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SRC votes to close M.H. Stanton, create cyber school

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Apr 19, 2013 09:19 AM

On the heels of presenting a “doomsday” budget that would reduce schools to the bare essentials, the School Reform Commission voted Thursday night to close North Philadelphia’s M.H. Stanton Elementary School, triggering an explosion of tears and rage from its supporters.

The SRC also voted to establish its own cyber charter school and renew contracts with providers of accelerated and discipline schools. It also added a new provider.

After the 3-1 closure vote, Stanton’s defenders were devastated.

 “I’m hurt. I’m hurt really bad,” said Tracey Lester, a Stanton grandparent and vocal supporter.

Lester is one of a number of Stanton supporters who believe that the school was unfairly closed because of its lack of political clout. A proposal to close Stanton and save another school, Tanner Duckrey, was written by a former District official, Quibila Divine, who is also the sister of Commissioner Sylvia Simms.

As it turns out, Simms was the only commissioner to vote to keep Stanton open, but she did not comment about her vote afterward.

Earlier this week, Lester told the Notebook that she planned to testify about her concerns to the SRC, but in the end she chose not to, having been told by District officials that they prohibit the use of testimony to level accusations at third parties.

When the vote was complete and the school’s fate sealed, Lester stood in the hallway with tears welling in her eyes and said she’d put her concerns in writing but dared not speak them out loud after considering the District’s requirements.

“I was told I wasn’t allowed to mention names,” she said, her voice rising as dejected and angry Stanton supporters filed past. “I was hoping for the truth!” she shouted. “We want an internal investigation!”

District officials have defended the Stanton decision, saying it was based on Duckrey’s slightly better academic record and superior building conditions, including a new air conditioning system and an outdoor campus. Stanton needs millions in repairs, they said.

Divine has likewise defended her proposal, saying it was developed with student performance data as a guide. But she acknowledged that the informal stakeholder group that helped shape it, the North Philadelphia Collaboration, made no effort to involve Stanton supporters in the process.

The way events unfolded triggered community frustration and bitterness among those long associated with M.H. Stanton.  

Duckrey was one of 37 schools on Superintendent William Hite’s original closure list. But it was one of 10 schools removed when the District revised its first plan in the face of political and community outcry. The revised plan reconfigured how the closings would impact North Philadelphia.

In cutting the 10 schools, Hite added Stanton and Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia, leaving a total of 29 schools recommended for closure. Last month, the SRC voted to close 23 of those.  And earlier this week, Hite withdrew his recommendation for Beeber, leaving Stanton seeing itself as an unlucky last-minute victim of the District’s largest mass school closings ever.

Lester’s testimony had planned to question Divine’s “personal agenda,” but District Counsel Michael Davis said that the District discourages testimony that “rais[es] questions about other individuals in a forum in which [they] may not have an opportunity to respond.”

Stanton, once lauded as a national example of how high-poverty schools could also produce high student outcomes, was also the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary in the 1990s. It attributes its recent academic struggles to the District’s decision to pull back extra supports it had received from the now defunct Office of Restructured Schools.

Other highlights of the meeting:

District cyber school will open 
The SRC approved $15 million over two years for a new cyber school called the Philadelphia Virtual Academy, which they hope will draw students back to the District from costly cyber charters. “This is not just a contract where we’re spending money,” said Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn. “We’re spending money to recover money.”  The new cyber school will be run by the Chester County Intermediate Unit. Officials have said that reclaiming just 86 of the nearly 6000 Philadelphia that now attend state-approved cyber schools will allow it to “break even.” Each cyber student costs the District an average of $9,000.

New alternative high school
The SRC approved a grant of $875,000 for a 100-student accelerated high school with a focus on arts and media, run by YESPhilly. “We appreciate that this is a very difficult time for public education,” said staffer Kyana Hopkins. “Still, you are choosing to maintain a critical safety net for students who need a chance to finish high school.”  Founded in 1999, YESPhilly has worked with such partners as the District, Mastery Charters, and the Philadelphia Youth Network, and focused mainly on teacher development programs, GED and literacy programs, and advocacy for out-of-school youth. The new school will open in September.  Altogether, it approved $21 million for alternative school providers.

