Archives for category: Philadelphia

Quinton Brunson is the writer, producer and star of the award-winning TV series “Abbott Elementary.” Abbott Elementary is a comedy about an urban elementary school, realistically depicting life in a Philadelphia public school. It is a funny, joyful celebration of life in public schools and a song of praise to public school teachers. No matter how silly they are at times, they are heroes!

In season 2, the show turned to the topic of charter schools, because a big charter chain wants to take over Abbott. The staff is mortified. The staff lays bare the unfair practices of the charter school (e.g. pushing out kids they don’t want), and the series lays bare how underfunded Abbott is (in contrast to the charter school, which is equipped with the best of everything).

Jeanne Allen, founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Education Reform, lashed out on Twitter against Quinta Brunson for her negative portrayal of charters when Quinta had gone to charter schools “her entire education” in Philadelphia and had previously praised them.

Quinta responded on Twitter: “you’re wrong and bad at research. I only attended a charter for high school. My public elementary school was transitioned to charter over a decade after I left. I did love my high school. That school is now defunct- which happens to charters often.”

She immediately added: “Loving something doesn’t mean it can’t be critiqued. Thanks for watching the show :)” (Her quotes appear in the article linked above.)

Hundreds of tweets from Quinta’s passionate followers excoriated Allen, supported Quinta and defended her right to say whatever she wanted.

At one point, Jeanne Allen gratuitously claimed “Money talks,” implying that Quinta was paid off by someone to criticize charter schools. On these pages, it’s not surprising to hear a charter lobbyist jeer that critics must have been paid off by the teachers’ unions. But Allen didn’t spell it out, possibly because it was so preposterous on its face.

Quinta’s fans jumped all over the ”she was bought” idea; one said that this Allen person, with not quite 8,000 followers, must be “clout catching”—that is—trying to grab attention by attacking a celebrity—by going after the great Quinta Brunson, who has more 800,000 followers.

It is more than funny reading Jeanne Allen chastise the brilliant, creative Quinta Brunson for taking aim at charter schools because “money talks.” The Center for Education Reform is handsomely funded by conservative billionaires like the Walton Foundation and Jeffrey Yass, as well as billionaire Wall Street charter suporters. Yes indeed, money talks.

The Center for Education Reform serves the goal of right-wing billionaires like Jeff Yass to destroy public education, even though he is a graduate of New York City public schools. Yass funds election deniers and candidates who want to ban critical race theory in the schools. The school-choice lobby says they are deeply devoted to children of color, yet the heavy hitters are funding the candidates and astroturf parent groups that want to ban teaching Black history. Hypocrites!

Since Jeanne is so concerned about hypocrisy, she might ask Jeff Yass why he wants to destroy the very schools that educated him. Why doesn’t he endow state-of-the-art public schools in New York City and Philadelphia to show his gratitude? The great singer Tony Bennett endowed the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, why not a Jeffrey Yass High School for Financial Success and Ethics?

This contretemps has not worked in favor of the charter lobby. Attacking a beloved TV star is a bad idea. Even TIME magazine used the controversy to explain the shortcomings of charter schools.

For teachers around the U.S., charter schools are a constant concern, beyond an episode of television. They find relief, both comic and real, in Abbott—as well as tangible education and information.

“There’s this myth that charter schools provide more opportunity or their graduation rates are better, but that’s just because they exclude kids,” says Brooklyn public school teacher Frank Marino, who formerly worked at a charter school. Watching Abbott “felt so cathartic, because I was like, yes, it was a public platform where those myths are being busted by parents….”

Abbott Elementary has brought Kathryn Vaughn, an art teacher at a public school in Tennessee, and her husband back to appointment viewing TV like it’s the ‘90s. Vaughn loves the show, but says she was surprised to see it tackle charter schools, a $49.5 billion industry with heavy political sway. She appreciated how the most recent episode hands the power to the parents….

In many states, public schools are mandated to have arts education in each building, and tenure in the arts for someone like Vaughn is possible. Charter schools, however, have more leeway: Some, like Addington Elementary in Abbott, can choose to bring in an art teacher a couple of days a week, often subcontracted out from a company.

“Charter schools make me incredibly uneasy,” Vaughn says. “They don’t have to offer their employees tenure. They don’t have to hire certified staff to teach. So if you’re sending your child to a charter school expecting a great arts education, you might not even be taught by certified staff.”

