Tag Archives: Dr. William Hite

Advice to Future Teachers: Stay Away from Philly

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s recent contract proposal offers a dismal future for new teachers. 

In light of the recent contract proposal the Philadelphia School District made to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I have some advice for college graduates considering teaching in the city next fall: don’t bother.

Documents recently circulated by the PFT about the proposal paint a dismal picture for future Philadelphia teachers.

First, pay.  Under the current contract, first year teachers make $45,360.  Under the proposed new rules, however, first year teachers will be required to take a 10 percent cut in pay, and contribute 10 percent to their health benefits, bringing their salary down to about $39,000.  Because there is a pay freeze in place under the new contract, this will be their salary for the next four years until 2017.

“Benefits” under the new proposal, for the record, no longer include dental, eye, or prescription, as the PFT’s Health & Welfare Fund would be eliminated.

After 2017, teachers will be eligible for a raise based on a performance evaluation from their principal.  But because of the budget, they’ll most likely be responsible for buying things like paper, paying for their own copies, and using outdated textbooks and technology.

They’ll also be responsible for safety, as school security has been cut.  According to the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning,” from 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

The ways in which this could impact a teacher’s performance evaluation are many.

Statistics show over half the teachers who start in 2013 won’t even be in Philadelphia by 2017.  But those skilled and strong enough to remain in service, the new contract will ensure that they will have no protection to keep the programs they’ve worked years to build in place at their schools; the elimination of seniority will leave them vulnerable to be separated from their students and transferred anywhere in the entire city.

Conversely, those teachers struggling at a particular school and who are not a good fit with their students will be stuck there; the new contract no longer allows teachers to voluntarily put in for a transfer.

The proposal lifts the limit on the number of classes taught outside a teacher’s area of certification and on the number of subjects taught.  In other words, an English teacher could be required to prepare and teach algebra, social science, Spanish, chemistry, and British literature, all in the same day.

The new proposal lifts class size limits and opens the door to mass lectures, like in college. Imagine 50 plus teenagers in one big room listening to a teacher lecture about the Pythagorean Theorem, or the periodic table of elements, or iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean sonnet.  A winning formula for sure.

Teachers, under the new proposal, will work unlimited evening meetings without pay, and cannot leave the building without principal approval.

Because the district wants flexibility, the new proposal includes no specific grantees for teachers’ lounges, water fountains, parking lots, accommodation rooms for disruptive students, clothing lockers, or desks, among other things. Just because these things aren’t specifically mentioned in the contract, as Superintendent Hite recently noted, doesn’t mean the School District won’t provide them.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the School District will provide them, either.  That’s the catch.  When an organization is strapped for cash, like the School District currently is, there’s no telling what they’ll do.

“We believe teachers are professionals, just like architects, lawyers, doctors,” Superintendent Hite said. “We want a contract that reflects that.”

The only problem is, architects, lawyers, and doctors don’t make $39,000 a year with no chance for a raise until 2017, and aren’t subject to assaults, sub-par working conditions, and outdated materials and technology.

Hence my advice to future teachers: stay away from Philadelphia and seek a district that respects its educators.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite, PFT

Why Not Close Philly Schools by Lottery?

by Christopher Paslay

To keep things “fair” and “equitable,” School District officials should shutter schools by pulling names from a hat. 

The Philadelphia School District is planning to close 37 city schools by next fall.  This move has caused many in the community—from City Council to advocacy groups like Action United—to question the fairness of the decision.  A disproportionate number of minority children and neighborhoods will be affected by the closings, prompting the U.S. Department of Education to launch an investigation into possible civil rights violations.

Reverend Alyn Waller, the pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Northwest Philadelphia, recently joined the conversation about the school closings.  “I am not in favor of school closings without merit and without data to support such a drastic decision,” he said.

Waller’s choice of words, in particular, merit—is curious.  Since when does “merit” factor into the Philadelphia School District’s decisions?  Since when do things like work ethic, initiative, organization, motivation, prioritization, awareness, resourcefulness and the like factor into School District policy?  In fact, the concept of merit runs counter to school equity in general and social justice in particular; a meritocracy is often viewed as a system that advances the “privileged” on the backs of the “less fortunate,” allowing the poor and disenfranchised to slip through the cracks and fall further behind.

Take the controversy over the admissions to the Penn Alexander School in West Philadelphia, for example.  Last month, because of the school’s reputation for success, nearly six-dozen people lined up outside the school in the winter cold hoping to reserve a spot for their son or daughter in Penn Alexander’s coveted September kindergarten class.

