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From a newlywed and new homeowner: Don't turn Huey into a charter

An open letter to Superintendent Hite

By Cecily Harwitt on Dec 1, 2015 03:29 PM

Dear Dr. Hite,

In my role as statewide campaign director for POWER Interfaith, I’ve sat across the table from you more times than I can count. For the last three years, I’ve been fighting for a full and fair education funding formula at the state level that would help all Philadelphia children get the incredible education that they deserve. I write this letter in that spirit, but in a different capacity – as a newlywed and new homeowner.

After living in and building community in West Philly, my husband and I were thrilled to plant roots here for the long haul. We were excited to be so close to beautiful Malcolm X Park and directly across the street from Huey School. Our neighbors, many of whom went to Huey themselves as children, welcomed us with open arms. We knew that Huey, like many under-resourced Philadelphia schools, was struggling, but we were ready to roll up our sleeves and see what we could do to support the school’s improvement.

But 12 days after we moved in, you made your announcement about turning Huey, along with Cooke and Wister, into Renaissance charter schools. As members of the school community, my husband and I have attended every community meeting your staff has held. Having spent a fair amount of time supporting the District, (he as a veteran teacher in both charter and traditional public schools; I as an education organizer) neither of us was prepared for the disenfranchisement and lack of agency we feel as stakeholders in this process.

For two months now, we’ve attended meetings that conveniently change location at the last minute, that present one-sided and misleading information about charter schools, and that tell parents they have a say in their children's destiny while eliminating their chance to vote on whether their school goes charter, which the last round of parents in their shoes had.

Assistant Superintendent Sean Conley has repeatedly pointed out that other District schools with similar demographics are doing much better. We understand the problems facing Huey: the declining enrollment, low test scores, an unacceptably low number of students reading on grade level. Also worth noting, though, is that Huey Elementary has 38 students in its kindergarten classroom and under your leadership has had three different principals. Put in context (severe state cuts that disproportionately impacted poor and minority students), it is no surprise that Huey and many of our public schools are struggling.

I have a few thoughts about the current proposal to turn Huey over to charter operators.

The absence of an in-District turnaround model that is viable and affordable signals a serious void in leadership. Why isn’t there a plan to examine what makes other District schools more successful? What resources is Huey lacking that other schools have? What can we learn from District schools that are improving? These findings are critical for supporting not just Huey but all schools throughout the District.

Charters are not a panacea. The Renaissance schools in particular have a mixed record, just like our public schools. As you know, three of the initial seven Renaissance schools have undergone another round of turnaround in just five years due to poor performance. That means that communities with the most vulnerable students are experiencing another round of instability. We don’t see neighborhoods with more people that look like my husband and me (i.e. White) being forced to constantly undergo this “shock doctrine” treatment.

Community engagement is key. Research shows that community and parent engagement is strongly linked to better student outcomes. Yet the community and parents of our school community, largely poor and black, have been told that they will not even have a vote in the matter. These actions help to further divide and disenfranchise communities.

My neighbors are taxpayers, and they are the experts on what their children need to be successful. Though I hate the reason, I love seeing my community join together to make their voice heard. That energy will be carried forward if we are given the opportunity to do what we all want to do: improve Huey together with adequate support, resources, and proven interventions from the District. We deserve that right.


Cecily Harwitt

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Comments (42)

Submitted by Nasdaq (not verified) on December 1, 2015 4:05 pm

Community involvement is an important factor, but the lynch mob at the SRC meeting didn't seem to be interested in communicating with anybody.   In Chicago Karen Lewis is warning teachers to save 25% of their incomes in preparation for a long strike--not exactly a hopeful sign of cooperation with their school district.  Yes, severe budget cuts are becoming the new normal which is to be expected with PSERS $50 billion of unfunded pension liabilities.  Right now there's no solution in the works for that problem either, except the legislature's refusal to agree to a budget that doesn't include pension reform.