Abbott Elementary is set in West Philadelphia and Vaughn’s school is in western Tennessee, but no matter where you are in public education right now, she says, you know: the push for privatization is huge.

“That’s really the big connection between urban poor and rural poor, like I’m in, is the funding,” Vaughn says. “Urban schools almost are a little sexier. They get more of the money than us in the rural, poor areas. But we’re all behind where we should be with funding.”

A few episodes ago, at the fictional Pennsylvania Educational Conference for the South East Area (PECSA), Jacob (Chris Perfetti)—a well-meaning history teacher—is hanging out with a group of teachers from Addington Elementary. One of them, Summer (Carolyn Gilroy), tries to convince him to switch schools, telling him, “We’re all about focusing on the kids who have the best chance of making it out.”

“Out?” Jacob asks. “Out of what?”

The scene hit home for Marjahn Finlayson, a climate change educator, researcher, and activist who previously worked at a charter high school in Hartford, Connecticut. While teachers there often took a personal interest in their work, she says, there was little trust in the community.

“In the PECSA conference episode, Addington teachers are talking to Jacob about, like, ‘Oh, we take the best kids, and we try to get them out of the ‘hood,’” Finlayson says. “And Jacob is like, ‘Why are you taking them out?’ That was how the feeling was for me.”

Finlayson noticed disparities in resources between public and charter schools, regardless of the quality and dedication of teachers.

“That’s why it’s easier for these schools like Legendary Schools to get into an inner city space, like where Abbott is, where Hartford is,” she says. “It’s easy to prey on these communities that have a need, based on the fact that public school funding isn’t going to this space, but it’s going to another.”

One of Abbott’s arguments against charter schools is that, as Barbara grimly puts it, “They don’t see students. They see scores.” At Finlayson’s former charter high school, one student was repeatedly pressured into applying to college, despite wanting to pursue a trade career.

“And it wasn’t even the fact that she needed to go, it was just that she had to apply,” Finlayson says. “Because, ‘We have a 100% college acceptance rate, and we’re not going to mess with that number.’”

Note to Jeanne Allen: Don’t attack a beloved celebrity. The blowback will not be good for your cause.

Jessica Winter, a staff writer at the New Yorker, wrote an article in the latest issue of the magazine describing how the hit-TV program “Abbott Elementary” is sharply critiquing the charter school movement. The show and its creator and star Quinta Brunson have won multiple awards.

It’s a terrific article.

Most of the public doesn’t know what charter schools are. Abbott Elementary tells them. Abbott artfully weighs in against the privatization of public schools.

I wish I could repost the article in full. Here are snippets:

The local and national growth of charter schools has been propped up by lavish support from a center-to-right spectrum of billionaires with various, sometimes overlapping desires, which include lower taxes, fewer and weakened teachers’ unions, state funding for religious schools, and a more entrepreneurial approach to public education. Prominent advocates include Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, Betsy DeVos, the late Eli Broad, and Jeff Yass, reportedly the richest man in Pennsylvania. When the “weird cash” episode of “Abbott Elementary” aired, viewers immediately speculated that Barbara was referring to Yass. Jeanne Allen, the director of Yass’s education foundation, was unamused, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that the line was a “gratuitous slap against people with wealth” and tweeting, “This has TEACHERS UNION written all over it.”

Brunson is the daughter of a veteran public-school teacher in West Philadelphia, and “Abbott” doesn’t flinch from the decrepitude of the city’s education system. (For one thing, an out-of-date calendar hanging in Abbott’s main office covers up a hole in the wall that appears to be choked with asbestos.) But the show also dismantles the benevolent narrative of “escape” promulgated by the Yasses and other charter-school advocates—the notion that a public-school system cannot be raround and improved, only bled out and abandoned. “Abbott” grabs this idea around the neck in a conversation between Jacob (Chris Perfetti), who teaches history at Abbott, and Summer (Carolyn Gilroy), an Addington teacher who tries and fails to recruit Jacob to her school, where he’d be, she says, “with the brightest kids from the neighborhood,” “the cream of the crop from all over the city.” “We’re all about focussing on the kids who have the best chance of making it out,” Summer says. (“Out of what?” Jacob asks. He receives no answer.)

