SRC hears more comments on proposed overhaul

Posted: May 17, 2012

As it prepares to make a decision on a complete transformation of the way the Philadelphia School District is structured and run, the School Reform Commission heard from more members of the public on its plan Wednesday night.

The plan calls for a lean central office and “achievement networks” — groups of 25 schools run either by district staff or outside nonprofit providers, such as universities or charter organizations — to replace the current structure.

Hillary Linardopoulos, a third-grade teacher at Julia deBurgos Elementary in Kensington, urged leaders to work with the current structure, not rely heavily on charters to fix things.

“Oftentimes, charters have significantly more resources yet no better test scores,” Linardopoulos told SRC members. “In addition, students with severe behavior problems are oftentimes sent back to their neighborhood schools. I have seen this firsthand.”

While critics have called the plan privatization of public schools, district officials have disputed that. They have also stressed that nothing is final, and that they are seriously considering feedback gathered at meetings around the city.

Linardopoulos also wondered why teachers were left out of the transformation blueprint.

“It feels that we have been largely left out of the planning phases of much of what transpires in the district,” she said. “Yet we are the ones in the schools day in and day out. ... We feel undervalued and that our resources and expertise are not taken into account.”

Commissioner Wendell Pritchett said Linardopoulos’ point was well taken. How should the SRC better incorporate teacher voices into the decision-making process? he asked. Linardopoulos suggested focus groups, and meetings during teacher training sessions.

Parent Cathy Roccia-Meier blasted the blueprint.

“The restructuring plan in its current form is at best unsustainable and proposes a plan that the district does not have the infrastructure to implement successfully,” Roccia-Meier said. “At worst, it is a plan that does not serve all Philadelphia children, and on that basis alone it needs to be rejected.”

Roccia-Meier worries about achievement networks, which, she said, would create a new level of bureaucracy and confusion about who is accountable to whom and who is in charge of ensuring equity.

Make no mistake, Roccia-Meier said — the SRC does need to transform the district.

But do it “by going back to the core mission of the district to serve all students with lower class size, and resources and supports in the schools and by avoiding costly contracts that do not support this mission,” she said.

A number of speakers also asked the SRC to halt a plan to turn Creighton Elementary into a charter school run by Universal Cos. Inc.

The SRC voted last month to turn three schools over to charters, but delayed voting on Creighton, where teachers have proposed their own plan to restructure the school.

Second-grade student Jake Lee told the SRC he loves Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi is his favorite character, he said.

“But I love [my teacher] Miss Collins a lot more,” Jake said. “We like our school the way it is. If you change it, we won’t have all these great things, and that would make me sad.”

Teacher Mary McCullagh told the SRC that she believes “Creighton is the embodiment of what a public school should be.”

Her school is diverse — five languages are spoken in her first-grade class alone, McCullagh said. And though progress has been made, Creighton is still struggling in some ways.

“But I do not think that taking away their school, the place these children call their second home, is the answer,” McCullagh said.

A handful of people spoke in favor of Universal’s taking over Creighton. Valerie Smith-Webb, a parent at Audenried High, a school Universal took over this school year, said great things are happening at the school.

“I personally hope that Universal can expand throughout Philadelphia, starting with the acquisition of Creighton as a northern presence,” Smith-Webb said.

SRC members said that they understood the need to make a decision on Creighton in the very near future, and that they hoped to do so before their June meeting.

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, “Philly School Files,” at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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