Was Philadelphia’s Superintendent Search a Dog and Pony Show?

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 lhaver1039@yahoo.com.

Pedro Ramos is not Scott Walker, and Pennsylvania is not Wisconsin

by Christopher Paslay

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos may be emboldened by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor, but the Keystone State is a far cry from the Badger State.       

It appears that Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos is suffering from Scott Walker Syndrome.  His recent attempt to push legislation that would extend the SRC’s power to nullify union contracts and unilaterally dictate salary and benefits to School District employees is curiously timed.  You’d almost think Ramos has become emboldened by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s Assembly Bill 11, also known as his “Budget Repair Bill,” which limits collective bargaining by public-sector unions, caps salary increases, and forces workers to pay more for their pensions and health benefits.

Members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation, however, do not seem to be as enamored by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor.  Walker may have survived Tuesday’s recall election, but this hasn’t inspired Pennsylvania state legislators to get on board with the SRC’s surprise legislative amendment that would further cripple School District unions and their bargaining power.

Although Pennsylvania’s Act 46 already strips the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers of their right to strike—giving the SRC the power to unilaterally impose contact terms and limit collective bargaining—Ramos feels he needs even more power.

According to Kristen Graham’s 6/8/12 Inquirer story:

State Rep. Michael H. O’Brien (D., Phila.), who was at the meeting, said Ramos admitted the SRC was attempting to sell a legislative amendment Ramos needed because current law “didn’t give the SRC enough juice,” in O’Brien’s words.

The SRC’s new ploy for more power was apparently an unpleasant surprise for many, including Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation.

Someone, perhaps Nutter himself, needs to tell Pedro Ramos that he’s not Scott Walker.  And while he’s at it, he needs to explain to the SRC that Pennsylvania (and for the purposes of this argument, Philadelphia) is not Wisconsin.  For starters, Pennsylvania has a balanced budget (although the Philadelphia School District is still facing a deficit, but this deficit was created by the SRC itself).  Second, Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System was just overhauled in 2010, cutting pension benefits and increasing member contributions.  Third, collective bargaining by the largest teachers’ union in the state—the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—has already been severely limited for over a decade by the passing of Act 46.

Here’s a comparison between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on three hot button issues: collective bargaining rights; retirement; and health insurance.

Collective Bargaining

Massive protests broke out in Wisconsin last year when Governor Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, which limited the collective bargaining power of public-sector unions.  According to the Greenbay Press Gazette:

The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum.

Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union.

Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.

But when you compare this to the restrictions imposed on the largest teachers union in Pennsylvania by the passing of Act 46 over a decade ago, it is relatively small potatoes.  According to an article in the University of Penn’s Journal of Labor and Employment Law:

The state takeover of Philadelphia city schools will obviously have an effect on Philadelphia teachers’ ability to bargain collectively for contract rights. . . . While the system is under the control of the SRC, teachers are prohibited from striking in order to secure contract rights. . . . For example, teachers could be faced with a significantly lengthened school year, less preparation time, and larger classes, all without the opportunity to bargain for any compensation for these impositions. . . . Also, the district would not be required to discuss “decisions related to reduction in force.” This allowance for the district, coupled with the fact that, under Act 86, the SRC may make decisions to suspend professional employees without regard to tenure protection has potentially dire consequences for the professional security of educators. In a situation involving layoffs, for instance, teachers who have years of experience could be suspended before new hires.

In effect, under Act 46, the SRC already has the power to unilaterally impose contract terms, overhaul traditional schools and turn them into charters, lengthen the school day and year without compensating workers, layoff teachers regardless of seniority or tenure, and takes away the union’s right to strike, among other things.

As for union dues: Philadelphia public school teachers can opt out of joining the union, but they are still required by the state to pay something called “Fair Share,” which basically means that they have to pay union dues anyway, which is about 1 percent of their salary.

Pensions and Retirement

Until Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, state, school district, and municipal employees in Wisconsin paid little to nothing for their pensions.  Now members of the Wisconsin Retirement System must contribute 50 percent of the annual pension payment, which means public school teachers have to start contributing about 5.8 percent of every check toward their pensions.

Since 2001, Philadelphia school teachers, who are members of Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System, were required to pay 7.5 percent of every check to their pensions.  Legislation passed in 2010 now requires new teachers to pay 10.3 percent of every check toward their pensions if they want to receive the same pension as those hired before December of 2010; those new teachers who agree to accept a modified pension multiplier (smaller pension) can continue to pay at the 7.5 percent rate.

Health Insurance

Before the Walker bill, Wisconsin state employees paid about 6 percent of their health insurance costs.  Now they will be forced to kick in double that—about 12 percent of the average cost of annual premiums.