In this exchange, as when Addington offers a chance of “escape” to Josh and just as quickly rescinds it, “Abbott” is building a cogent, legally grounded argument against charter-school practices. According to Pennsylvania law, a charter school cannot discriminate “based on intellectual ability or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, status as a person with a disability, English language proficiency, or any other basis that would be illegal if used by a school district.” But, as Summer openly admits, these prohibitions are not reflected in charter schools’ student populations. In 2019, the Education Law Center found that Philadelphia’s district schools enrolled about five times as many students with intellectual disabilities as charters. They also enrolled twice as many autistic children and three times as many English-language learners and students experiencing homelessness. A 2016 reportby the Center for Civil Rights Remedies hypothesized that “some charter schools are artificially boosting their test scores or graduation rates by using harsh discipline to discourage lower-achieving youth from continuing to attend.”

It’s rare to get this kind of cogent, clear-eyed reporting about charter grift in a major publication.

The article made me wonder about the billionaires’ end game.

Charters for “the cream of the crop.”

Vouchers for the religious who want public money to pay tuition at a church school.

Vouchers for wealthy families to underwrite their pricey tuition.

Homeschooling for those who prefer to avoid organized schooling altogether.

What will be the role of public schools? They will serve the students whom no else wants.

What a mean, undemocratic view!

The reality is that our society needs public schools, open to all, more than ever. As our society becomes more diverse, we need more institutions where people from different backgrounds interact as equals. We need more places where diversity, equity and inclusion are functioning realities, not a goal or a scapegoat.

I watched the latest episode of the award-winning “Abbott Elementary” show a few days ago and was pleased to see that the show depicted the predatory nature of many urban charters, as well as their super-powerful rich funders.

The teachers at Abbott, a local public school, heard the rumor that the local charter chain wants to take over their school. They are alarmed. They have heard that the teachers are forced to teach scripted lessons. They know that the charter won’t acccept all the neighborhood children. A mother shows up and asks if Abbott will take her son Josh back: he was ejected by the local charter school, Addington, for not having the right stuff. The teachers say, “That means that his test scores were not high enough for the charter.”

The principal, probably the least qualified educator at Abbott, says that turning charter will mean that the school will be renovated and get more resources. What’s wrong with that? She does not realize that if the school goes charter, she will be the first one fired.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wondered if the popular TV show was taking a swipe at Jeffrey Yass, who has donated millions to charter schools. Yass, an investor, is worth $33 billlion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Abbott Elementary, the ABC comedy about a fictional Philadelphia public school, took what sounded like a shot at Pennsylvania’s richest man in last week’s episode while knocking charter school backers.

At least one Jeff Yass fan is not laughing.

» READ MORE: Who is Jeff Yass, Pennsylvania’s billionaire investor and political funder?

In the episode, teachers worry a charter school operator might take over their school.

“They take our funding, not to mention the private money from wealthy donors with ulterior motives,” said Sheryl Lee Ralph, who plays teacher Barbara Howard, (and is married to State Sen. Vincent Hughes.)

Yass, a Main Line billionaire investor, has spent millions to support charter schools and political action committees that push for the election of candidates who share his goals.

Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform and director of The Yass Foundation for Education, was not amused when folks on Twitter linked that line to Yass.

She tweeted: “It’s pathetic when fewer than 20% of Philadelphia students can even read, write or spell at grade level that there’s a show on television that has the nerve to criticize the schools that succeed, and the people that help them. This has TEACHERS UNION written all over it.”

Actually, 36% of the city’s students scored proficient or advanced on the state standardized English language arts exam in the latest results available. That’s not great. But its certainly not “fewer than 20%.”

Allen, in an email to Clout, called the line a “gratuitous slap against people with wealth” and complained that this was not the first “hollow, evidence-lacking shot at charter schools.”

She also said she has not watched the episode and does not plan to.

Quinta Brunson created Abbott Elementary, inspired by her mom, a kindergarten teacher, and her experiences in a West Philly public school. An instant sensation, the award-winning show is in its second season, with a third planned.

“Abbott Elementary” is a delightful, lighthearted show about life in a typical urban elementary school. I recommend it. It’s a shame that Jeanne Allen refuses to watch it. Undoubtedly she would hate it because it shows a public school in a positive light, where teachers deal with their personal and professional problems and where students are lively and engaged.

