Education and spread this strategy across the country.

Twenty youngster died in a violent attack in Connecticut This volent incident shook the nation but hundreds of students died violently in Chicago as a result of a plan to turn public buildings and dollars over to the private sector for next to nothing. No news coverage. No presidential visit. No proposal for gun control laws. No investigations into what cause this violence. And, no accountability for those who designed a plan that would transfer students from low achieving schools to even lower achieving schools.

What used to be public schools will become condos and homes for the wealthy. Those properties will be worth far more than 28 million dollars. The district claims to be implmenting this plan to save 28 million but what is the price of a child? Students without support systems will have to travel long distances. Absences will increase. School like University City High and Alexander Wilson at 46th and Woodland are sitting on valuable real estate in gentrified areas of the city. This is not about education it is a business and political strategy implemented by Mayor Nutter and other edubusiness leaders across the country and the city of Philadelphia. This is a strategy to change the urban populations by displacing poor people.

The average class size in Pennsylvania is 14 students. A substantial amount of research such as the Tennessee Star Study demonstrated that students in K-3rd grades made substantial and long term achievement gains in classess of 17 students or less. The decrease in student populations gives the district an opportunity to eliminate the academic achievment gap by decreasing class size and greatly enhancing student achievement. :Ultimately, the city would produce higher achieving students who could eventually move into the middle class.

Students in poor neighborhoods are being treated as disposable students who are being transfered into schools where they will not do better but worse academically. Study what happened in Chicago because the record is clear. Mayor Nutter knows exactly what he is doing. He is preparing for his next job. If he thinks combining University City and West Philadelphia High is a good idea, let him put his daughter in this school. The district is experiencing a hugh deficit because Philadelphia is not paying its fair share to educate its children (The Costing Out Study). We do not value our children in Philadelphia. We do not believe they deserve the kind of education students in communities in PA with 14 students in a class experience.

When we value our children and give the approprate resources the city will change into a world class city. Until then, we will continue to treat children as disposable.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 13:49.

This is beautifully, concisely stated.
This should be an oped piece.
I have followed the local and national ed reform news daily for the past year and I could not agree with you more.
Thank you.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 16:25.

They're poor, they're black and many are academically delayed, they are disposable or as they say in military circles, collateral damage. Hey, the rich need more money and where's there an easier place to get it then from the inner city poor. What else is new?? After all, it's all about "the children."

Submitted by garth (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 16:57.

What's really crazy about "closing" all these public schools is that most of them will re-open soon as charters. I've been a public school parent since 1997, and I still have an 8th grader, so I know all to well how these people operate. The closed schools will get sold at discount prices to politically connected charter operators, and the SRC will readily approve the building sales. They'll be some advertisements about how a "new" school specializing in math & science is opening in the old public high school. Then the SRC will announce how much money is being saved by having some new charters all over Philadelphia. I don't get the cost savings of it at all, but most of those buildings won't be empty for very long. The trend should be obvious, each year close some public schools that aren't crowded or meeting NCLB standards, then the next year re-open most of them as charters. Eventually all that will be left is a few really high-performing public schools and a loads of stinky charters.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 17:06.

The District put a new boiler in Pepper Middle School last spring. Now they have announced they want to close it. Watch what happens to the building that housed Pepper Middle School!

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 19:39.

A roof here, a new boiler there- Let's start compiling a list of schools and their recent big-ticket renovations.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 14:59.

$1.5 million invested in the soon to be shuttered only public school in Mantua, McMichael. Let's see who buys it and how much they pay.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 21:08.

There is a rumor that Mastery Charter will have a list of 200 jobs available on their website this Thursday for the 2013-2014 school year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 21:57.

Any way to find out if they hire people over the age of 35? Their age-biased hiring practices are legendary!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/18/2012 - 23:05.

Probably due to turnover.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 12/20/2012 - 03:10.

Mastery always has job openings on their website.

Submitted by Darryl Johns (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 00:03.

