Back to school: “This isn’t reform. This is destruction.”

(Photo: Emma Lee for Newsworks) Emani Edwards, 9, and Khyair Goodwin, 7, rally at City Hall for Philly schools.
(Photo: Emma Lee for Newsworks)
Emani Edwards, 9, and Khyair Goodwin, 7, rally at City Hall for Philly schools.

10septListening to Superintendent William Hite on “Radio Times” was a harsh wake up call to every parent across the district. He said that the resources given to him will allow Philadelphia to open “functional types of schools”:

“On September 9th, we will expect 134,000 young people to return to schools, and when they return to school, they will find very different schools. Now I don’t want anyone to get me wrong. We will be ready for those young people to return. However, schools will not have the same number of individuals that were there. They will have teachers, they will have access to services . . .  however some of the resources that we typically expect in schools will not be there.”

News has started to leak out about what exactly this means. Consider:

  • Overcrowded and split grade classrooms:  During the Vallas administration, Parents United successfully worked to eliminate split grade classrooms as a matter of policy. Split grades (when two grades are merged in one classroom due to budget cuts) were universally deemed a pedagogical fail. Today, they may be back in schools all across the city since the District is only allotting teachers based on the maximum number of students allowed by the teachers’ union contract.
  • Guidance counselors denied: Schools under 600 students will not have a guidance counselor. By our cursory count, this means 60% of high schools, 75% of middle schools, and 2/3 of elementary schools would not qualify for guidance counselors. Schools over 600 students will get only one guidance counselor.
  • Special education? At our Parents United meeting, several sources confirmed that the District intends to provide a 16-member roving counseling unit to handle special education emergencies only.
  • One nurse per 1500 students: Though this ratio has not changed, the District is down four nurses from last year. The staggering ratio means 6,000 students have that much less access to basic health services.
  • ZERO full time librarians: Librarians may exist in schools only if hired as teachers.
  • Minimal administrative support: Each school is allotted one school secretary. One assistant principal is given to schools with populations greater than 850 students.
  • Insufficient or zero dollars for book s and supplies: Most schools were allotted funds from which they could choose full time aides, book and supply money, or 1-2 days a week of a guidance counselor or assistant principal. Most, according to this Notebook story, are choosing full time aides leaving little to nothing left over for crucial supply money.

The principal of Masterman, one of the top schools in the city, said that the school was given $12,000 for supplies for the year, an amount she usually spends in a month. Moreover, the allotment of one guidance counselor for a 1,200 student middle and high school is simply “not functional,” she said.

The stories confirm what we already know. It was wrong for Superintendent Hite to back down on the $180 million he demanded of the city and state last spring. Last year’s staffing was far from adequate. This year’s is even worse. $50 million was barely enough to open the school house doors. It’s not nearly enough to educate children.

What’s shocking is how few parents know what schools will look like. Principals were asked to make their final choices last week, but with more than a third of principals new to their schools – and a whole bunch first-time principals – it raises serious alarm bells for parents. Parents of special education students in particular need to be clearly aware of what services their children will receive. They have every right and responsibility to maintain active contact with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center about possible violations of their IEP.

That’s why Parents United for Public Education held an emergency parents meeting last week to gather and share information. We will be posting an FAQ and reproducible action flyer shortly to share with your networks.  Parents at Powel Elementary School, who were alerted about a possible grade split in their school, were able to testifyto it at the School Reform Commission this past week.

Parents have a right to know what to expect from schools this year. The District so far has made vague references as to what our schools will look like September 9th. The reality is far worse.

Teacher David Hensel talked about how such practices were driving away teachers – but he could have as easily been talking about parents. Either way, he summed it up best:

“This isn’t reform. This is destruction.”

Update: Mayor Nutter on Twitter recently:

Other readings:

  • Testimony of Powel parent Robin Dominick to the School Reform Commission, 8/22/2013

3 thoughts on “Back to school: “This isn’t reform. This is destruction.”

  1. Helen; This is one question I had for Dr. Hite that was never answered. What will those special ed students, that need to have the LeGare process to go into high school do without a counselor? I have been asking this question for months and no one has answered it. Also, those children who are going into college need counselors to guide them through the process of applying for scholarships, and just the application process itself.

    1. It should be no surprise that one of the areas of the budget that increased significantly was the investment in legal consulting and representation. Back in February, the District contracted with a London-based firm that has successfully defended school systems against class actions on special education.

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