Archives for category: Philadelphia

Lisa Haver, parent activist in Philadelphia, was thrilled when the state relinquished control of the school board in 2018. Now Philadelphia has mayoral control of its schools. Haver soon discovered that the appointed school board is not interested in parent engagement and shuts parent voices down.

She wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Just weeks into the new school year, Philadelphia school communities find themselves already dealing with chaos. Parents, students, and school staff, many navigating toxic flood waters after a devastating storm, were not notified of the district’s decision to open schools late until two hours after the first bell.

Students at several district schools had to avoid mountains of trash left in schoolyardson their first day back.

The district has revised bell schedules and school calendars with a stunning disregard for the needs of parents.

In June, when the Inquirer Editorial Board asked City Councilmembers what their priorities would be for their 2021-22 session, education was barely mentioned — not even by the Chair of Council’s Education Committee.

Another recent editorial lamented the erosion of trust between Councilmembers’ constituents and city institutions including those between the school community and the Board of Education that “have been exacerbated during the pandemic which Council could ameliorate by finding ways to navigate and, hopefully, reduce.”

But that doesn’t seem to be a concern for councilmembers. Some have joined protests at schools where teachers refused to enter toxic buildings. But other than one letter signed by a handful of councilmembers sent last February, Council has been largely silent on the silencing of their constituents by the board.

Haver points out that neither Superintendent William Hite nor his staff was held accountable for the fiasco at Benjamin Franklin High School, when two schools merged. Construction costs soared from $10 million to over $50 million. Students and staff were forced to endure an unsafe learning environment while construction proceeded. Accountability for multiple failures? None.

Nor did anyone on the board respond when the district’s principals endorsed a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Hite for his lack of leadership during the pandemic.

Mayoral control enables the silencing of parent voices.

Avi Wolfman-Arent writes at the Philadelphia PBS website WHYY about the uncomfortable dilemma of the “school choice movement.” At least some of the choice champions had not come to grips with the fact that their movement was funded by Trump supporters. Perhaps the reckoning might have caused them to wonder if they were being used. It’s easy to forget–or perhaps never realize–that the school choice movement was created by Southern segregationists, borrowing the rhetoric of libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It i worth pondering why and how the Democratic Party abandoned its longstanding belief in equitable, well-resourced public schools as a common good.

He begins:

When Philadelphia-area mega-donors Jeff and Janine Yass made headlines recently for their contributions to Republican politicians — some of whom tried to overturn the presidential election — it stirred up a familiar debate in local education circles.

The Yass family has a long history of donating to Republican politicians and conservative causes. They also are among the largest donors to Pennsylvania’s school choice movement.

Therein lies a dilemma that, for some Democrats who support school choice, has caused increasing bouts of self-reflection.

On the ground, many charter school employees and school choice advocates are left-of-center, motivated by a desire to shake up an educational system that they see as not acting urgently enough to help low-income students of color.

But the movement’s growth — and success — has long relied on the political and financial capital of conservatives, who see school choice as a way to inject free-market thinking into the educational bureaucracy.

None of this is new.

What’s new is the reckoning forced by the Trump era, culminating in a violent insurrection that was fomented by Republican lawmakers — carried out with symbols of the Confederacy — who, on other days, could be a charter advocate’s best ally.

“For a period of time, this coalition was able to exist without some of the tensions we’re talking about threatening to rip it apart,” said Mike Wang, a veteran of the Philadelphia education scene who once headed a leading school choice advocacy group that lobbied in Harrisburg.

Will this unusual alliance survive? Can it find new political strength under an administration promising reconciliation and unity? Or will it disintegrate in an era of increasing political polarity?

At what point do well-meaning liberals understand that there is a fundamental contradiction between the free market and equity. The free market produces winners and losers, not equity.

The former chief financial officer of a now-closed charter school in North Philadelphia was charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school for which he was responsible. The school is now closed. The money was diverted from teachers, their pensions, and from students.

A former employee of a now-closed North Philadelphia charter school has been charged with embezzling more than $350,000.

Darnell Smith, the former chief financial officer of Khepera Charter School, misused the funds while earning a six-figure salary, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Friday.

On Smith’s watch, more than $200,000 was withheld from Khepera teachers’ paychecks for retirement funds, the attorney general said. But the money was never deposited into the Public School Employee Retirement System. An additional $370,000 in employer contributions was also never contributed to the system, Shapiro said...

Smith’s failure to make the pension payments ultimately forced the Pennsylvania Department of Education to withhold payments to Khepera. Eventually, the school was unable to pay teachers or its rent.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

As I reported last night, the Trump campaign announced that the president’s personal attorney would meet with the media in Philadelphia to discuss legal challenges to the vote count. The announcement said the event would be held at the Four Seasons; the press assumed that meant the plush Four Seasons Hotel. Wrong. It was quickly rescheduled in front of the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in north Philadelphia, in a gritty neighborhood. No one could explain why.