The overriding impression I had of the event was the lack of focused and passionate leadership. From the first, Dr. Hite entered alone, spoke with few of his subordinates and stood physically apart from his team. They needed to show unity but there was an evident separateness.

In general, I found the answers from the staff of the District to be tepid and lacking in conviction. The consolidation plan represents a tough but necessary action by the District. We will save around $ 28 million per year in operating expenses by closing the designated schools. But there will be pain and any Administration would recognize that.

The District staff at this forum was tasked with giving the public assurance that this action was absolutely necessary and that they were acting to minimize the pain of those affected. They need to demonstrate both confidence and competence. In this they failed.

In contrast, the most forcefully delivered and most articulate comments of the evening came from Rep. Louise Williams-Bishop, who moved most the crowd with her impassioned support for eliminating the SRC and restoring our locally elected School Board.

##

Instead of the event coordinator, Mrs. Sample-Oats, wasting time by calling each member of her team to the front of the room and telling us their names and titles it would have been better if they were called as a group and then introduced themselves the first time they answered a question. Her technique wasted considerable time.

##

Hanging above the stage was a large screen displaying an Apple application of a digital stopwatch. The event coordinator used it to countdown from 2 minutes (the supposed length of time given for each question/comment). Unfortunately, the event coordinator did not adhere to this timeframe though she did on occasion try to keep questions flowing.

Instead of the displaying the time remaining on the screen, why not display the web address where the audience could find the most current version of the Facilities Management Plan as well as all Questions with Answers from these public forums.

The hosts should have also stressed that all questions submitted via index cards would be answered and those answers would appear on this web site.

##

Dr. Hite was chastised by a questioner for texting while the Q&A session was in progress. His mistake was bush-league. As the de facto leader of the event if you are not giving the event your full attention then at least respect your audience enough to fake it.

The area where the District showed the most weakness was when the conversation turned to money, with Dr. Hite repeatedly used the term ‘monies’ as if the other plural were not sufficient. He also seemed averse to using the word ‘Charter’ and kept referring to parents electing ‘options’. None of the staff seemed comfortable explaining in laymen’s terms the monetary ramifications of these changes.

##

Students were given priority to ask their questions first in the Q&A. While this might seem cute, this meeting was not a student council session and the students dominated the conversation. It would have been better to have the students given no special priority but merely treat them as equals to other members of the audience as was done during the first public forum.

##

Dr. Hite indicated that their plan assumed that the teachers would follow the students. Their plan assumes that they would lose 37 teachers in the transition, or 1 per school closed. This number is suspect. In published reports some 16,000 students are expected to be affected. Divide that number by 32 (the maximum class size) and this number of students represents at least 500 teachers. Expecting only a 3 % rate of attrition is unrealistic.

##

Sadly, the philosophical roots for charter schools and school choice in general, assumed that having the District competing for students would make them work harder to improve. The Public Schools would be expected to compete. And yet this team doesn’t seem to recognize that they are COMPETING for students and that Charters are the enemy …not some alternate ‘option’.

Submitted by Che Che Bradbury (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 00:28.

Thank you, Darryl, for your point by point analysis. I was not able to attend this forum and appreciate the way you broke down what took place. You should consider sending your perspective to the media. Thanks, again!

Submitted by tom-104 on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 01:50.

This is a good summary of Monday nights meeting Mr. Johns. I attended Monday night and watched Saturday morning and Tuesday nights meetings on streaming. (By the way, the 10 second commercial interruptions are pathetic! I timed them Tuesday night and they are not at timed intervals, they cut in randomly. It is highly suspicious that they cut in when someone is making a good point.)

Dr. Hite's whole shtick is that parents are choosing with their feet by putting their children in charters. Yet at all three meetings parents and students have been vocal about their support of their schools. NOT ONE person has spoken in support of the closing of these schools.

Dr. Hite has on numerous occasions claimed he would go to Harrisburg to fight for more funding. At these community meetings he has not once mentioned that a major part of the budget crisis has been brought on by Corbett cutting state funding for education by $1 billion with Philadelphia being one of the highest cuts at $300 million.