Charter school union push
A number of teachers from ASPIRA Olney Charter High School asked the SRC to support their attempts to unionize in the face of what they described as deliberate tactics from school administrators to squash their effort. “Teachers' suggestions are often ignored, and we do not have due process in place,” said teacher Larry Arata. “They’ve refused to engage us in any dialogue, and further, they’ve engaged in repeated activities clearly designed to deter us from exercising our legal rights.”

Teachers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which Arata said is now investigating. “We ask that you communicate to ASPIRA … that scare tactics, intimidation, and retaliatory tactics are not acceptable practices and will not be tolerated by the SRC.” ASPIRA officials did not testify to respond to the teachers’ assertions.

Charter school parents seek new board
Supporters of the embattled Laboratory Charter School sought the SRC’s help in establishing a new governing board. The school’s charter renewal has been in limbo since founder Dorothy June Brown and two colleagues were charged in a scheme to defraud the school of millions of dollars, and parents are embroiled in a battle to stop the existing board from spending school funds defending the accused administrators.

“In Lab Charter, parts of our experiment have gone very well,” said parent Richard Weiss. “But since July, when parents discovered we’d have to fight to keep our school, we’ve had nothing but unanswered questions. Here’s one: How could the SRC or [the charter school office] not replace our current board of trustees in the face of such compelling evidence that they mismanaged funds? How could our board make nothing but cosmetic changes … and expect to retain our charter?” Weiss and others believe there are enough parents to create a new board. “We want our school back. We deserve it. We will retain the part that works,” said Weiss.

Head Start blues
Supporters of a half-dozen Head Start programs asked the SRC to reconsider its plans to outsource more than 2,000 Head Start slots to less expensive private providers. One was Linda Lackey, a 16-year veteran of Frankford Head Start. “A world-class city like Philadelphia cannot afford to lose Head Start – certainly not to be auctioned off to companies and contractors who put money and profits before education,” she said. Another perspective was offered by Mary Graham of the Children’s Village, who criticized “misinformation” about private providers like hers. “Community-based partners are not fly-by-night agencies who want to make money off of children,” she said. “We’re often safer than school-based programs … I’m here to remind everyone that we’re in this crisis together.”

Charter school reforms
Education advocates asked the SRC to rethink its charter school policies and beef up its oversight. Donna Cooper, head of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, criticized the District for failing to provide details of charter school expansion requests. “The School District informed PCCY and others that it would not release the number of new charter seats requested … this lack of transparency raises more questions than it answers,” said Cooper, adding that while PCCY supports quality charters, many that want to expand are performing below District averages. “The District is not in a position to give the charters a blank check,” she said. “We believe that charter expansion should occur only when the District can afford to expand seats in its own high-quality schools as well.”

Meanwhile, David Lapp of the Education Law Center called on the District to expand its charter school office, noting that while charters still generate numerous complaints for “counseling out” challenging students – telling them that “this school’s not a good fit for you” or “we can’t provide the services that you need” -- the prevalence of such practices has not been assessed in detail.  “We’ve successfully represented dozens of families, many of them referred to us by the District’s own charter school office,” said Lapp. “But it’s not enough to ask a few attorneys at the ELC to protect the rights of 50,000 students.” Lapp praised the work of the District’s four-person charter school office, but recommended that it be expanded to match that of cities like New York (19 staffers) or Denver (24).
 