Philadelphia public school teachers have excellent benefits, and at little cost.  According to the current contract between the PFT and PSD, teachers have to contribute at most 3 – 5 percent of annual premiums, and many teachers pay nothing.  Co-pays do continue to go up, but teachers are in a good position here; it’s inevitable that in the future, sacrifices will have to be made, and employees may have to kick in more money.  This, of course, can be agreed upon at the bargaining table, and there is absolutely no need for new legislation to be proposed by the SRC to get this done.

The SRC’s recent attempt to push legislation to further cripple School District unions is uncalled for.  The SRC has already sent layoff notices to 2,700 service workers who are SEIU 32BJ union members, and is planning to privatize neighborhood schools and cut unions by turning 40 percent of District schools into charters by 2017.

Some can argue what Walker did in Wisconsin was justified; unions in the Badger State needed to be reeled-in to keep Wisconsin from falling off an economic cliff, which is why 30 percent of union workers voted in Tuesday’s recall election to keep Walker in office.  But the situation is a bit different in the Keystone State.

Pedro Ramos is no Scott Walker.  Shame on him for trying to use Walker’s momentum to push his misguided and unnecessary legislation to further cripple organized labor in Philadelphia.

The SRC: What went wrong?

“Earlier this month, around the time the Phillies fell into their offensive funk, another local team found itself in trouble. The School Reform Commission, put in place a decade ago to help revive the city’s struggling public schools, was beginning to implode.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “The SRC: What went wrong?”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

Does the Philadelphia School District Value Public Input?

by Lisa Haver


“Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

            —Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll


A meeting at Germantown High School on Thursday, February 3, was billed in a Daily News ad as an opportunity for parents and the community to have their say on some important issues. The ad listed times and locations but was not clear on objectives. Not until the meeting started did I understand that the main topic was how to deal with declining enrollment and the increasing number of empty desks in some schools and overcrowding in others. ( I thought it was going to be about Germantown’s transition to Promise Academy; that is the subject of a subsequent meeting.)


A presentation which included a number of charts and graphs, distributed to the audience, was given by a consultant with DeLonghi/Ritter. This company has been hired to analyze data and advise the Philadelphia School District on how to solve the empty desks problem. The information showed how the student population has declined citywide due to a number of reasons including declining birthrate and growth of charter schools. I asked what percentage of the empty desks were attributable to the second reason: the answer was 60 percent. I then asked why the district made sure that this number would surely continue to grow given their practice of approving more charters and restructuring existing schools into charters. It’s not an act of God to be cleaned up after–it is their own policy. When I asked, the representative did try to explain; but he advises the district, he does not make the decisions. As soon as I got my answer, it was time to go into our “breakout groups”.


Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunnery made some brief comments, telling us that the contributions of the public, especially parents, were very important. The meeting was highly structured with two district facilitators at each table holding six parents. Each group was told to look at a list of “educational priorities” and vote for the five we thought were the most important. One parent at my table asked why the choices included literacy, math, science, and social studies since they are state-mandated subjects. The facilitator replied that these choices had been selected by parents in the first round of meetings. What first round? Nobody at my table had known about them.


After the votes were tallied, I asked how they would affect district policy in the future. I was told that the results would be published on the website. I tried to say that that was not an answer to my question, but I had a strong feeling that these votes weren’t really going to change many of the decisions already made by the district.


There have been ten meetings convened for this same issue; I attended a second at Saul High School. Instead of having us vote, this time the facilitator wrote down issues and questions given by the participants . About sixty people attended the Germantown meeting, about eighty at Saul. Given that these two meetings were for the residents of the entire Northwest area—Roxborough-Manayunk, Mount Airy, Germantown, Chestnut Hill, West Oak Lane—that is a very low turnout. Perhaps more notice than an ad in the paper and an item on the district’s website would have increased attendance. In answer to a question, a facilitator told us that no flyers had been sent home with students.


For all its talk of “parent partnering,” does the district really try its best to hear from them or others in the community? Since the state takeover ten years ago, the School Reform Commission has held all of its regular meetings in the early afternoon. Since teachers, students, most working parents and taxpayers cannot be there, who is watching and participating when the real decisions are being made and voted on?


If the parents of one neighborhood vote to stop a school from shutting down, does that mean the school stays open? Not if you ask the parents of the former Ada Lewis Middle School. They fought a futile battle with the district, using their own money to pay for consultants and engineers to show that the building did not really need the costly repairs the district claimed it did. Parents were quoted in the local press, including the Public School Notebook, expressing their feelings that the closure had been decided before the first Lewis parent took the microphone at the School Reform Commission. So when the district and its representatives tell parents that they “need” their input, what does that really mean?


