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The District needs to hit the redesign button

By Samuel Reed III on Feb 13, 2013 01:49 PM

A version of this testimony was given at the Feb. 12 City Council hearings on school closings.


My name is Samuel Reed III, and I am a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Teacher Action Group, two organizations that are working with PCAPS, a coalition of parents, students, teachers, and community members calling for a one-year moratorium on school closings.

I would like to thank City Council for adopting a non-binding resolution calling for a moratorium on closing 37 schools in September. I would like to echo the sentiments of Councilman Curtis Jones, who notes that people shouldn't make whole decisions on half-information.

I want to counter the current notion that frames the one-year moratorium as hitting the pause button. Instead of hitting the pause button, City Council should use its influence to persuade the District to hit the redesign button.

I have attended some of the Facilities Master Plan community meetings across the city and in the community where I both teach and live. I have even watched a few meetings online via live stream -- I think I need to get a life.

Unfortunately, the public at large is not convinced that the District has engaged in a responsive design process that explores, envisions, and enacts educational principles that balance Superintendent Hite's vision to prepare our students for the world beyond our school doors, and ensures the District's fiscal survivability.

To Dr. Hite's credit, he has publicly noted that the proposed plan to close 37 schools and relocate or reconfigure others is not inflexible. The moratorium on closing schools makes sense because it will allow the District time to defer judgment and consider the community's input.

Any meaningful design process starts with empathy.

Design principles extend beyond empty seats, building utilization or reconfigurations. Winston Churchill said it well: "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." We need school buildings that shape the social, emotional, academic, cultural, and economic fabric of our communities. 

If the District imposes its will and closes schools without applying design principles that include the input and alternative proposals from the affected communities, the District's plans will not succeed in meeting the needs of the communities it serves.

The Wynnefield and Overbrook Community Education Proposal represents part of an inclusive community design process. Parents, students, teachers, and community members came together, explored, and envisioned a plan that seeks not just to pause the school-closure plans, but enact and leverage partnerships to expand pre-K and kindergarten offerings at Gompers and Overbrook Elementary and re-imagines Beeber Middle School as a community school, a vital academic, health, and cultural hub.

As a teacher, I have designed and implemented many engaging lessons and learning experiences for my students. Because I believe that my students should have same engaging learning experience as students in more affluent schools and communities, I never let money or the lack of resources get in my way. I write and obtain grants and forge partnerships to ensure my students produce original musicals, plays, dance productions, video documentaries, and a host of other creative projects.

The Wynnefield and Overbrook proposal pushes the redesign button. Instead of allowing constraints to limit the learning possibilities for our students, our community's plan leverages community resources and partnerships to transform and reinvent our neighborhood schools. 

I fully understand the District's financial constraints. But the District has failed to persuade the public that closing 37 schools will save any significant money. The projected $28 million in savings from closing schools does not account for the transition costs and other hidden expenses associated with restructuring the District.

The devil is in the details. What are the costs of plans to retrofit middle schools that are being converted to K-8? What about the additional transportation and safety factors? And how about the plans required to shift school cultures to accommodate new students and their families? The Districts says we can't afford not to act. I say the moratorium will allow us to act in the best interest of our students and families.

Accordingly, the District needs to strongly consider a moratorium on its school-closure plan -- not to pause the train, but to put the train on the right track.

Pressing the redesign button will provide the time to put the District on right track, to explore, envision and enact a Facilities Master Plan that is empathic to the needs of the community and equitably serves the students I teach.

 

Samuel Reed III, a teacher consultant with the Philadelphia Writing Project, is an active member of the Teacher Action Group (TAG Philly) and has been teaching middle school literacy for 15 years.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Comments (18)

Submitted by Mardys Leeper (not verified) on February 13, 2013 4:00 pm
Great piece, Sam. Add to the hidden costs the impact on the neighborhood of an "abandoned" building, sitting there empty for years. Empty school buildings are now creating urban blight throughout Philadelphia. Can the city tolerate 37 more?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 13, 2013 5:06 pm
Sam, when I read about all of this turmoil and listen to the speeches of so many people who have their personal agendas and have never stepped foot in a classroom to actually teach, I am so appreciative of you and your colleagues. You provide Great service to your students and to the school community of your school and that of Philadelphia at large. I always enjoy your writings and respect what you say and your professional integrity in the way you say it. It is wonderful to see. One of my favorite books on effective leadership is "Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness" (1977) by Robert Greenleaf. When I read your ideas and see your leadership, I think of that book. Thanks! .
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 13, 2013 7:28 pm
Rich---I work in the same building as Sam and he is always so enthusiastic, positive and balanced, unlike me who is much more apt to get the pitchforks and torches and be done with it.
Submitted by Samuel Reed III on February 13, 2013 8:16 pm

Rich & Joe,

Thank you for your kind words. I needed some kind words after attending the Community Meeting at Overbrook tonight...