Dan Zak and Karen Heller wrote in the Washington Post: “It began on a gold escalator. It may have ended at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.”

PHILADELPHIA — The end came in all the places you’d expect, in all the ways you’d expect, with all the people you’d expect.
When news broke Saturday that Donald Trump’s reign was ending, the president was on a golf course that he owns in Virginia, playing his last round as a non-loser. In Washington, about 125 of his worshipful supporters gathered on the stoop of the Supreme Court to “stop the steal,” then circumnavigated the U.S. Capitol seven times, because that’s how the Israelites conquered Jericho, according to the Book of Joshua.

And a pair of Trump’s most loyal surrogates made a defiant stand on the gravelly backside of a landscaping business in an industrial stretch of Northeast Philadelphia, near a crematorium and an adult-video store called Fantasy Island, along State Road, which leads — as being associated with Trump sometimes does — to a prison.


Rudolph Giuliani, America’s mayor turned Trump’s sloppy fixer, squinted into the autumnal sun at journalists who had assembled outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping — a choice of location that multiple Trump staffers could not account for, saying that it was the work of the campaign’s Pennsylvania advance team. Literally anywhere else would have conveyed more legitimacy on the enterprise, but legitimacy did not seem a high priority for one of the last battles of a lost war.


“Joe Frazier is still voting here — kind of hard, since he died five years ago,” Giuliani said in a meandering monologue, referring to the champion boxer who died in 2011 as an example of Philadelphia’s unproven election malfeasance. “But Joe continues to vote. If I recall correctly, Joe was a Republican. So maybe I shouldn’t complain. But we should go see if Joe is voting Republican or Democrat now, from the grave. Also Will Smith’s father has voted here twice since he died. I don’t know how he votes, because his vote is secret. In Philadelphia, they keep the votes of dead people secret.”

No, this was not The Onion or Mad Magazine.

This is a wonderful story of a public school whose students succeeded against the odds thanks to a dedicated and creative leader. Will Bill Gates or Laurene Powell Jobs come calling?

Philadelphia School Leader Named NASSP National Principal of the Year

Richard Gordon of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services announced as 2021 honoree during National Principals Month

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Bob Farrace, NASSP, 703-860-7252farraceb@nassp.org

Reston, VA—Richard Gordon, principal of Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in Philadelphia, PA, has been named the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2021 National Principal of the Year. The surprise announcement, part of the 2020 celebration of National Principals Month, took place during a virtual meeting of Philadelphia principals earlier today.

Gordon won the award for successfully leading Robeson High School from the brink of closure to what is now considered Philadelphia’s premiere high school.

“Any school turnaround is hard, and it takes a special leader to sustain it,” said NASSP President Robert Motley in his presentation of the award. “But Mr. Gordon led Robeson High School’s turnaround under extraordinary political and social pressures, and at no point did he lose focus on the students. Under Mr. Gordon’s leadership, Robeson High School models what personalization was always meant to be. Personalization begins not at the data or at test targets, but at the person–with all their interests, needs, traumas, and dreams. His leadership makes that happen.”

In 2013 Gordon assumed the reins of Robeson High School, a school in a converted garage in the poverty-stricken area of West Philadelphia that was slated for closure. By 2019, Gordon’s led Robeson off the Pennsylvania High Needs/Academically Low Performing List and onto the list of High Progress Schools with a graduation rate of 95 percent. At the heart of Gordon’s success is the school motto “Build Your Own Brand,” which is realized by his meeting with each of the school’s 315 students to build an educational pathway around their interests. To help students reach their goals, Gordon established countless business, community, and dual-enrollment partnerships specific to student needs. In one illustrative case of a student who dreamed of working on the NASCAR circuit, Gordon leveraged partnerships to secure the student an internship with the nationally renowned all-female Philadelphia mechanic shop Girls Auto Clinic. They plugged him into the NASCAR circuit in the Pocono Mountains, and he drove in his first professional NASCAR-sponsored race this past summer. This case is the norm, as all students are connected to mentors and a business coach to define actionable steps for achieving their desired outcomes.

“Richard doesn’t see obstacles, only opportunities,” commented Kerensa Wing, the 2020 National Principal of the Year who served on the committee that selected Gordon. “His passion for working with kids and helping them succeed is impressive.”

Finding opportunities is a hallmark of Gordon’s leadership. When two Black men were falsely arrested at a West Philadelphia Starbucks in an incident that made national headlines and resulted in a financial settlement with Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia, the men dedicated $200,000 for seed money to launch Project Elevate through their Action Not Words Foundation. Gordon convinced the men and city leaders to select Robeson for the pilot program to equip the most vulnerable Philadelphians with the financial tools, resources, and access needed to break the cycle of generational poverty. Through this partnership, student entrepreneurs are learning how to write and execute business plans to launch businesses in their communities.