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 2:24 pm
The Stanton supporters should have been allowed to deliver testimony since it directly involved a member of the SRC & her sister. How many other proposals did this lady write that got schools closed? I'd be interested in finding that out. I think that the state should definitely do an investigation of all of these shenanigans with the SRC. How many people get to meet with Dr.Hite and get one school off the list and another one on. Come on now. Quibila used her leverage as a former SDP administrator & she used her leverage having a sister on the SRC. Once again it proves its not what you know but who you know. It's obvious that this was a back door politics deal and she seems proud of it & not ashamed in the least. If Stanton teachers aren't teaching the children I guess Duckery isn't even with a 5 point test score difference in math & reading. And don't forget Duckery has Temple University support Stanton does not. That's apples & oranges. Compare Duckery to Penn Alexander. I feel sorry that the children and families of Stanton were used a political pawns as if they didnt matter at all. So disgraceful.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 19, 2013 6:44 pm
Anonymous, The Stanton supporters were allowed to deliver testimony last night. I too was surprised that no one mentioned the connection of Sylvia Sims to the North Philadelphia proposal that her sister Quibila Divine wrote. Why didn't anyone testifying about Stanton mention this? Was there a prohibition against mentioning this? I can't see how there could have been. The SRC doesn't know in advance exactly what people will say. People talk about how Temple wants to buy up Stanton's property, but that doesn't make sense considering that Duckrey is much closer to Temple than Stanton. Everyone talks about Ms. Divine using her leverage, but I also think it's important to consider that if you were in a position of power to help someone you know or stand up for something/someone, most people who use their leverage, right? Isn't this what nepotism is? People talk badly of nepotism, but it's important to ask if you would act differently if you were in the position of someone in power. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:41 pm
I received a copy of what one of the Stanton supporters wanted to read. The SRC does block people from naming names & saying certain things. They tell you this when you register to speak and when you sign in. I think that Mrs. Lester a grandmother from North Philadelphia was intimidated to read what she had prepared. I'm going to try to locate the copy of what she wrote & post.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:22 pm
I've been in many positions of power and I have never preyed on the weak and less fortunate and that's exactly what Quibila did and she has no shame. What she did was reprehensible. She systematically plotted and planned against the Stanton community and then used her sister who btw worked at Stanton as a guise claiming she was helping Stanton. That's disgraceful. They both manipulated people who have very little & who simply wanted their school to stay open. Drive around the Stanton community and watch the documentary from 20 years ago. The Stanton community certainly does not need another abandoned building in an already blighted war torn looking neighborhood. Yesterday was so sad not because a school was closed but because the last ray of light and hope in that community was extinguished because of back door politics and personal agendas. Quibila & Sylvia have absolutely nothing to be proud of today. They betrayed a community and people who trusted them. Stanton parents and children deserved so much better from the both of them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:46 pm
I'm surprised that you're siding with a back door deal that closed a school that 96% of the kids of that community attends. Could you get a private meeting with Dr. Hite as basically a lobbyist to push your agenda? I doubt it. But that's exactly what Quibila did. Does that seem very democratic to you? What that does is undermine the whole school closing hearing circus. So after a private closed door meeting with Quibila and people that she refused to name Dr.Hite arbitrarily takes Duckery off the list and places Stanton. How could you possibly support that abuse of power. It undermines every citizen who went through the hearing process and spoke before the SRC. How about some transparency. How about full disclosure. If Stanton didnt "discover" that Quibila was Sylvia's sister they would've still been in the dark. I applaud the article that the notebook published yesterday. I hope that the Stanton parents include that article with Quibila's statements when they petition the Governor for a full scale investigation.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 20, 2013 6:31 pm
Anonymous, Of course I wasn't siding with the slimy back-door deal. Rather, I was playing devil's advocate. My point was to say that everyone hates nepotism, but if your school was closing, wouldn't you do anything possible to keep it open? Wouldn't you try to get your own meeting with the superintendent? Wouldn't you work your networks and pull as many strings as possible. That's all I was saying. Of course I think the things Ms. Divine did were undemocratic. I'm still not clear why exactly Ms. Divine had so much interest in Duckrey and chose not to involve people from the Stanton community. I think it would be interesting if the Notebook or the Inquirer could submit a FOIA open records request to see emails and other correspondence regarding school closings. This may reveal how the process worked behind the scenes. Did certain principals or community members or politicians have enough clout to make changes? I also agree that an investigation is in order. The FOIA records request could be a part of this investigation. EGS