Another series of meetings, begun last week, has been scheduled to discuss the decision made by Superintend Arlene Ackerman to restructure eighteen more schools in Renaissance Schools or Promise Academies. Again, the purpose of these meetings is baffling: hasn’t the decision already been made?


Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia public school teacher.  She taught middle school for 16 years at Harding, Central East, and Roosevelt. 


Private managers will get paid regardless of services provided


While principals and teachers get publicly reprimanded, the SRC continues to pay firms for failure.


by Christopher Paslay


How many education management organizations does it take to screw in a light bulb? 


Answer: Five


At least that’s how many private firms currently run schools in Philadelphia.  The troubling part is not that numerous studies have shown that these private firms fare no better than traditional public schools (of the 16 elementary and middle schools private managers operate, 10 performed worse than district-run schools).  But that after years of service, the SRC still doesn’t seem to know exactly what these firms do.


In the spring of 2007, the district’s Office of Accountability, Assessment and Intervention submitted an internal report to the SRC on the district’s contracts with the EMOs (there were six in 07). 


According to a May 2007 article published in the Notebook, the District report offered a list of recommendations to ensure a more thorough accounting of how the EMOs used their funds if any contracts were renewed. 


The Notebook article also said that the report found fault with the contract language, and noted that the EMO contracts lacked adequate terms and compliance mechanisms to ensure the delivery of mandated services to special education students and English language learners.       


Two years later it still doesn’t seem like the SRC knows what these private managers are doing.  Associate Superintendent Benjamin W. Rayer told the Inquirer that there was confusion with the current EMOs and that some services were being duplicated. 


“There was inconsistent direction for principals and teachers, and confusion over exactly what the providers were doing for their $500 per student,” the Inquirer reported


This confusion hasn’t kept the SRC from continuing to give EMOs large sums of money.  The district recently recommended spending $9 million to keep the private managers next year. 


But the role of the private firms will be changing: They will go from managers to “consultants” providing “supportive services”. 


What will these “supportive services” be?  No one knows.  The district wants to pay these providers the same amount of money as last year, regardless of services provided.    


If these services look anything like what ReslTech offered Communications Technology, Parkway Center City, and Philadelphia High School for Business in 2006, the SRC might want to reconsider.    


Hired by district officials to maximize effective teaching and learning, ReslTech was paid a large sum of money (the word on the street was $1 million).  But faculty and staff were less than thrilled with their performance.    


Principals felt short-changed, and teachers agreed that the consultants were inexperienced, and recycled old ideas. 


The risk with hiring consultants like ResulTech is that their services are often vague, and hard to measure. 


The district insists that this won’t be a problem with its current EMOs.  According to the Inquirer, the district will “sit down with all the providers and determine what exactly they will work on in each school.”


But there is still a giant kink in this plan.  If the fiscal year starts July 1st, this means the district will be paying for planning and meeting time with the private providers (which could take months).  If and when the plans are ever implemented—and the “supportive services” are ever agreed upon—a sizable portion of the school year will be over.


And more money will be wasted. 


And what about results?  Will these “consultants” in their new roles be held accountable, much the same way principals and teachers are?  Will the district impose specific goals and ways of measuring improvement?  Perhaps a 10 percent increase in PSSA scores?  A notable increase in attendance rates or a decrease in discipline referrals?  Or will performance goals be vague, like the “supportive services” themselves? 


At a time when the district is negotiating with both the principals’ and the teachers’ union (among others), they should be extra-cautious with their money. 


In short: The district should know what they’re getting before they pay for it.


Public must scrutinize district spending



by Susan Cohen Smith


It has been said that, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” As news of the School District of Philadelphia’s new leadership team and windfall budget sinks in, it would be prudent to recall lessons learned from the past.


When the School Reform Commission was formed in 2001, the system was in financial as well as academic distress. With the appointment of Paul Vallas as CEO came an influx of new money for educational reforms. The workforce tentatively acknowledged Vallas’ ideas and new leadership.


Some of us were slow to jump on board, and reluctant to accept the alien presence of Vallas’ Chicago imports whom we sometimes referred to as the “Square-Toes” for their preference in footwear.  When in the presence of downtown administrative types, many of us instinctively gazed down at their shoes to determine if they were the new guys from Chicago.


One such administrator was charged with heading up the new Secondary Education Movement.  Student Governments fell within his bailiwick. The SRC’s first act with regard to Student Government had been to do away with the longstanding, largely ceremonial tradition of including student representatives on the School Board. These positions had come with the honor of having the students’ names lettered on office doors at the 21st Street headquarters, which the SRC also did away with, but that’s another blog.