It’s not surprising that she hates it because it undermines her core message that all public schools are failing. The fact that she misrepresented the city’s test scores is also not surprising. The Inquirer felt it necessary to correct her.

The fact is that a 36% proficiency rate is impressive for a city with high poverty rates. As I have said again and again, “proficiency” on the NAEP tests does not mean “grade level” or “average.” It means mastery of the material. It is equivalent to an A.

As for Jeffrey Yass, Jeanne Allen has good reason to jump to his defense. She administers the “Yass Prize” for charter school excellence, which awards millions to successful charter schools. Earlier this year, one of the the Yass Prizes was awarded to a charter school with a 100% college acceptance rate but abysmal test scores. A large number of colleges accept every applicant. Poor vetting by Jeanne Allen’s Center for Education Reform.

This is Wikipedia on Jeff Yass’s political contributions, which are tilted far-right:

Yass became a member of the board of directors of the libertarian Cato Institute in 2002[12][13] and now is a member of the executive advisory council.[14] In 2015, Yass donated $2.3 million to a Super PAC supporting Rand Paul‘s presidential candidacy.[15] In 2018 he donated $3.8m to the Club for Growth, and $20.7m in 2020.[16]

Yass and his wife, Janine Coslett, are public supporters of school choice, with Coslett writing a 2017 opinion piece for the Washington Examiner in support of then-incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos‘s views at school choice.[17]

In November 2020, it was reported that Yass had donated $25.3 million, all to Republican candidates, and was one of the ten largest political donors in the US.[1]

In March 2021, an investigation in Haaretz said that Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik were behind a large portion of the donations to the Kohelet Policy Forum in Israel.[18][19]

In November 2021, he donated $5 million to the School Freedom Fund, a PAC that runs ads for Republican candidates running in the 2022 election cycle nationwide.[20]

In June 2022 Propublica claims Yass has “avoided $1 billion in taxes” and “pouring his money into campaigns to cut taxes and support election deniers”.[21]

When will Democrats wake up to the fact that charters and vouchers are the tools of the Destroy Public Educatuon movement?

Allen is right to avoid seeing Abbott Elementary. It is definitely off-message for the charter lobby, which insists that public schools are of necessity “failing schools.”

Paul Vallas is running for mayor of Chicago again. Mercedes Schneider warns the voters of the Windy City to beware.

When Vallas ran before, he garnered only 5% of the vote. But this time, he is a contender. Vallas has a long record in education. He has imposed privatization wherever he went, or in the case of New Orleans, happily advanced the privatization agenda.

She begins her post:

In January 2018, I posted about Paul Vallas, who was at the time dropping hints about becoming Chicago’s next mayor. Vallas ran and lost, winning only 5.4 percent of the vote in the February 2019 general election.

Four years later, in January 2023, Vallas is considered a real possibility (see also hereand here) for at least landing in a mayoral-race runoff following Chicago’s February 28, 2023, general election.

Vallas as mayor would be bad news for Chicago. Full stop. On January 24, 2023, the Chicago Tribune posted this benign candidate bio for Vallas, but don’t be fooled, Chicago. Vallas is anything but benign.

Chicago voters need to be informed about what they would be getting should Vallas become mayor. Therefore, I am reposting some of the Vallas history I posted four years ago, in 2018.

Vallas is terrible with budgets and with fulfilling promises, but through it all, he has managed to serve and protect his own interests.

Please open the link and read her summary of Vallas’ career.

After the murder of a recreation worker at a city center, Mayor Jim Kenney issued an executive order banning guns at playgrounds and recreation centers. A local judge overturned Mayor Kennedy’s order, because it violates state law.

This is madness. People will die. Are guns in schools okay too?

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge on Monday blocked the city from enforcing an executive order Mayor Jim Kenney signed last week banning guns at recreation centers and playgrounds following the fatal shooting of a Parks and Recreation employee last month.

The Gun Owners of America, on behalf of several state residents, filed a lawsuit last Tuesday, the day Kenney signed his order. After hearing arguments Friday, Judge Joshua H. Roberts issued his ruling siding with the plaintiffs and ordering Philadelphia to be “permanently enjoined” from enforcing Kenney’s ban.

The lawsuit cited Pennsylvania state law that prohibits any city or county from passing gun-control measures. The preemption law, which the city has repeatedly sought to overturn, bans local government from passing gun-control measures that are stricter than state gun laws.

