Conversation with Haverford Township School Board Candidate Helene Conroy-Smith

by Christopher Paslay

Transparency by school district administrators, attention to the needs of special education students, and fiscal responsibility are Conroy-Smith’s main concerns.

Helene Conroy-Smith, a special education teacher and mother of three from Delaware County, PA, is running for a seat on the Haverford Township School Board this November. A lack of transparency by Haverford Township School District administrators, along with a controversial Black Lives Matter BrainPOP video being shown to fifth graders in the school district, is what prompted her to run for school board.

“In my opinion the board and the school district administrators were not listening to the people, and so I decided . . . to run for school board,” Conroy-Smith said, explaining that her concerns over transparency and the controversial BrainPOP video were not being adequately addressed. “Once you close out parents in your community and only listen to a small body of your constituents – and it’s a very small vocal body that has political ties to large organizations – then I became the mom who was annoyed, and I had enough, and I had to step up.”

Conroy-Smith decided to become more vocal at school board meetings, presenting concerns from the “silent majority” – parents who did not like what was happening in the school district, but who were afraid to speak out.

“People are afraid to be cancelled, people are afraid to be talked about in moms groups – my name would get dragged through the mud in moms groups . . . parents are afraid, people are afraid,” Conroy-Smith said.

Because of “whispers” from concerned parents that things were going in the wrong direction, she now spends time working with moms and dads in the Haverford Township School District. “People are no longer feeling empowered,” she said, “so I’ve been working on educating them, helping them, talking about the points of their concerns and how to frame them to the school board. I have been behind the scenes working with many families.”

Many have thanked Conroy-Smith for giving them a voice.

Conroy-Smith has started a parents group called, “Give Kids Education,” which aims to put both rigor and transparency back into instruction. She believes in “equality” over “equity,” because all children are unique and are not going to end up in the same place.  “Not every kid is going to go to college, not every kid is going to join the Marines, not every kid is going to go out and get a job right away. . . . We need to look at this and say how can we give every kid an equal opportunity.”

Critical Race Theory, and its various offshoots, have made students overly race-conscious, Conroy-Smith says, which can be polarizing to children and disruptive to learning. She believes in the traditional colorblindness of the Civil Rights Movement, and supports Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream” of judging people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  

She also supports diversity, and feels strongly that all children should feel welcome. However, diversity should be organic, and not contrived through identity-based school models tied to CRT.

Conroy-Smith has three major issues on her platform: One – more transparency from school district administrators, especially when it comes to curriculum and so-called “teacher resources,” which can come in through the back door from activist groups pushing CRT and other agendas. Two – more attention to the needs of special education students, who don’t always receive the rigor of instruction they need. And three – fiscal responsibility.

“When you’re implementing programs or purchasing curriculum, teachers should be appropriately using those programs,” Conroy-Smith said. “Because when you’re not using it with “integrity,” the kids are not going to necessarily learn, or have the outcomes that we usually see.”

The Haverford Township School Board general election is November 2, 2021.

The myth of racial inequality in Philadelphia public schools

 

 

Despite accusations of segregation, academic achievement and failure in district schools transcend neighborhoods and racial boundaries.

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

There’s a line in the movie JFK where Kevin Costner explains to the jury that theoretical physics can prove that an elephant can hang from a cliff with his tail tied to a daisy.

         

“But use your eyes, your common sense,” Costner tells the jurors.    

         

This is good advice when it comes to the racial achievement gap in the Philadelphia School District.  Recently, district and city officials have suggested that unequal school conditions are the reason why white students have higher math and reading skills than black and Latino students.

         

Philadelphia, like many other Northeastern cities, has been slow to address and remove the policy barriers that have served to keep poor and minority students in under-resourced schools,” Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter’s secretary of education recently stated.

         

It’s not my policy to look at people in terms of skin color, but since the race card has been placed squarely on the table, it’s worth investigating the matter further.

         

Let’s start with the racial make-up of several of the highest performing public schools in the city (as well as the state). 

         

Despite claims of segregation, CAPA, Engineering and Science, and Girls High have student bodies that are majority black.  Central is evenly balanced between black (30.7 percent), white (31.7 percent) and Asian (28.8 percent), and Masterman is also very diverse. 

         

Let’s now look at the demographics of the so-called “white” schools in the Northeast.  According to school district data, Frankford, Fells, Lincoln and Northeast all have more black students than white, or any other race for that matter.  Washington is also very diverse, with more non-white students than white. 

         

The interesting part about these “privileged” Northeast schools is that all five of them are empowerment schools—which means they are failing because they haven’t met the standards set forth in No Child Left Behind. 

         

The same is true for the Northeast’s Austin Meehan Middle School and Fitzpatrick Elementary—they have more non-white students than white, and both are categorized as failing. 

         

A school that is predominantly white is Kensington’s Charles Carroll High School (54.8% white), but once again there are no extra privileges or resources here, because this school is also failing by state standards. 

         

A school that isn’t failing is Strawberry Mansion, which is 98 percent black and located in the heart of North Philadelphia.  Neither is Bok in South Philadelphia (77.3 percent black); or Communications Technology in Southwest Philadelphia (98 percent black); or High School of the Future in West Philadelphia (94.7 percent black).  And the list goes on and on.  

         

So where’s the unequal opportunity?

         

When you analyze the actual numbers, it becomes clear that Philadelphia’s racial achievement gap is more about politics than it is about a “dark stain” of inequality.  There is no legitimate racial discrimination taking place—the district’s 85 empowerment schools, as well as the ones making Adequate Yearly Progress—are evenly distributed across racial lines and neighborhood boundaries. 

         

But even if there were some kind of discrimination evident, it would clearly have to be of the black-on-black variety.      

         

Mayor Michael Nutter is black (as was John Street before him);  Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is black; School Reform Commission chair Robert L. Archie Jr. is black; 61 percent of Philadelphia public school students (and their parents) are black. 

         

This, of course, is opposed to the 13 percent of the district students who are white.

         

White students may score higher on standardized math and reading tests than their black and Latino counterparts, but educational opportunities in schools are only the tip of the iceberg.

         

In a newly released report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, the Educational Testing Service tracked national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement. 

         

Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s home environment.  Minority children struggle in schools for reasons such as lack of parental involvement, low birth weight, hunger and poor nutrition, exposure to lead and mercury, excessive television watching, and the fact that they are not read to enough as babies, among other things.

         

If we want all children to succeed in school, it’s time to take a holistic approach to education.  We not only need more resources in struggling schools, but we need true buy-in from parents and the community. 

         

We all must take responsibility for educating our city’s children, and resist the familiar temptation to blame our shortcomings on racism.