According to the Notebook:

By Friday afternoon, 68 people were lined up outside the school in freezing weather, hoping for one of the 72 kindergarten seats. The first parent arrived early Friday morning, setting off a scramble. Registration starts Tuesday morning and was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What did these 68 people have in common, besides the fact that they desperately wanted to get their child into the Penn Alexander School?  Obviously, they all prioritized education and felt that waiting in line in cold weather for days was more important than doing anything else.  They also showed initiative, were organized, motivated, and resourceful.  But to School District officials, this meant absolutely nothing.

After parents, friends, and relatives of the hopeful kindergarten children had already dedicated many, many hours of their time camping out in the cold, the School District decided to change the protocol for admissions and make the application process a lottery, to be held in April.  The School District’ reasoning: so it could be fair.  Apparently, not all the parents, friends and relatives of the kindergarten hopefuls in Penn Alexander’s catchment area had the means and opportunity to camp out in front of the school.  Some had to go to work (although this line was forming mostly over the long MLK weekend), and others simply didn’t have the resources to stand in the line.

Now, let’s examine this situation more closely and focus on the concepts of both “fairness” and “merit.”  First, fairness.  How fair was it to the people camped out in the cold for days that their chances of securing a spot for their child were no better than those who didn’t camp out for a spot?  Was that fair to them?

Now, merit.  Which individuals had more merit? The parents who were motivated, organized, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold, or those who didn’t show up at all?  Those who made getting into Penn Alexander a priority, or those who didn’t?  Which parents will better serve as a driving engine of the school and better support its mission and the educations of all the children?

Social justice advocates will claim that just because certain parents didn’t show up and camp out in the cold doesn’t mean they lacked motivation, organization, work ethic, etc.  These no-show parents, some of whom may have been disabled, some of whom may have been single moms or dads working not one but two jobs . . . it’s always two jobs, despite the high numbers of disability claims in Philadelphia and unemployment numbers . . . these no-show parents may have been just as focused on getting their child into the school than the parents of those who had the opportunity to wait in the line.

To this argument I say balderdash.  In order to be a true stakeholder in something you need to make an investment.  Just because you breathe, just because you have a pulse doesn’t make you entitled to something.  Sure, maybe some parents did have to work a job (or two) and couldn’t wait in line, but some also didn’t care, or had other priorities.  Why should those who camped out be punished?  Is this the School District’s idea of fairness?

There is another issue at stake here, and it is called incentive.  If those parents who were organized, motivated, and resourceful enough to camp out in the cold are treated just the same as those who didn’t show up at all, what kind of behavior is this incentivizing?  Organization, motivation, and resourcefulness?  I doubt it.  It’s called dropping the standards to the lowest common denominator.  AKA: making everyone the same for the sake of making everyone the same.

The School District takes this same approach when it comes to discipline.  Last summer, they eased-up on the student code of conduct, making it harder for administrators to suspend and expel wayward and unruly students.  Now more than ever the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.  Is this fair?  Based on merit?  And what kind of behavior is this incentivizing for the kids?

The same thing is happening in academics.  Non-gifted, non-advanced placement students are being forced into gifted and advanced placement courses for the simple sake of “equity” and “fairness,” taking valuable resources away from those students who are there because of merit—dedication, organization, work ethic, and natural talent.  Is this “fair”?

Is it fair that Asian American students’ SAT scores, which are the highest of all races, are discounted on college applications just to give minorities a better chance at admission?  Is this based on merit?

Reverend Alyn Waller’s use of the word “merit” in regard to the School District’s proposed school closings is interesting indeed.  Too little in education today involves merit, not just in Philadelphia, but across the nation.  With this said, the Philadelphia School District should consider using the same process it did with the Penn Alexander School when it comes to the dilemma of closing 37 schools next fall: it should go to a lottery.

Dr. Hite should simply embrace the social justice mentality lock, stock, and barrel and just put every single school in the city into a hat—Masterman and Central included—and start pulling names.  The first 37 schools that get drawn get shuttered, plain and simple.  White neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods and schools in the Northeast as well as the Southwest would have an equal opportunity to get cleared-out and sold.

This might not be Reverend Alyn Waller’s idea of merit, but it would sure be “fair,” and fairness is right up the Philadelphia School District’s alley.

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Filed under Charter Schools, Multiculturalism, Parental Involvement

Tide Seems to be Turning Against Charters

by Christopher Paslay

The state’s forced reassessment of charter school performance data indicates the charter school movement may be losing its momentum.   