Yet, Gordon recognized early that achievement was possible only on a foundation of student safety and wellness. To that end, he created the Safe Corridors Program, a collaboration between Robeson and the University City District (a partnership of the business community, universities, community-based organizations, Philadelphia police, University of Pennsylvania Security Officers, and West Philadelphia residents) to provide extra supervision for students traveling to and from school. Partnerships with mental health therapy programs provide trauma supports for students and build a trauma-informed school environment. Truancy rates have dropped precipitously to near 10% (-22.6%), suspension rates fell below 5%, and bullying has been eliminated, with zero reports in the past 5 years– transforming the school into a safe harbor and making Robeson one of the safest schools in Philadelphia.

Gordon holds a bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University, and master’s degrees from both Coppin State University and Lehigh University.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., Ed.D. said Gordon’s commitment to serving children and families is the driving force behind his success at Robeson.

“From the moment he arrived at the District, Principal Gordon’s enthusiasm for creating a positive learning and instructional environment has yielded wonderful results,” Hite said. “We are thrilled to see him receive this recognition and look forward to even greater success for his students and the entire school community.”

“The PA Principals Association is proud that one of our very own school leaders has been named NASSP’s Principal of the Year,” said Paul Healey, the groups’s executive director, who identified Gordon as the 2020 Pennsylvania Principal of the Year. “Richard Gordon exemplifies the qualities of an effective principal and demonstrates his leadership skills, passion, dedication, and an outstanding commitment to his students and school community on a daily basis.  We are proud of his accomplishments and join in the well deserved congratulations from across PA and the nation.”

The NASSP Principal of the Year (POY) program recognizes outstanding middle level and high school principals who have succeeded in providing high-quality learning opportunities for students as well as demonstrating exemplary contributions to the profession. Each year, NASSP honors State Principals of the Year from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools, and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity. Out of these exceptional school leaders, three are selected as finalists and one is ultimately selected for the National Principal of the Year award. The 2021 finalists include Adam Clemons of Piedmont High School in Piedmont, AL; and Michelle Kefford, formerly of Charles Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines, FL, now principal of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

Gordon is one of only three principals from Pennsylvania ever to receive this national distinction, along with Kevin McHugh of the Pennsbury School District in 2002 and Michael Pladus of the Interboro School District in 1999.

For more information on the POY program, please visit www.nassp.org/poy.

About NASSP

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for principals and other school leaders across the United States. NASSP seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor SocietyNational Junior Honor SocietyNational Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council.

Over 600 faculty and staff at Penn have organized Penn for PILOTS and issued a statement calling on the university to make “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) to the Philadelphia public schools. As is well known, the public schools in Philadelphia are chronically underfunded, thanks to a hostile Republican legislature, and they are currently facing devastating cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Penn is the largest property owner in Philadelphia and the only Ivy League university that doesn’t pay PILOTs. Calls for PILOTs have surfaced for years, but support for the idea has now reached an unprecedented level. A significant number of Penn faculty and staff believe that it is time for the university to pay its fair share for public schools.

As the organizing statement of the group says, Penn is the seventh wealthiest university in the nation, and the Philadelphia schools are among the poorest in the nation.

This is the petition of the organizers. The statement begins:

We are faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania who believe that Penn has a responsibility to ensure adequate funding for the Philadelphia public schools. Penn is the largest property owner in the city of Philadelphia, but as a non-profit institution, it pays no property taxes on its non-commercial properties. In other words, it contributes nothing to the tax base that funds Philadelphia’s public school system—this in a city whose schools are underfunded and facing deep budget cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Commitment

Penn should contribute to an Educational Equity Fund governed by the school district and city of Philadelphia. These would be payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)—a fraction of what Penn would owe if it were subject to property tax assessment. We commit ourselves to seeing our university pay its fair share.

Nearly every other Ivy League university already makes payments in lieu of taxes. Penn would be joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth in recognizing its financial obligation to the community of which it is a part.

The supporters of this demand explain their rationale:

This is not a matter of charity but of justice. Penn’s tax exemption is predicated on the notion that it is a non-profit institution that exists to fulfill a public purpose, not a for-profit corporation that exists to accumulate capital. That distinction must be made meaningful. Today, Penn is the seventh richest university in the country. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. If Penn’s public mission is to have any meaning at all, the university must not be an exemplar or engine of urban inequality.