Andrew B. Austin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in an emailed statement: “For my part, I am gratified that the Court of Common Pleas was able to so quickly resolve this suit, but that was in large part because the law is so explicit: The City is not allowed to regulate possession of firearms in any manner.”

I don’t usually get enthusiastic about fictionalized portrayals of schools because they are typically sensationalized and hostile towards teachers and students. It’s easy to make a long list of such movies or TV programs, starting with “Blackboard Jungle.”

But wait!

Here’s a show you will love: “Abbott Elementary” is set in Philadelphia. The writer of the Emmy-award-winning show, Quinta Brunson, is also the star. She plays a first-year teacher in the first season. She is thrilled to be a teacher and her colleagues are helpful, funny, and the usual mix of personalities—real people. They care about the children. The children—all Black—are adorable. There’s not enough money for supplies, but everyone makes do. The spirit of the show is beautiful.

The show makes you feel like teaching is the very best job in the world. Don’t miss it!

Lisa Haver is a retired teacher and prominent advocate for the public schools of Philadelphia. Those public schools have been subject to state takeover, privatization, and every other failed reformy tactic. She hoped that those bad old days were over. They are not. The new board hired an inexperienced superintendent who needed the help of a much-criticized consulting firm at a cost of $450,000.

She expressed her frustration in this article.

After years of pain and frustration that included the closing of neighborhood schools, privatization driven by standardized tests, crumbling infrastructure, and more than one debacle, the people of Philadelphia were psyched for new leadership in the school district.

The door to new priorities seemed to open with the arrival of Tony Watlington as the next superintendent.

But that door slammed shut before his tenure had even begun with the news that he’d brought in a Tennessee-based consulting firm to help him navigate his first year in the job. In May, the Board of Education voted unanimously and without deliberation to approve a one-year contract with Joseph & Associates. Price tag: $450,000. The board approved this contract — the last on a list of 92 official items — near the end of an 8-hour meeting.

According to a recent Chalkbeat article, the board hired the consulting firm to help Watlington “connect with people,” assist in assembling his transition team, and develop a 5-year plan for the district. Watlington said he asked for the contract so he could “hit the ground running by Day 1,” according to The Inquirer.

Apparently, Watlington decided the district’s current leadership of 16 department chiefs and 15 assistant superintendents could not help him do that, and that people from Tennessee could educate him about the district’s history and needs better than the people who live and work in Philly.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, the organization I co-founded, has reported on and analyzed the spending priorities of the district since 2012. We intended to ask the board directly why they hired Joseph & Associates, but all five APPS members who tried to sign up to speak at the June meeting were denied.

Last winter, in public town halls held for the three superintendent finalists, Watlington told parents, students, and educators he had a plan and wanted to meet with district stakeholders to hear their concerns. He didn’t say he could only do that by hiring an out-of-town consulting firm at a price higher than his own $340,000 salary.

The first official act of the new administration signals a continuation of those before him: hiring consultants and outsourcing work that should be done by district personnel. Sending resources into classrooms remains on the back burner.

The scope of the Joseph & Associates contract raises concerns for families and public education advocates for a number of reasons. Watlington said he wants the consultants to help him assess how the district can best meet the board’s “Goals and Guardrails” — a set of priorities based on standardized test data. This approach does not lend itself to creative learning or teaching. The Watlington administration should commit to funding proven reforms: smaller class size, more support staff, and reinstating school librarians.

But it’s the final phase of the Joseph & Associates contract that should sound the alarm for defenders of public education: the compilation of a 5-year “strategic plan” for the district. Many recall what happened a decade ago after the last long-range plan from an outside firm, the Boston Consulting Group: school closings and more privatization of neighborhood schools. Any plan that determines the future of the district and its ramifications for families and neighborhoods should be discussed and formulated in public meetings — not the private boardrooms of an out-of-state consulting firm.

Amy Frogge was president of the Nashville Board of Education. She is a public school parent and a lawyer. She heard that Philadelphia had hired a new superintendent and was paying $450,000 to a consulting firm to train the new superintendent. When she learned that the consulting firm was led by the former superintendent in Nashville, she wrote a letter of warning to the Philadelphia board. They ignored it. She decided to write one more letter, to be sure the Philadelphia board was fully informed. Now, it’s their problem.