The uncertainty and fear in the stock market (where PSERS is invested) and the dishonest financial reporting of the pension fund means that for now school budgets will not be adequate or predictable--so full funding is off the table.  If parents have little say or input in district decisions then I understand they feel frustrated and unfairly treated.  When my company announced layoffs from declining sales the employees had no say or input regarding staff reductions, either.  That usually happens when corporations or  school districts have rapidly growing cash problems.  

Submitted by Public Schools Matter (not verified) on December 1, 2015 5:31 pm

Hello Nasdaq a.k.a. Bill Green? ;-)  or whatever your name might be... Your insistence on comparing indeed equating privately held or traded corporations with publicly funded schools is indicative of some form of pathology, perhaps "fake marketitis". The SRC is a fascist organization designed to silence an entire city whose citizenry is majority non white. Moreover, the comparison is laughable because at least stock holders CAN VOTE to change the board, the chairman and even impose policy on the corporation in which they hold stock. NONE of these procedures are afforded to the citizenry of Philadelphia. By contrast the citizens of Philadelphia are forced to put up with the idignities of a life long Republican operative from New Jersey, a wayward Philadelphia politician, a lawyer with so many conflicts of interests that anyone with a modicum of decorum would have resigned, pero la dama no lo hace... Another lady who insults other peoples' children, publicly... and an educator who must be under some form of trance. The other gentleman I don't know what he does. But, no worries, collapses occur faster than people can imagine. One day the Berlin wall is up that same night it is being torn down. Lastly, I have been working for decades now and when I began working I met several fearmongers like yourself scaring people by asserting that Social Security would run out of money by 1995... Well, it's 2015. Reality is such an inconvenience when you have a misonthropic agenda to carry forward. 

Submitted by NYSE (not verified) on December 1, 2015 8:47 pm

I will believe schools are not a business when PSERS divests its garbage porfolio of hedge funds, derivatives, and private equity.   If PSERS hadn't paid $2 billion in fees on that junk last year there might be some money for classrooms.  

Submitted by Public Schools Matter (not verified) on December 2, 2015 7:24 am

Bill, I do understand that facts impede the free flowing distribution of your ALEC talking points, however, PSERS was ordered by the REPUBLICAN lead senate and house to "invest" with the very same selected funds you so well denounce. If you could take the time to do minimal research you would also find out that the same REPUBLICANS have foregone agreed upon and timely payments into PSERS while at the same time have "GIVEN" corporations grants to entice "investments"... Research may be novel to you but -Mussolini best described fascism as “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” OK, go back to watching Trump on FOX, who must be reading Mussolini's book with the dribble of less goverment (the people) but more state (money)...

Some stories never die. 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 1, 2015 8:59 pm
I agree.
Submitted by Concerned Parent (not verified) on December 2, 2015 5:14 am

Thank you for expressing what many other parents in Philadelphia feel about the chaos of threatened school closures does to a community.  As you state so clearly, why doesn't have the School District have a viable "turn-around" model?  Why doesn't the School District have the funding to make so-called "Promise Academies" as enticing as the song and dance offered by charter corporations?

Huey has been struggling under an inept and weak principal.  Get rid of the principal.  Put in a qualified administrative team and work with the community, families and staff to improve Huey.  Giving Huey to the charter operator of the month - apparently Global Leadership Charter is one option.  Their test scores aren't much highe than Huey's.  The other, SABIS, is a for profit company with no experience "turning around" a neighborhood school.

One again, Hite / SRC (and I assume the Phila. School Parternship) are using our students and communities to "experiment."   

Submitted by Debora (not verified) on December 2, 2015 12:01 pm

Thank you for sharing publicly what is going on with Huey and the neighborhood. Both too believable and unbelievable. Definitely unacceptable. As a 34-year West Philly resident, I believe that Huey parents, families and communities deserve to have a major voice in deciding how our children will be educated, how our community will be served, and by how education happens at Huey. I'd love to learn how to get connected to any organizing happening around this. 

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