by Lisa Haver
The SRC still lacks transparency, and should be replaced with a locally elected school board.
When it comes to transparency, the School Reform Commission is still not making the grade.
Commissioner Wendell Pritchett, in a recent School Reform Commission meeting, declared that principals are “the most important people” in the Philadelphia School District. PSD administrators have also argued that having a good teacher is the most important factor in a child’s success in school. Baffling, then, that the SRC commissioners made a deliberate decision to exclude teachers and principals from the Superintendent Selection Committee.
It seems clear now that the nine community meetings held last winter by the SRC were designed to present the illusion that the public actually had anything to say about this important decision. The agenda for these meetings allotted almost 90 minutes for participants to talk to each other in small groups but no time to ask questions of the Selection Committee members present. At the first meeting, held at Simon Gratz High School, I asked that we have time to question the Selection Committee. Commissioner Pritchett refused to allow any deviation from the agenda, even after I pointed out that it was a public meeting and that the public should have some say in how the meeting was run.
Reading the recently released Penn Praxis report on these community meetings clearly shows that one qualification was non-negotiable: the new superintendent had to be an educator. “Schools are not a business” was a common refrain. If the SRC were truly listening to the community, how could they have possibly justified the nomination of Pedro Martinez? Mr. Martinez had never taught a day in his life. His training was in Accounting. He had no degree in Education and had never been a teacher or a principal. Why would the SRC have nominated someone who never held what they insisted were the two most important jobs in education?
William Hite, Jr., the second of only two applicants from a pool of one hundred the public was allowed to meet, was clearly more qualified and ultimately given the position. His extensive experience in education and his ability to thoughtfully and intelligently answer questions made him the obvious choice. However, with so little time given to the public to research and assess the nominees, concerns remained about Dr. Hite’s degree from the Broad Superintendents Academy. Broad graduates, including former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, are schooled in the virtues of vouchers, privatization, union-busting and corporate control of schools; Pedro Martinez is also a graduate of the Broad Academy.
The SRC continues its clear pattern of making crucial decisions behind closed doors while simultaneously characterizing itself as “transparent”. Seven months after voting to obey the mandates of the Gates Compact and promising to have more public dialogue about its ramifications, the SRC has yet to place the issue on its agenda. Five months after promising to place resolutions back on its agenda BEFORE, not AFTER being voted on, the SRC fails to keep that simple promise.
This is what transparency looks like? How and why did the SRC choose Martinez and Hite over the other 90 plus applicants? The SRC’s recent surprise announcement of Martinez and Hite as the two finalists for superintendent—and their quick two day public meet-and-greet—was downright insulting to those who cared enough to come out on those cold nights last winter. Many of those participants have come to the sad realization that what they had to say ultimately meant very little.
These eleven long and frustrating years since the state took over the Philadelphia School District have taken their toll.
There are several reasons why a growing number of Philadelphians are calling for the dissolution of the SRC: its legacy of pandering to business interests while turning its back on students, parents, and teachers; its impotence in dealing with incompetent and ultimately destructive administrators such as Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman; its failure to take action as the district’s own mismanagement resulted in a deficit of historic proportions.
The time is long past for us to take back our schools from a state government which is openly hostile to the people of Philadelphia. We must take action before the Governor declares the district insolvent as a rationale for taking complete control and breaking the contracts of workers which were negotiated in good faith. It is time to reinstate the Philadelphia School Board, and to make it an elected body. We deserve the right, as every other Pennsylvanian does, to choose those who will manage our schools.
We teach our students that we live in a democracy. Philadelphia students, parents and teachers can no longer be denied the right to decide what is best for the people of our city.
Lisa Haver is a retired teacher, education activist and writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.