To make up for this slight, the new head of Secondary Education promised an enthusiastic gathering of Student Government sponsors a whopping $1000 annual budget plus a host of other unprecedented activities and opportunities for students. The goal was to prepare the student leaders of each secondary school for the world after high school and to encourage kids to get involved with the often-thankless tasks surrounding student government.


While some of these promises and programs were eventually enacted, their implementation was inconsistent and short-lived.


One interesting innovation introduced by this Chicago transplant was a program called Senior Residency, whereby outstanding 12th grade students were identified and recruited for service to their schools. For satisfactory performance of their assigned duties, the Senior Residents were paid a stipend of $100 a month and received academic credit as well. We were warned never to say double-dipping.


The following directive went out to the high schools:


“Seniors will be required to wear a specially designed uniform while serving as a Senior Residency participant. The uniform will consist of a Secondary Education Movement logo polo shirt and the approved bottoms of their respective school.”


At sponsors’ meetings, we questioned the value of this expenditure, as the shirts would be worn only for a few months by kids who were graduating and would never again wear them. We were told that the administrator ordered them and that was that.


The high-quality polo shirts, along with heavy cotton button-down long-sleeved shirts, each with embroidered logo, all in size XL, arrived the first week in June! The seniors who were still around refused to wear either shirt in the sweltering buildings. One of the Residents refashioned her oversized polo shirt into a mini dress.


This same Chicago Square-Toe also spent enormous amounts of newfound money on elaborate High School Fairs, referred to by many as his “dog and pony shows”.


To no one’s surprise, he left the School District of Philadelphia after three years on the job, just before the $180 million surprise deficit surfaced in 2006 to become Superintendent of another urban school district in the Midwest. It became clear that his lavish spending practices were nothing more than portfolio enhancements to enrich his job search.


Right now, with a fresh look to the School Reform Commission and new money in the coffers, there must be unrelenting public vigilance and outcry the moment these new faces appear to head in the same direction as their predecessors. Indefensible spending based on dubious and untested practices must be vigorously held to critical examination and intense scrutiny lest we find ourselves in the same mess as in 2006.


Susan Cohen Smith is a retired Philadelphia public school teacher.  She taught Art and French for 36 years.  You can email her at retiredartteacher@gmail.com


Shaking-up the SRC: What makes a good leader?



by Christopher Paslay


According to a story in today’s Inquirer, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission is “headed for a major shake-up”.  Sources state that Robert L. Archie Jr., a partner at the Duane Morris law firm, is set to replace current SRC Chairperson Sandra Dungee Glenn, and that there will be at least three new appointees to the commission.


This “shake-up” within the SRC leaves me wondering what kind of leaders will be running our district.  It brings to mind Verse 17 from the Tao Te Ching, a passage that ponders the qualities of a good leader:     


(as translated by American Stephen Mitchell)


When the Master governs, the people

are hardly aware that he exists.

Next best is a leader who is loved.

Next, one who is feared.

The worst is one who is despised.


If you don’t trust the people,

you make them untrustworthy.


The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say, “Amazing:

we did it, all by ourselves!”


What kind of leaders will be running the Philadelphia School District?  Will they be loved?  Feared?  Despised?  How do we feel about our leaders now? 


Do they provide us with encouragement and positive reinforcements, or do they consistently focus their attention on the negatives?    


Are we, the hard working staff of the Philadelphia School District, trusted?  Respected?  How often do our leaders acknowledge us and say thank you?   


Last month, I discussed this passage with each of my English classes.  We talked about what makes a good leader.  In the beginning, the majority of my students argued that the best leader is one who is feared.  They reasoned that an effective leader couldn’t be loved, because in their minds, this meant that the person must be a push-over. 


But after further examination, we as a class came to the conclusion that the best leader is indeed the one who is loved. 


“If you love the leader, you’ll respect him and want to please him,” one student said.  “You’ll act not out of fear, but because you want to do the right thing.” 


This was a very wise insight from a very intelligent teenager. 


So how will we view our new team of leaders?  How will they view us?


Will there be love?  Fear?  Anger?   


When our work is done, will we say, Amazing: We did it, all by ourselves!    


Only time will tell. 