From: Amy Frogge <>

To: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>

Sent: Friday, July 1, 2022, 10:56:51 AM CDT

Subject: Joseph and Associates: A concise summary of what you are paying for in Philadelphia (with documentation).

Hi, everyone-

I hope this will be my last email to your board.

I’ve been sharing a lot of information on Twitter about the disaster that hit Nashville under Shawn Joseph’s leadership, but it appears that at least some of you are not active on Twitter. I want to make sure that you are fully apprised of what happened in Nashville as you move forward.

Here’s what happened in Nashville under Shawn Joseph’s leadership (with articles for your review as proof of my allegations):

1. The number of priority (low performing) schools nearly doubled.

2. We paid out millions upon millions in sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuits. (The $2 million mentioned in this article was not the final tally; the cost continued to increase.)

3. We had major and ongoing problems with no-bid contracts for preferred vendors (costing millions), sometimes even for services that went unused.

4. Joseph and his team broke the law and misled the school board to put these contracts in place.

5. We had an independent HR report done that identified an employee morale crisis, cronyism and “unconscionable” practices.

6. Here’s what an award-winning HR executive had to say:

7. Another respected Metro Nashville Schools employee on the HR problems:

8. Dr. Joseph brought former Baltimore superintendent Dallas Dance, whom he claimed as a mentor, to Nashville to serve as a member of his Transition Team. Months later Dance was indicted on charges related to kickbacks on no-bid contracts. He went to prison.

9. Around the time Joseph left Nashville, the state of TN recommended suspending Joseph’s professional educator’s license, which was required in his position as superintendent.

10. Joseph’s license to work in Tennessee was later suspended. (Per the General Counsel for the Tennessee State Board of Education (via email): “Mr. Joseph’s license was previously suspended.”)

11. There was a lot more, too much to include in this thread, but this gives you a flavor:

12. Here’s some information on the national angle (that mentions Joseph):

13. And this (also mentions Joseph):

After reading all of this, do you still think Tony Watlington needs advice from Shawn Joseph? I hope this dispels any questions about whether what you are hearing is misinformation.

As you can see, if you continue to move forward with Joseph and Associates, the $450,000 will be just the tip of the iceberg on spending.

Three Nashville school board members have now spoken with the media to warn Philadelphia against the use of Joseph and Associates. Any of us — and many more from Nashville — would be happy to share more about our experiences with you.

Philadelphia’s children are counting on you, and they deserve so much better. I wish you all the best of luck.

Amy Frogge, former Chair of the Nashville school board

The Philadelphia School Board hired an inexperienced school superintendent, then signed a contract to pay $450,000 to a firm to train the new superintendent. Former Nashville school board member Amy Frogge wrote an open letter to the Philadelphia school board, warning about the track record and failures of the consultant they hired.

The Philadelphia Inquirer published this editorial.

From the start, questions surrounded new Philadelphia School Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr.’s readiness for one of the toughest and most important jobs in the city.

Watlington only had a little over a year of experienceas a superintendent at the Rowan-Salisbury School System, a small suburban district in North Carolina.

With 114,000 students, the Philadelphia School District is more than five times the size of Rowan-Salisbury’s 18,200 students. Philadelphia’s $3.9 billion school budget dwarfs Rowan-Salisbury’s $191 million.

Watlington spent his career in North Carolina, a right-to-work state with nonunion schools. But Philadelphia is an entrenched union city and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is known for driving hard bargains and challenging major reforms.

Now comes word that the School District hired a group of consultants to essentially help Watlington do a job for which he is paid $340,000 a year. In turn, 10 consultants are getting an eye-popping $450,000 to support Watlington and “ensure a smooth leadership transition as he begins his tenure.”

That’s some high-priced hand-holding. It is also an ominous start for Watlington, which signals he may not be ready for the big time.

More troubling, one of the lead consultants — the Tennessee-based firm Joseph & Associates — comes with a trail of controversy. The firm’s founder, Shawn Joseph, served as the superintendent of the Metro Nashville public school system for less than three years before the school board bought out his contract in 2019.

During Joseph’s tenure in Nashville, questions were raised about costlyno-bid contracts, his use of a school bus driver as his chauffeur, and a school maintenance employee doing work at Joseph’s home. After Joseph left, Tennessee education officials recommended suspending his state license for one year.