Tuesday night he blamed his predecessors for the fiscal mess. He tried to give the impression that he was surprised at the deficit. He knew what he was walking into three months ago when he took the job! He signed on to continue the privatization plan various SRC's have been promoting starting ten years ago when they tried to turn the school district over to Edison. When this failed, they began following the ALEC agenda especially under Vallas and Ackerman, of starving public schools to make charters more attractive to parents.

Many of the parents are concerned about transportation and long walking distances for their children to another school. You can bet that in the spring the SRC will suddenly discover money for more charters because parents are upset about this. Do not be surprised if charters are put in the schools being closed. And why did they put a new boiler in Pepper Middle School last spring and now announce it is closing?

Finally, to the new Finance Director. When you were asked about what will happen to the abandoned buildings, and a parent listed all of the schools that have closed and how the buildings sit vacant and are inhabited by people who are homeless, you stated, "We have shown we are not good at selling buildings so we are getting outside contractors to sell the building." Who are these contractors? What are their connections? Will this be yet another looting of the school district to make a few connected people wealthy?

And also to the new Finance Director, what is this "we"? You have been in your position for one month. When you spin things like this to make it appear you have been involved with the District for years, it makes people very suspicious that you have come here with an agenda. You are not being honest with the people when you use spin like this. Do you plan to be here a year or two to carry out this wrecking operation and then move on leaving a segregated and decimated School District behind?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 08:21.

Great recap. I think your observation about "the lack of focused and passionate leadership" is dead on. That's why this dude was hired. He is weak and a puppet. Even Ackerman (a bully who I do not miss one iota) had charisma and could command a room.
I cannot figure out, for the life of me, who is pulling the strings here. It is certainly not the public - they're too complacent. I hope that parents and others vested in the children get it together this time. That is my Christmas wish.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 03:58.

If parents aren't "voting with their feet" when they take students out of neighborhood schools, what are they doing? Are they all being tricked? Are the not making an honest assessment of what's best for their child?

I hear people call "voting with their feet" a "schtick" or a fallacy. But then what explains it? If it's all such a scam, are all these parents just getting fooled?

I would argue they aren't. They are making a choice for their students based on one thing--the quality of education. Not "community." Not "democracy." Not the politics. Not whose "agenda" the various types of school fit into. Not what process occurred before the decision. Most parents have one factor when deciding where their children should attend school, and all these peripheral issues don't matter to them. Are the charters they go to much better than neighborhood schools? That depends. But they KNOW that the neighborhood school isn't getting the job done, so they look elsewhere for options, based on the one factor that actually matters: the education offered in the school.

Most of these parents don't show up to a forum on school closings because their children are already gone. They have no reason to protest the school closing. Many of the neighborhood schools educate less than half the students in their catchment areas.

Honestly, the response of the students that were interviewed in the Notebook piece about Strawberry Mansion could be taken to support this. Of the five students interviewed, only one defended the school. One said moving schools would be "inconvenient.' The other three were either indifferent or already planned to transfer out, before the closing was announced.

There's really only one way to stop the schools from losing all the students, and that's to offer an educational environment that's close to what's happening in the good charter schools (not all charters, but the good ones). The test scores might never be quite as good, etc., but right now the gap between the educational quality in the good charter schools and the typical neighborhood school is startling. And most people who've actually taken the time to honestly tour a Mastery or KIPP type of school have a hard time leaving and arguing that its a scam. They might argue about peripheral issues or quibble about how deep some of the learning is, but when compared to what is happening in the vast majority of neighborhood schools, it's like night and day. And the parents who are taking their kids out of the neighborhood schools in search of that would agree.

I actually don't really like charter schools. I think that the optimal situation is for a strong network of neighborhood schools. Parents shouldn't have to think about "options," because all of the options should be adequate. But right now in Philly, there are a lot of very (almost immorally) ineffective schools. This group includes a lot of neighborhood schools. It also includes some awful charter schools.