Imagine 2014



by Christopher Paslay

(Re: Imagine 2014)






Imagine there’s no insults
It’s easy if you try
No blaming just the teachers
No waving 30 schools goodbye
Imagine the SRC
Giving us what we need


Imagine no outside managers

It isn’t hard to do

No wasting millions of dollars

And no consultants too

Imagine all the parents

Pulling their own weight


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone   


Imagine no betrayal

I wonder if you can

No inside agenda

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the politicians

Doing what they say


You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday the SRC will join us

And every child will be someone


Parent Roundtables are a Step in the Right Direction

by Christopher Paslay


I must give the Philadelphia School District credit: They have publicly acknowledged that parental and community involvement is an important part of improving education in the city of Philadelphia.  Last Thursday night (11/6), Dr. Arlene Ackerman hosted the first in a series of monthly parent roundtables at district headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.  The roundtables are a forum for parents to share ideas with Dr. Ackerman and to ask questions about the district and its inner workings. 


“One of the things we have to do is to help you know what questions to ask,” Dr. Ackerman told the 200 parents who attended the meeting.  “There should be no surprises.”


Although there are over 167,000 students in the Philadelphia school District, 200 parents getting actively involved in the schooling of their children is a good start. 


The parent roundtables are part of Dr. Ackerman’s strategic plan to achieve excellence in the Philadelphia School District.  Dr. Ackerman detailed this plan in a message she posted on the district website entitled Excellence, Equity and Accountability 2014: A Strategic Plan for the School District of Philadelphia.  In this message Dr. Ackerman hopes “to achieve excellence, equity and accountability for everyone within the District with the ultimate goal of providing every District student with a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


To her credit, Dr. Ackerman also acknowledges that “this effort of creating an agenda for excellence, equity, and accountability by 2014 cannot be done without the support of the entire District as well as the Philadelphia community.”


Dr. Ackerman’s plan has three stages.


“The first stage of this endeavor will be a series of community meetings conducted in multiple languages throughout Philadelphia. The goal of these community meetings is to not only to share what the District has learned from its previous work but also to gather the experiences and recommendations from parents, students, and community leaders concerned about the future of our students.


The second stage of creating this plan will be to host a series of working groups with specific focus areas. These working groups will be charged with the task of determining a set of strategies and priorities to support the District in achieving its goals of excellence, equity, and accountability. Each of these working groups will include District leaders at all levels (central office, regional offices, principals, teachers, and support staff), parents, students, and community partners. As a District, we serve a diverse student population; it is equally critical that our working groups represent this diversity.


The third stage of creating this plan will be to return the suggested strategies to the community to ensure that we have created an agenda to achieve excellence, equity, and accountability that will ensure that every student receives a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


I’d personally like to get involved with the working groups at stage two.  I have a strategy I’d like to discuss with district leaders that involves improving the district from the inside-out, or in other words, that starts with the community and neighborhoods and works its way up to the schools.  My idea is very similar to what Geoffrey Canada is doing with his Harlem Children’s Zone.  And because Barack Obama is the president elect, NOW is the time to take that model and expand it to Philadelphia; Obama has already stated that he’d like to turn HCZ into a national model, and Philadelphia should lobby to be first on the list for funding.  Maybe this could be the job of  Lori Shorr and Sharen Tucker, Mayor Nutter’s “dynamic duo” of education.   


And I’m sure Dr. Ackerman is plenty familiar with HCZ.  She taught at Columbia University before coming to Philadelphia, and I’d have to believe she studied its success first hand. 


But I’ll blog about the reasons why Shorr and Tucker (and the SRC and Mayor Nutter and Ed Rendell and Dr. Ackerman) should start lobbying to get federal funding to bring the HCZ model to Philadelphia at a later date. 


For now, kudos to Dr. Ackerman and the SRC for getting parents more involved in their children’s educations.  If we can rally the neighborhoods of Philadelphia to support the district and its teachers, I’m sure we can bring excellence and equity to all public schools.

PFT Holds Strong, Wins 4% Raise and 10 Month Contract Extension

by Christopher Paslay


Kudos to PFT President Jerry Jordan and members of the Collective Bargaining Team.  The Philadelphia School District agreed to extend the PFT’s current contract another 10 months to August 31st, 2009.  Even more important, the SRC agreed to a 4% salary increase for teachers that will take effect on March 15, 2009.      


Although this extension means Jerry Jordan and the PFT will be back at the bargaining table almost immediately to work out another deal, I believe the 10 month extension was a win-win for everyone.  It was a win for teachers because we didn’t lose any health benefits (in fact, we were given the choice of a medical insurance opt-out program), and we also retained valuable resources such as prep time and seniority. 


The extension was also a win for Dr. Ackerman and the School Reform Commission.  Now the new CEO can have the time needed to acclimate herself to the district and figure out how teachers and the district can come together to accomplish the same goal: To build a better learning environment for the children of Philadelphia.


Hopefully, the PFT and SRC will start working now on a new, multi-year contract, one that is fair and respectful to all parties involved.