After hearing about Joseph’s consulting contract, a former Nashville school board member wrote a letter to Philadelphia school officials saying she was “deeply disturbed” by the contract and warned the district about Joseph.

Joseph’s consulting contract with the Philadelphia School District calls for him to help Watlington execute “a 100-day entry plan,” which will include a listening and learning tour of Philadelphia. So, the guy from Tennessee is going to help the guy from North Carolina find his way around Philly.

Phase two of the contract calls for Joseph’s firm to help Watlington develop and implement “a transition team process informed by the quantitative and qualitative data gathered” during the listening tour.

“So, the guy from Tennessee is going to help the guy from North Carolina find his way around Philly.”

Phase three of the contract calls for Joseph’s firm to help Watlington develop a five-year strategic plan that “will serve as the district’s road map to achieve the goals and guardrails.”

That’s all well and good, but the three-step plan amounts to little more than the basic tasks of any incoming superintendent. The existing staff at the School District should be able to show Watlington around Philadelphia and his executive team can help develop a five-year plan.

Watlington defended the $450,000 consulting contract, but it still sounds like a giant waste of taxpayers’ money. The School District should look to end this contract immediately. If Philadelphia is serious about improving educational outcomes of students, it should look to Washington, D.C., which has made impressive gains in student test scores largely by improving the quality of teachers.

If Watlington wants Joseph’s help, he can read Joseph’s book titled “The Principal’s Guide to the First 100 Days of the School Year: Creating Instructional Momentum.” It’s available on Amazon for $29.95. That’s a better deal than the $450,000 consulting contract.

By all accounts, Watlington comes across as a dedicated educator. But the Philadelphia School District needs a dynamic leader with a track record of success who can hit the ground running. Not one who requires an overpriced consultant to perform on-the-job training.

Amy Frogge is a parent of children in the Nashville public schools, a lawyer, and served two terms on the Metro Nashville school board. When she read in Chalkbeat that the Philadelphia school board had hired a consulting firm to advise its new superintendent, she was stunned. The consulting firm would be paid a fee of $450,000 for its advice. But what stunned her was that the firm was operated by the former Superintendent of Nashville, who had left under a cloud. This was the same superintendent who brought to Nashville a leadership team that included former Baltimore County superintendent Dallas Dance. Shortly after Dance was brought to Nashville, he was convicted and imprisoned on charges relating to consulting fees on a no-bid contract, which he lied about on financial disclosures.

Frogge sent the following letter to Philadelphia school board members:

Good morning-

My name is Amy Frogge. I am an attorney and former eight-year member of the Metro Nashville school board, where I served as both Vice Chair and Chair. 

I was deeply disturbed to see that your school district has entered into a contract with Joseph and Associates: This article includes comments from two Nashville board members who claim that Shawn Joseph left our school district merely due to personality conflicts, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I know the contract has been finalized, but I am reaching out to you as a warning. When Joseph arrived in Nashville, his former supervisor from another school district reached out to me as well, and I wish I had heeded the warnings. I voted to hire him and remained his strong supporter until I finally realized what was happening behind the scenes.

When Shawn Joseph and his team arrived in Nashville, we were hit by millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and an array unqualified, highly paid consultants. Unauthorized purchasing increased sevenfold, which meant Joseph and his team were not following proper contract procedures. Joseph negotiated contracts in violation of state law, and he could not account for the spending of $1.5 million on a no-bid contract that he awarded to someone he knew and brought with him from another school district. He repeatedly misled the school board and split contracts so that they would not come to the board for approval. In addition, our district endured what was described as a “morale crisis,” and the school board had to hire an independent firm to assess the district’s new Human Resources department. It concluded that employee morale was the lowest it had ever been and that Joseph’s team was engaging in “unconscionable” practices. By the time Joseph left, the state recommended revocation of his state license. This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a short summary of just some of the problems we encountered: There is much more. I have never before or after experienced such corruption and dysfunction.

Shawn Joseph’s severance agreement included a gag order for school board members to prevent us from speaking even truthfully about our experiences. Three of us had to sue to remove the clause from agreement, and we just won the lawsuit. That is the reason I am able to reach out to you today.

I just attended an education conference in your lovely city, and I hate to see Philadelphia go down the same path. I would be happy to speak with any of you about our experiences. Please feel free to call or email me.

Amy Frogge