I feel bad for the teachers and students who will be displaced. But most of the arguments against school closings on this list are more about emotion/passion than reasoned arguments that would change anything. There is always going to be something good or some reason against closing a school.

And the points about overall funding are valid in a broad picture, but there's nothing Hite can do about that now.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/19/2012 - 05:04.

I'm a parent of children in a charter school and school district high school. We ended up in a charter in 2004 after two years with my older child in a neighborhood school. We live in a working class neighborhood. The local elementary school did not have an after school program and I work during the day. I looked into other district schools and went through the application process. None of my children "made it" into another school with an after school program. (I was later told there transfer process is a joke - you have to know the principal or someone who will get your children into the "better" neighborhood schools.) I also applied for 8 charters - none of my children made the lottery but one had a "high" number on the wait list. We found out in the summer that the one was now in the charter school. The others were added with sibling preference. So, since I did not have connections in the school district but got lucky with a lottery, my children went (and two still go) to a K-8 charter school that, at the time, had an after school program. (The program wasn't free - I paid for it - but at least there was the option.)

The charter school, until this year, was not obsessed with the PSSA. Yes, there was test prep but it didn't dictate the curriculum like it does at far too many schools (e.g. KIPP, Mastery, etc.) There was a lot of room for parental involvement beyond fundraising. That, along with the new focus on test scores, has changed because of the composition of the Board of Trustees of the charter. The Board includes more people from the business community (versus educators and parents). There is an influx of Teach for America leadership which also brings a business model / test prep focus. A charter school which provided a viable alternative in the age of NCLB is becoming another "data driven/test prep" environment.

To date, my children are in School District high schools. I admit this is because there are some schools with a mission that isn't focused on test scores. They aren't at Central or Masterman - my children's test scores aren't that high - but at high schools with a mission / focus that gets them to think. Some of the teachers are inept and/or ineffective - I found the same at the charter - and some teachers are reflective practitioners who work with ALL students.

While I agree the School District has to close some schools, the District also has to close a number of charter schools. The School District also has to find ways to address the fact that many neighborhood high schools (except in the Northeast) have a disproportionate number of students with an IEP and/or behavioral issues. Charters won't take or keep these students. Magnets won't even consider these students. Neighborhood high schools take all students. Parents with children who don't have to accept the "school of last resort" are speaking with their feet. What about the students that the charters and magnets won't accept? Look at the percentage of students with an IEP at the high schools scheduled for closure - 20 - 33%. Add to that list students who have been removed from other schools (including charters). Neighborhood high schools - other than in the Northeast - are becoming "remedial / discipline" schools for many students.

I agree ideally we should have a network of quality neighborhood public schools in each neighborhood. At this point, from the governor to the mayor to City Council to the SRC, there is no political will to support neighborhood public schools. I don't know how to change the powers that be since none of them live with the day to day reality of what is happening in neighborhood - especially high - schools. Rather than supporting public schools, the mayor, City Council and SRC have become cheerleaders for privatization.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 12/20/2012 - 03:25.

Anonymous,
You make some important points. Here's one of the most important ones you make:

--
While I agree the School District has to close some schools, the District also has to close a number of charter schools. The School District also has to find ways to address the fact that many neighborhood high schools (except in the Northeast) have a disproportionate number of students with an IEP and/or behavioral issues. Charters won't take or keep these students. Magnets won't even consider these students. Neighborhood high schools take all students. Parents with children who don't have to accept the "school of last resort" are speaking with their feet. What about the students that the charters and magnets won't accept?
--

At an SRC meeting last spring, Pedro Ramos acknowledged that charters as a sector need to pick up more slack when it comes to educating special education students. I would also like to know how many charters educate students with high-needs disabilities - multiple disabilities, students who have intellectual disability and need a life skills program, emotional/behavioral disorders, and autism support. Many charters probably have systems in place for students with mild learning disabilities mild autism or Asperger's. What about students with less common, more expensive disabilities? The neighborhood high schools serve the higher need special ed students, but do any of the charter high schools serve these students?

EGS

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