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 13, 2013 9:40 pm
Joe, that is because effective leaders "model the way." You model the way in your own way, too. You have the courage to speak your mind which is usually right on the mark. I was surprised that you left Mark Gleason off so gently about his self serving speech before City Council. He has that mantra of privatization down really well, doesn't he? And Sam, my favorite, favorite book on effective leadership is "Encouraging the Heart" by Kouzes and Posner. Keep Your Heart Sam. You are doing Good Work. You're doing good work.
Submitted by TS (not verified) on February 13, 2013 11:41 pm
Nice job on both the Commentary and your presentation at the meeting tonight, Sam. It's clear that you and your coworkers care deeply about your students. Your 'redesign' idea certainly has merit. Hopefully the District and the SRC will be receptive. Keep the faith!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 14, 2013 1:11 am
How is there not a single school that everyone can agree should be closed now? This one year moratorium is a sham- the status quo interests just want a year to get a better fight organized. They will never support any plan no matter how reasonable. 25% utilization means more jobs! That is what council is fighting for, not the kids.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 14, 2013 4:58 am
i think we can all agree that strawberry mansion, vaux, university city, lamberton, germantown, and carroll are horible and need to close. I think that most of the elementary schools on the list are also in that category. what isn't being said is why hyte changed his tune about academic performance being the driver in these decisions. if that were the case, he'd have to close many, many more. mr. reed is a great spokesman for the union, but he's far from the prototypical district teacher. i strongly disagree with his assertion that the public is not convinced. i suggest that if he'd widen his circle of friends beyond pft members and their shills, he'd find plenty of appetite for right sizing the district. if the src would lift their defacto ban on new charters, new and better schools could be created in those neighborhoods. maybe mr. reed might consider starting one. that is if he's not opposed to real accountability.
Submitted by Jack (not verified) on February 14, 2013 6:53 am
If you would get passed your Fox News mentality, no one is saying schools should not be closed. What is being said is there needs to be a process in place to figure out schools that should close. What has happened is just like when the Archdiocese announced the massive closures two years ago. There was no plan, no process and no taking inot account the population of the closing schools and how those kids were going to get to the new school.. Sound familiar? As for the schools you name, with all of the budget cuts that have resulted in losses of school police, nurses, counselors and school psychologists, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that schools have been set up to fail. With no support system for the students and the community, the classroom teacher becomes the first and only accountable person for the duties of all of these missing people. Teachers now have to deal with emotional and psychological issues of students in their classrooms with the propoer support. I guarantee you if you go into any suburban school district, there are ample numbers of counselors, school psychologists and nurses in each school. That being said, teachers can use all of the help and support they can get so rather than sit on this blog and post rant after rant, step up and help out at your neighborhood school and make a difference.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 9:13 am
Jack, the crippling budget cuts are because of the "top down" massive inefficiency in spending of the PSD, not a deliberate conspiracy. Read this article: http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_2_public-education-spending.html . It would look that vouchers to private schools have in fact saved school districts/taxpayers money (who would have thought). The writer is not part of any conspiracy, and uses (wow) sound math to make his point. The current proposed closures do need to be carefully considered; however it is the crippling budget cuts that are necessitating them. Let me restate: $28 million saved that can go to debt service = $28 million that does not have to be deducted from school budgets to go to debt service. Another year = more borrowing + more inefficient spending (which also equals more per child compensation to charters) = more debt service = likely a worse scenario than having the SRC be the overseer (maybe we'll even be "sold" to Mr. Gureghian, then we'll all be sorry).
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 9:43 am
Actually I need clarify my opinions of that article. The author does present a compelling case, but I do not agree completely with him about "school based administration". And (so sorry) the Manhattan Institute might qualify in the opinions of many as a "conspirator". Nevertheless, I believe he has valid points to take note of.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 9:39 am
Oh right, I forgot to add that I gave a good two years of what should have been my family time to my neighborhood school (yes, my choice). I learned quite a bit from what turned out to be a very regrettable experience.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 14, 2013 7:09 am
