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Almost a decade ago, my oldest began Philly public kindergarten in the spirit of “Let’s see if it works.” Good news, it has delivered- for her. But, my middle guy and my youngest daughter must deal with the post-Hurricane Arlene landscape. Hurricane Arlene has blown through the resources from the hard-earned 2008 funding formula, wrecked our school district’s fragile credibility in Harrisburg and decimated much of Philadelphia’s faith in its own public schools. We can and will rebuild. Keep reading!

Like any historic hurricane, this one had some perfect conditions. In 2008, when Ackerman arrived, Gov. Rendell had just signed a rational funding formula which accounted for high-concentrations of poverty and special needs in order to arrive at a per pupil amount for an adequate education. State Republicans decried this as Rendell’s giveaway to Philly schools. In fact, it was huge help to many PA communities. So we have, Perfect Condition #1: These new state resources allowed Ackerman to invest in Promise Academies and create many schools with the resources to overcome the trauma, depression, and academic deficiencies that often accompany poverty. I supported that fine decision in 2008. I have taught in such schools and know the injustices of inadequate funding in a district with 76% of children in poverty.   However, along comes Perfect Condition #2:Wall St greed caused a global meltdown. Federal stimulus packages pumped money into our state economies to cover essential expenses such as school funding. Governor Rendell maintained his committment to the public education funding formula with federal stimulus dollars. Hurricane Arlene failed to recognize the changing economic winds.  She used TEMPORARY stimulus dollars to hire all manner of PERMANENT people and opened new Promsie Academies.

Which brings us to Perfect Condition #3: Governor Corbett & Friends win elections in 2010. Anyone that reads the papers (let alone has an entire PR and Communications staff) realized Philly was in for some rough rides. The PA GOP took over the ENTIRE General Assembly. They are primarily HOSTILE to all things Philly. Hurricane Arlene and her unwillingness to read, see, plan and act according to the political landscape in strategic ways has cost ALL of  the “babies” dearly this September. When stimulus dollars ran out, the Great Recession remained. When a mild recovery arrived in late July, the revenues were most certainly NOT coming to Philadelphia public schools in large part because Hurricane Arlene made it easy for GOP Harrisburg to mock and cut Philly schools. The successive mishaps: South Philly HS, Hope Moffett, the spending on chauffers, PR staff, “galvanizing” with full-day K cuts, “I dare you” to elected leaders.  Hurricanes are unaware of their impact, ignorant of history or strategic vision. Hurricanes just move wrecklessly and narrowly sucking up media air and moisture, destroying all things with 100 mile idiot wind as her 900am WURD interview yesterday clearly indicates.  Best quote from the interview, “I never understood the numbers”. Yes, we know, as we deal with horrific &665M damage to our schools this September. Also fueling Hurricane Arlene was a negligent School Reform Commission- like weathermen refusing to check radar. When the Mayor tried to marginalize Hurricane Arlene, she simply sought more media hot air and moisture, embarassing our city and Mayor further. Yet, Hurricane Arlene will leave town with far more than a million dollars in damage behind her.

We Philadelphians remain to re-build and reclaim our schools. It needs to begin with the resignation of the ENTIRE SRC. In their place, locally elected, paid (so they do the job) school board members. One elected school board member for each re-drawn City Council member. No need for “experts” – but experience with public education as a teacher or parent is good and an awareness of the political landscape is a must. Campaign donations should be transparent and limited to $5,000 per donor. NO PAC or union monies allowed.  We MUST rebuild our damaged public schools ourselves from the grassroots up with School Advisory Councils and the people that know their own communities and schools best. This will require public resources. Therefore, we must ORGANIZE NOW to have avoice in hiring the next Superintendent. We must ORGANIZE NOW to elect pro public education Council members. We must ORGANIZE NOW to elect a pro-public education mayor and governor.  More locally, we must place as many pro public education committee people inside the Philly political machine as possible in the 2014 primaries. It is easy and fun when you have the Committee of Seventy.  In the meantime, invite your committee person to your school and build good relationships with your ward leader. It makes a difference in how our local elected leaders respond to what is actually happening in our schools.  These local ward and committee people could be instrumental in electing the best school board members from their Council districts. We must begin creating an organized, hyper-local network of eyes, ears, access and accountability for ALL from principals, to Council, Mayor and Governor. Is this easy? No, but cleaning up after a hurricane is never easy.