Yet the existing system of public finance ensures that Penn benefits from city services that it does not pay to maintain. Penn’s administrators, faculty, and staff rely on city schools, sanitation services, transportation, and other programs. Penn’s location in the city of Philadelphia is one of its defining characteristics that enables the university to attract faculty and students. When the university does not pay for the services and environment that make its work possible, other Philadelphians are left to make up the difference—or city schools and other institutions simply go without. Penn has a duty to contribute to the city that sustains it.

Here is their list of frequently asked questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this remarkable movement.

I salute the faculty and staff at Penn who support this movement. The financial condition of the Philadelphia public schools is dire. They need all the help they can get. In this age on intense individualism and greed, it is wonderful to see people acting with a sense of social responsibility.

Charters in the Philadelphia area received more than $30 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds, while public schools in Philadelphia continue to be systematically underfunded. The big winner in the PPP sweepstakes is the for-profit Chester Community Charter School, owned by a major Republican donor and billionaire.

One of the largest loans, between $5 million and $10 million, went to Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), which is operated by a for-profit management company owned by wealthy Republican donor Vahan Gureghian.

The loan was received by Archway Charter School of Chester, Inc., which is the nonprofit name for CCCS under which it files its 990 tax form.

The CCCS charter already received more than $2.5 million from the CARES Act, intended for public schools. So CCCS, which aims for a complete takeover and privatization of its district, is funded both as a “public school” and a small business.

The most recent 990 form on file for Archway and available in Guidestar, which is for 2017, reports that almost all its more than $66 million in revenue comes from “government grants.” Gureghian has resisted releasing any information about his management company’s profits, but the 990 reports $18 million in management costs.

Chester Community is among those pursuing a court case that could privatize the management of all the schools in Chester. Charters already educate most of the K-8 students in the district.

Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and current activist in Philadelphia, wonders why state and city leaders are so fearful of democracy. When state control of the public schools ended—capping a two-decade era of defunding and additional privatization of public assets—it was replaced by mayoral control. She argues that Philadelphia needs an elected school board.

We vote for our leaders in every election.

But not for Philadelphia’s school board.

Unlike voters in every other district in Pennsylvania, those in Philadelphia continue to be disenfranchised when choosing their local school board….

Philadelphia’s new hand-picked Board of Education was sworn in recently, immediately after City Council’s one mandated confirmation. The hearing, confirmation vote and swearing-in created nary a disturbance in the force, without coverage from any major newspaper, radio or television outlet, save the independent Public School Notebook.

In fact, little notice was paid to the nomination process itself. Although many Philadelphians believe that “local control” was restored after the abolition of the School Reform Commission, the District actually operates under mayoral control. Months ago, the mayor selected his nominating panel which, at his direction, held deliberations in closed executive session, arguably violating the state’s Sunshine Act and shutting out those with a heavy stake in the District—parents, educators, students and community members.

The Council hearing on the mayor’s choices offered one brief opportunity for the public to hear from the nominees. For some reason, though, all questions were directed to the incumbents, none to the one new candidate. Ameen Akbar was sworn in without having to explain his philosophy of education, his vision for the future of the District, or his work in the charter sector, in particular his affiliation with the Universal charter network, whose former CEO and chief financial operator were indicted in January on bribery charges, alongside one Councilmember and his wife.

Will this unelected board resist the sales pitches from purveyors of technology? Will they insist on transparency and accountability for charter schools?

Philadelphia needs an elected board.

The charter industry has lots of problems with stability. The charters open and suddenly close. Scandals and corruption are commonplace so much so that Carol Burris says there is a “crisis of corruption in the charter industry.”

Theft and fraud are predictable when non-educators, entrepreneurs and grifters get public money and can open or close their school without any accountability or oversight.

So in Philadelphia, the second-largest charter in the City is in trouble.

Philadelphia’s second-largest charter school has a large budget deficit, a CEO on leave, and some sort of problem related to the identification of special education students.

It’s the kind of financial and administrative turmoil that would draw major headlines at a large, traditional school district. But the K-12 school at the center of the tumult refuses to say much of anything — and only recently published a six-sentence letter on its website explaining that it had made a personnel change.

Despite repeated requests for comment, First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Bridesburg has declined to explain why or how it found itself in, what one official called, a “difficult time of transition.”

Here’s what we know.

Longtime CEO Joseph Gillespie is on a leave of absence and has been replaced, on an interim basis, by Carleene Slowik. The 1,850-student school sent a brief note to parents Wednesday explaining the change — only after WHYY contacted the school and asked for clarification about the leadership situation.
Before that note, the school would not divulge whether Gillespie was still working at First Philadelphia — or even who was in charge of the school, which is affiliated with a charter management company called American Paradigm Schools.

A lawyer representing First Philadelphia said the school had no comment on the situation. Nor would he say who was currently running the campus. Several attempts to reach Gillespie were unsuccessful.

No oversight. No accountability. No transparency.