Work by Dr. Cassandra Jones thoroughly rebukes sloppy work submitted by School District execs who want to shut 37 schools
ABOVE PHOTO: Rev. Alyn Waller.
What follows are some of the key recommendations contained in an exhaustive 34-page analysis of the School District’s plan to close 37 schools and transfer or relocate 17,000 students. This analysis, prepared under the direction of nationally recognized scholar Dr. Cassandra Jones, was the subject of strong testimony before City Council last week by the pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Dr. Alyn Waller.
Based on documents currently available from the School District of Philadelphia and school-based community meetings, the recommendations proposed below are offered for consideration at this time.
I. Publish the capital improvement recommendations, the final disposition of all schools, all data used in the decision-making process, and the community input utilized to make individual school decisions for all SDP schools as stated in the SDP Long-Range Facilities Plan, DRAFT April 2011.
This recommendation is based upon the need to comply with the SDP’s intent to provide the community with as much information as possible regarding the district’s facilities plan, especially its recommendations for school closings and/restructuring.
The SDP’s Long-Range Facilities Plan, which was published in April 2011 and labeled DRAFT on its cover page, stated on page 73 that in its final version three critical components would be addressed.
The three components included completion of a program equity study, recommended capital improvements for all schools, and school-specific recommendations for all schools and district-owned facilities. Further explanations of the three components are provided below.
1. Program Equity Study
The facilities master plan will review the following program areas to include the specific facilities needs and to determine best practice and improved instructional delivery models:
• Career & Technical Education
• Early Childhood
• English Language Learners
• Special Education
2. Recommended Capital Improvements
The facilities master plan will make capital improvement recommendations for all schools in the district. The capital improvements could include different levels of renovation as well as construction of new space (that does not increase capacity in the district.)
3. School-Specific Recommendations
In October 2011, the facilities master plan will complete the planning process and identify the final disposition of all schools and district-owned facilities. This will include all data used in the decision making process and the community input that was utilized to make school-by-school decisions. The plan will also identify implementation strategies that will move the district forward to meet the objectives as detailed in Imagine 2014 and the long-range facilities master plan.15
No evidence has been made available that additional analysis was conducted in regard to the three critical components needed to complete the district’s master plan for facilities. Also, there is no evidence that all district schools were included in the study to determine capital improvement needs. No schools in the Northeast region are included in the recommendations summarized in the December 2012 document titled SDP Facilities Master Plan. However, information related to schools in the Northeast region was compiled by a school-based community meeting participant/volunteer researcher and is available in Appendix 2.
Other pertinent information promised but never provided included charter school capacity, transportation costs, and boundary impacts. Also, cost impacts, both savings and investment, were not provided school by school.
It is noteworthy that stakeholders have only recently been given the opportunity to provide input that will assist in shaping the district’s long-term facility vision.
If the final three components had been completed and published in a final version, especially in regard to the final disposition of all schools, valuable data used in the decision-making process and community input could have been utilized to make sound decisions school by school.
II. Exclude closure of all high schools from the SDP’s Facilities Master Plan recommendations
The recommendation to exclude high schools from the list of proposed closings is based upon a number of factors, including the safety and well-being of Philadelphia’s young people, the 2002 SRC recommendation to restructure high schools to a limited capacity of 400-800 students, consideration of eight factors to be weighed for school closure decisions, and the requirement under the laws and regulations of the state of Pennsylvania that notifications of school closings “shall include the reason or reasons for such closing and shall describe how the closing contributes to the orderly development of attendance areas” (22 Pa. Code § 349.28).
High school closures would require students to cross neighborhood boundaries to attend newly assigned schools that could place them in potentially dangerous circumstances while travelling in unfamiliar neighborhoods and crossing gang boundaries.
Further, the SRC accepted then CEO Paul Vallas’s 2002 recommendation that Philadelphia high schools be restructured as smaller learning communities, with the goal of accelerated academic achievement. The initiative resulted in changing the landscape of high schools in Philadelphia from an average enrollment of 1,700 to 800, with half having fewer than 500 students. Closing any high school based on what is now being defined as “underutilization” runs counter to the initiative that large high schools be transformed into smaller learning communities.
Among the eight factors that should be considered in a school-closing decision are Student Relocation and Impact on Community, and transferring students during this time of their life would certainly add to their sense of instability and remove them from any meaningful support systems that have been established within their current high school environment.
III. Consider and respond to the recommendations generated by participants in the school-based community meetings concerning school closings.
The recommendation to give thoughtful consideration to the concerns and recommendations generated during school-based community meetings concerning school closings is based upon the determination to strengthen the school community’s confidence that they have been listened to, acknowledged, and valued.
In school-based community meetings, there was serious concern that the closing of elementary schools may require young children to travel 6-8 blocks or more one way. The establishment of safe corridors and the assignment of crossing guards in sufficient numbers to ensure the safety of elementary school children traveling to and from school would be necessary.
All schools that participated in the school-based community meetings developed thoughtful recommendations in response to the SDP’s Facilities Master Plan. For example, McCloskey Elementary School (pre-K to 6) has completed a study of their data, engaged in thorough school-based community engagement, and proposed two alternatives to closing McCloskey. One proposal adds a component to the school for serving additional students by growing from a pre-K to 6 school to a K-8 school. The other proposal recommends maintaining McCloskey as a pre-K to 6 school because according to current demographic/census reports, the school has had a 7.6% increase in enrollment over the last three years.
Concern was also expressed about staffing ratios for K-8 schools. In a true K-8 model, grades K-2 have a teacher-student ratio of 1:30; grades 3-5 have a teacher-student ratio of 1:33; and grades 6-8 have a teacher-student ratio of 1:24.This formula will cost the SDP more money, not less. The SDP plans a teacher-student ratio of 1:33 for grades 6-8, which is not in keeping with the recommended educational model for students in that age group. It is recommended that the SDP establish a teacher-student ratio of 1:24 for grades 6-8, in keeping with sound educational practice.
IV. Use an inclusive, focused, participatory, and date-driven community engagement process routinely.
The recommendation to use a comprehensive community engagement process is based upon the need to engage school-based communities in fully participatory and authentic ways, especially in regard to pending school closings and restructuring. Routinely using a comprehensive community engagement process serves to develop cooperative, creative, and productive individual school supporters into wise, collaborative contributors to the success of individual schools and the school district as a whole.
Giving the public a voice is of singular, vital concern to the success of the decision making involved in school closings in any American city or town. School community members, including parents, school staff, students, and community partners, must have confidence that they are empowered to voice their opinions through a community engagement process that is inclusive, transparent, and data-driven.
The SDP’s Long-Range Facilities Plan, which was published in April 2011 and labeled DRAFT on its cover page, stated on page 73 that in its final version three critical components affecting all schools would be addressed.
Two memorial services set for Arlene Ackerman, in N.M. and PA
Memorial services for former Philadelphia School District superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman have been planned in Philadelphia, PA and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Philadelphia memorial service will take place Sunday, March 3, at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th Street; the Albuquerque memorial service is scheduled for 2 PM Saturday, Feb. 23 at Fellowship Baptist Church, 8550 Saul Bell Rd.
Dr. Ackerman died on Feb. 2 of pancreatic cancer. She was 66. She was superintendent in Philadelphia for three years until August of 2011.
Both memorial services will be officiated by Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church.