so, mr..current channel, for your defense of those schools, you want us to believe that these school are of recent decline. most have been bad for at least 25 years. thanks for encouraging me to step up. let me give you some advise. It's from the movie state property. you should "get down or lay down." in other words, if you say your intent is to help children and you're in a school where that's not happening, step up and change it or move out of the way and let someone else have a crack. the worse thing that can happen is another failure and we have that now. the upside is much greater. I don't work for the district, but i'd advise its leadership to make everyone with more than five years of experience have to defend their worth. the posters on this site have convinced me that district teaching experience is way over-rated.
Submitted by Jack (not verified) on February 14, 2013 9:46 am
Wow; where do I begin. First, try teaching in an urban inner city school with kids in yoru class that are homeless, from broken homes, that have a parent or parents (or no parents at all) who may have addiction issues..and that is just the top of the list. It's not the school, it's the community, it's the environment. When a teacher has to assume the role of counselor, psychologist, nurse and policeman, we have bigger issues to deal with than closing schools. When a tacher brings clothes and supplies in to give to kids who are homeless and food for kids whose parents send them to school with a bag of Cheetos and a Coke for lunch, we have bigger issues to deal with that if worked on would resolve the shortfalls in education we see now. So please, don't tell me about teaching experience being over-rated. Teachers who are teaching in these "low- achieving " schools are there because they want to be and they want to help kids. If they didn't, they could easily transfer. Second, the PSD has been under state oversight for a number of years during which every single school superintendent has drained the district of more and more resources. The PSD has been on a slippery slope downhill for many years thanks to the state, both from Democratic and Republican governors. The PSD is unable to deal with issues, unable to adequately allocate funding and now those inept decisions make everyone else deal with the consequences while SRC people come and go. Like making the janitors and cleaning people take pay cuts...the lowest paid people in the district while giving raises to administrative people who do not contribute anything to classroom progress and buyouts to superintendents. I guess that's ok to you but not to me. Third, in case you haven't heard this on Fox News, there have been change movements growning over the past few years..growing out of frustration with the SRC and past superintendents. Its is a shame though that it took school closing to really pull everyone together, It should have happened sooner. We can agree to disagree and that's fine. But do not diminish what a teacher in an inner city school working with kids who are below the poverty line have to deal with everyday. Urban education is not easy and there are no easy answers.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 11:18 am
Jack, just out of curiosity, where is your school's Title I money being spent? When I was volunteering, every school in the PSD got a minimum over 100k no matter how small the enrollment (ours about 200 then), with more for a larger enrollment. What is in your School Improvement Plan regarding these funds? To give some idea of scale, we would have been able to bring a multi-grade literacy playwriting partnership with Philadelphia Theatre Company for about 5k, with teacher training included to make this sustainable for future classes. The issue of food - no "free or reduced lunch" there?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 8:59 am
Mr. Reed, yes we do want the PSD to make the best decisions possible; however this should not take an entire year. Fallout that includes urban blight is really the responsibility of the City and not the District. If PSP is really interested in preserving the program-building combinations as much as possible, then they might have proposed sharing teachers and administrators, something that conceivably might have happened had we tried to make a go of "achievement networks" (sans nonprofit management). Also, if the PSP is really serious about the community schools, we would have Cincinnati's blueprint before us or posted on the District's website (alternate proposals). Seeing as none of this has happened, the conclusion is that PSP really only wants to protect teacher and adminsitrator jobs. Check out this article: http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_2_public-education-spending.html (written by an educator). Our teachers (and they are all teachers) vilify charters (using the scapegoat of privatization), yet charters are an agent of change. Remember also that by using a year's time we are spending $22 million for the $300 million borrowed in interest, and will likely have to borrow another $300 million with added interest. Is the PSP willing to take responsibility for this? It was not corporate drive for profit alone that pushed us into recession with the housing bubble; it was also a lot of "fuzzy math" entitlement driven thinking by the populace, thinking that likewise lacked sensitivity for where money might be coming from...
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 14, 2013 9:53 am
So sorry, meant "PCAPS" but wrote "PSP" -forgive me.
Submitted by ionica (not verified) on July 22, 2014 10:13 am

I am sure that if the officials really have good intentions, after one year of monitoring this problem they will find alternative solution to save at least some of these schools. There is no reason why 37 schools should ever close. That number is huge! unelte profesionale

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