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on April 19, 2013 7:24 pm
I believe the "rules" of testifying before the SRC state that no accusations against a third party may be mentioned: 3. Individuals will be ruled out of order if they attempt to comment or complain about the conduct or performance of a particular School District employee and will be directed to address their comments to the appropriate School District administrator; 4. Individuals will be ruled out of order if they attempt to make any remarks of a personal nature regarding any other individual, whether or not that person is present; http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/s/src/register-to-speak-at-an-src-...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:21 pm
Thank you for providing this information and link.
Submitted by Annony (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:22 pm
Negative comments and strong accusations were made about the principal at Mifflin - Hite / SRC / Khin didn't try to stop it. Isn't this a double standard?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 7:59 pm
I lost so much respect for Dr. Hite last night. How he is already getting swept up in Philadelphia politics is shameful. How dare he meet privately with certain individuals and then make ordinary regular folk wait for hours to deliver testimony at school closure hearings. People bought in to this process thinking that it was fair and equitable. It wasnt until I read the notebook yesterday and read that he met with Ms. Devine and a group privately did I realize what a sham this entire process has been. Never mind that utilization rates seemed not to matter in certain cases or test scores for that matter. As we went along watching school after school pleas to be spared and to find out all of that was simply a show. Having those Stanton families with young children wait there until 9pm showed their overall lack of respect and concern for that community. Those Stanton kids, parents and teachers had to wait for over 40 speakers to speak before they could learn their school's fate. That was beyond disrespectful. They could've voted after the Stanton testimony then proceed. But I guess poor people without influence don't count. I saw a Stanton parent waiting for the bus from 440 after 9:00 at night. Children first right. And that last minute add on that Stanton needed $3 million in repairs-- how dare they let children, parents and staff be in a building day in and day out that needs $3 million in repairs. You see that's exactly how poor people are treated. Their schools lack resources and materials and they fall in disrepair and nobody cares. But Duckery just got a $1 million dollar upgrade-- guess we should thank Quibila for that too. You can't claim to be an advocate for all children when you really only care about some. Duckery has a rock wall and Stanton was left just with rocks but that rock wall and brand new music room & library only gained them 5 extra points this year. Stanton has been operating on next to nothing for years and getting results. Hopefully when the Stanton kids get to Duckery they can benefit from Quibila's influence. And the irony is she works at the Women's Christian Alliance. What happened to do onto others???? Guess it doesn't count for poor folks south of Susquehanna Avenue.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 19, 2013 9:15 pm
Anonymous, "But I guess poor people without influence don't count. I saw a Stanton parent waiting for the bus from 440 after 9:00 at night. Children first right. And that last minute add on that Stanton needed $3 million in repairs-- how dare they let children, parents and staff be in a building day in and day out that needs $3 million in repairs. You see that's exactly how poor people are treated. Their schools lack resources and materials and they fall in disrepair and nobody cares." Your words are so powerful. I work at a District school in a poor neighborhood and see what you see. I don't know how much money is needed for repairs, but it is hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. The School District would NEVER let a school like Penn Alexander sit in such a condition and it INFURIATES me that there is a double standard for "other people's children." EGS
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on April 20, 2013 7:44 pm
As a stakeholder who resides in this neighborhood,this is not a good for our children !! Divide and Conquer is the order of the day!! My report picked Stanton to close over Duckrey,ONLY if Absolutely Neccessary!!! (Based on location,and affects on community per the plan presented by SRC.) In addition ,we had a very short time frame and some very strange happenings ... It was very obvious that some meetings were being held that all were not invited to... the truth shall be revealed by and by.This is a scam/assault on children ,uninformed parents,and the community!!! Yes, the decision to close as an after thought was handled badly... just as many other decisions were... This school closing plan lacked input from stake holders,when it really mattered, before the fact.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on April 20, 2013 8:21 pm
Ms. Robinson--The stakeholders they care about are the 1% ers and their emissaries and minions. The "folks" who reside in the communities affected, have no say in any of this. All these meetings are window dressing and a necessary evil. They mean nothing. The ONLY way to stop this abuse and open corruption is force, massive in your face force. Big money speaks loudest to these folks and the rights of the kids and the adult community members mean zippo. When they see the word, "stakeholder," they see dollars not people and certainly not predominately poor, people of color.
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on April 20, 2013 10:49 pm
Agreed ! Sadly...

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