After the Pa. Department of Education was forced to reassess the performance rates of charter schools on standardized tests, dropping the controversial calculation method it used last fall, the number of charters making adequate yearly progress across the state in 2011-12 went from 49 percent to 28 percent. All that math and science and literature parents thought their children knew, well, now they apparently don’t know it.

Or so says the new calibration of the testing data.

The whole notion that such a large portion of the state’s charter school students can go from smart to not-so-smart, or vice versa, with one punch of the calculator is disturbing.  Those who oppose the expansion of charters are undoubtedly delighted by this new information, and will highlight the fact that charters indeed play by their own rules.

Not so much anymore.  The tide seems to be turning against charters, especially here in Philadelphia. City Council recently approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on the closings of 37 public schools, some of which could be replaced by charters.  The newly formed Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) is now fighting to stop the expansion of all charters in the city that are not proven to be educationally innovative and superior.

Even Philadelphia School District Superintendent William Hite understands that charters may be at a natural saturation point in the city. “We have to rethink using charter seats that may not be adding value,” he said in a recent interview, “and how we re-craft those charter seats into something different.”

The crazy part is how things in education can change so quickly.  As recent as three years ago, with the release of the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” charters were the answer to all of our nation’s educational woes.  Remember the Harlem Children’s Zone and Jeffrey Canada’s plan to revitalize poor neighborhoods through a holistic system of charter schools?  Remember the praise charters received from people like Oprah Winfrey and noted education scholar Diane Ravitch and the editorial boards of our local newspapers?

Well, forget all that now.  The new word on the street is that charters are bogus, just like their test scores.  They play by their own rules, fail to serve an adequate number of English language learners and special needs students, and take away valuable resources from struggling neighborhood schools.  But most of all, they are moving in on other people’s political capital.

That’s what the recent local uprising against charters, and the forced recalculation of their performance data, is really about: politics.  It’s a flat out turf war, and the education of our city’s children is caught up in the mix.  On one side you have charters, capitalists, and “school choice” conservatives looking to set-up shop in enemy territory. On the other side you have neighborhood public schools, teachers unions, and the traditional liberal urban education establishment fighting to hold on to their own.

In between you have the 55,500 students attending city charter schools because they are safer and cleaner and in many cases, have a higher level of parental involvement.  You also have the 149,500 students attending traditional neighborhood schools, kids who are often robbed of resources at the hands of charters, kids who are forced to attend classes with violent and unruly students because the Philadelphia School District’s discipline policies have no teeth, and because the rights of the wayward few outweigh the rights of the hard working many.

As for the quality of education students receive in charters as opposed to neighborhood schools?  This depends on which politician is requiring which test, and on how that politician decides to calculate—or recalculate—the performance data.

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A Look at the Philadelphia School District’s Top Earners

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s top 655 earners (less than one-third of 1 percent of employees) make a combined $88 million in annual salaries.    

According to a Phillymag.com article by Larry Mendte published last June, there were 655 individuals working for the Philadelphia School District in 2011-12 making over $100,000.  Surprisingly, there were 98 teachers on the list.  Principals, who on average make $106,046, flooded the list and accounted for five of the District’s top 10 earners.

Not included on the list are this year’s newly minted one percenters, such as Superintendent Dr. William Hite ($300,000 annual salary), Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn ($210,000 salary), and newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates ($129,162 salary); Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen who was receiving $25,000 a month in 2012 (for a grand total of nearly $300,000), did make the list although is not listed in the top 25 below because he’d only racked-up a nifty $122,988.48 when Mendte published the article last June. 

When totaling up all the 655 salaries over $100,000, it comes to $88 million.  This means one-third of 1 percent of the workers (the School District has 20,309 employees) gobble-up over 10 percent of the money (the District’s 2013 adopted operating budget allocates $879 million for salaries and wages).

Here were the top 25 earners working for the School District in 2011-12 according to the article by Mendte:

  1. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of Schools: $804,668.67
  2. Leroy Nunery, Special Advisor: $206,283.52
  3. Michael Davis, General Counsel: $171,247.48
  4. Penny Nixon, Chief Academic Officer: $170,096.13
  5. Michael Masch, Special Advisor: $168,840.82
  6. Debora Borges, Principal Empowerment School: $157,102.79
  7. Renee B. Musgrove, Principal Empowerment School: $151,776.93
  8. Donald j Anticoli, Principal Renaissance School: $151,161.70
  9. Edward Penn, Principal Renaissance School: $150,531.86
  10. Ethelyn Payne Young, Principal Renaissance School: $150,319.66
  11. John W. Frangipani, Principal Empowerment School: $149,645.96
  12. Otis Hackney, Principal Renaissance School: $149,147.04
  13. Charles Staniskis, Principal Empowerment Schools: $147,765.82
  14. Thomas Koger, Principal Non High Needs School: $147,687.99
  15. Mary Dean, Principal Renaissance School: $147,529.67
  16. Michelle Byruch, Principal Non-High Needs: $147,049.39
  17. Christophe Johnson, Principal Renaissance School: $146,809.37
  18. Amish Shah, Teacher: $145,743.55
  19. Woolworth Davis, Principal Renaissance School: $145,652.42
  20. Karen Kolsky, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  21. Lissa S. Johnson, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  22. Benjamin Wright, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  23. Francisco D. Duran, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  24. Linda Cliatt Wayman, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  25. Emmanuel Caulk, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the 2,700 workers represented by SEIU 32BJ Local 1201, who provide cleaning, maintenance, and transportation services to the School District.  Nearly all of these workers make less than $40,000 annually—some as little as $25,000 a year.  The School District recently shook-down these hardworking blue-collar folks for an estimated $100 million in labor concessions over the next four years.

According to the new contract between the Philadelphia School District and SEIU 32BJ, which extends to August 31st, 2016, SEIU 32BJ members will contribute between $5 and $45 (depending on salary) to the School District each week, and agree to forgo planned wage increases in the future and freeze wages for the life of the contract.

This, of course, didn’t stop the School District from recently giving 25 non-union workers $311,351 in increases, which average $12,454 per year.  31-year old Christina Ward was given a 17 percent raise and promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer, and will earn $138,420 a year. Joseph D’Alessandro, now the Chief of Grants Development and Compliance, was given an $18,000 raise (16 percent) and currently makes $130,270.  And newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates, who earns $129,162, was given a whopping 49 percent salary increase.

How will the School District cover the pay raises?  No one knows.  Not even the $100 million in labor concession squeezed from the District’s janitors and bus drivers will cover the tab.  According to projections in Dr. William Hite’s Action Plan v1.0, “The District has recurring expenses that exceed its revenues by over $250 million per year, amounting to a $1.35 billion dollar deficit over the next five years.”

And I thought only big corporations and greedy Republicans maintained wage gaps and pimped the working class.

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Filed under Dr. William Hite, School Budget

Dr. Hite’s Plan is Light on School Safety

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. Hite cannot “reset” the School District until the problem of school violence is realistically addressed.   

Action Plan v1.0, the Philadelphia School District’s latest reform blueprint for “resetting” our city’s troubled school system, is exactly 33 pages in length.  There are two main “anchor” goals contained within the plan: to improve academic outcomes for students, and return financial stability to the School District.  Most of the fuss up to this point has been about the ways the District plans on balancing its finances.  Here’s a closer look the academic side of things.

Listed in the plan are five strategies to improve student learning.  Contained within these strategies are 45 “actions.”  Of these 45 actions, one targets safety and climate.  On the bottom half of page 15 the plan states:

A. Improve school safety and climate. Reduce violent incidents, enhance climates for learning, and establish a culture of acceptance and respect in all schools by strategically implementing and sustaining evidence-based school-wide climate and culture programs, and training school administrators on creating safe and constructive climates.

The way to achieve this is through “restorative practices.” The plan states:

Fortunately, we know that when holistic climate and culture programs are embraced by an entire school community and sustained year after year, these challenges can be overcome. The significant drop in violence and suspensions at West Philadelphia High School following implementation of restorative practices in 2008 is one compelling example of the impact of this type of approach.

The plan cites a 2009 study from the International Institute of Restorative Practices Graduate School to show that restorative practices are a cutting edge, data-driven way to deal with safety and climate issues.  At West Philadelphia High School, serious incidents were down 52% in 2007–2008 compared to 2006–2007, and there were only two fire-alarm pulls; according to the report, “two very small pieces of paper were set on fire.”

Serious incidents at West Philadelphia may have been cut in half because of restorative practices; or they may have been down simply because only half as many were actually reported.  Regardless, Dr. Hite’s reform plan and the success of restorative practices must be examined in a much broader context.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understands that until safety and security needs are met, a “system of excellent schools” is but a pipedream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hite and the School District recently revised its student code of conduct and have eased-up on discipline; under the guise of racial inequality, suspensions and expulsions of persistently unruly students are now frowned upon.

Loose translation: the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.

Until the fundamental issue of school safety and climate is legitimately addressed—not with feel good “restorative practices” and politically correct positive behavior supports, but with real alternative school placements—the goals outlined in Dr. Hite’s Action Plan v1.0 will never come to fruition.

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