Arlene C. Ackerman, Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, responded to my commentary in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer by writing a letter to the editor. The letter, headlined, “Taking Exception,” explained that the School Reform Commission is working hard to rectify the problems faced by the Philadelphia School District, and that there are “no easy answers”.
I appreciate Ackerman’s diligence and professionalism for responding to my questions. However, I’d like to further explore what she labels “four areas in need of discussion”.
First, Ackerman says, “We must work together to improve teacher quality and retention by raising base salary for teachers and offering differentiated pay for teachers in hard-to-fill positions and chronically underperforming schools.”
I agree with raising base salaries. This will help Philadelphia compete with the suburbs. However, I don’t know if differentiated pay will draw teachers to hard-to-fill positions. I think cutting class size in these schools might work better.
Second, she says, “We need to provide a safer learning environment by ensuring that our staff comes to school before students arrive and stay after students leave, unlike what is stipulated in the current contract.”
Let’s face it. This is just a nifty way for the SRC to justify lengthening the school day. In my opinion, the length of the school day isn’t the root problem of children failing academically.
Third, she says, “We need to ensure adequate notice of teachers’ plans to retire or resign well in advance of the new school year. It is current practice of staff to leave their classroom positions even after children arrive in September and throughout the year.”
Here’s the deal on this. Teachers retire in the middle of the year because they get hired in the middle of the year. It’s a pension thing. The only answer to this is to make sure that the SRC hires all of its teacher before September 1st.
Finally, she says, “We must review the practice of staff counting multiple consecutive days off as one absence. It deprives children of valuable instructional time.”
This is factually inaccurate. According to the current contract, multiple consecutive days off doesn’t count as one absence, it counts as one incident. Teachers receive 10 sick days and 3 personal days each year. Each time they are absent, they lose one of these days.
After three “incidents” teachers are given a disciplinary memo by their principal. In my opinion, this is nonsense. Why should teachers be penalized fore using contractual sick time?
Again, I appreciate the fact Dr. Ackerman took the time to respond to my commentary. If anything, it shows she truly cares. Hopefully, through this correspondence, the lines of communication will remain open between the PFT and the SRC, and a contract agreement (multiyear) will be reached soon.