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Comments on: "Hurricane Arlene and How to Rebuild" (6)

  1. Lisa Haver said:

    Please tell us why Promise Academies are so great. Longer days, months, years so that the kids could suffer through the same boring and outdated curriculum? Teachers debased into having children’s uniforms? Even more pressure on teachers and principal to produce higher standardized test scores?

    • Thanks for reading. Lisa. I have never visited a Promise Academy. However, judging from the vociferous support for them from people in Promise Academy’s catchments, I assumed they were delivering what families there wanted. That said, I hear you.

      Having been a teacher in a “successful” and nationally recognized charter school, I was astounded by the boring, narrow curriculum and the expectation that teachers become surrogate parents less risk losing their jobs. Yet, clean, orderly and safe buildings with increasing bubble test scores may very well be a significant improvement in some communities. The founders of these clean, safe, narrow schools are working and spending private and public dollars as we speak in Harrisburg to expand the charter school movement and pass voucher legislation. This way, they will be free from special education legislation, English language learner requirements and other LEGALLY mandated services they must provide if they continue to call themselves public/charter schools.

      In some ways, I believe Hurricane Arlene simply wanted to prove that she too could do what nationally recognized charters are able to do: Bring order and higher standardized test scores to impoverished children. This has been made possible by the PA school funding formula: RESOURCES. Yet, since Corbett has been elected, that is gone. Hence, the charter school scramble for private money and voucher legislation.

    • Thanks Chris. I look forward to your book and do agree that poverty can be overwhelming. Yet, there is an energy and a frustration out there that may galvanize unity and action. It is worth a try, as far as my kids and I can see.

  2. phillystyle71 said:

    Great post. The extended metaphor comparing Ackerman to a hurricane is a real crack-up. Nice job. This is apropos in so many ways, and is just in time for that other hurricane making headlines—Hurricane Irene.

    Your plan to reclaim and rebuild our schools is a good one: the SRC must go, and be replaced by a locally elected (paid) school board, representative of each district, and yes, they must be authentically grounded in education—no attorneys, businessmen, etc; campaign donations should be transparent and limited; and yes, the new movement must be grassroots.

    The difficult part, obviously, is getting people on board and willing to organize around the same common goal. It seems the real reason why Philadelphia is so far behind the suburbs is that so many parents and children are below the poverty level and overwhelmed with the pressures of simply running their own lives that they can’t get active in education. Tragically, too many Philadelphians are passengers rather than drivers. Their first instinct is to be taken care of by the city rather than getting proactive in their own lives. This results in a select few running the show, making all the decisions, and controlling all the money and power. This could never happen in the suburbs. The residents are educated, active, and control their own schools and communities.

    Your plan is a good start. It makes sense and it would be great if it could gain traction.

    Chris Paslay

  3. Hoping for better (this time) said:

    My daughter taught at an elementary Promise Academy last year. Every Friday and most alternate Saturdays, I visited the school to see for myself how the children were engaged in learning. What I saw instead were teachers so demoralized by the ever-changing policies, the unannounced walk-throughs that became excuses to publicly humiliate teachers, the relentless focus on bulletin boards, forms, etc., the refusal to deal with serious out-of-control student behavior and the occasional students assaulting teachers (including setting off a fire extinguisher in a teacher’s face), blaming the teachers for “not keeping control of the classroom.” All of this and more (including a principal who was invisible most of the time except for walk-throughs) resulted in serious loss of relational trust among teachers and administrators. I saw teachers who loved those children, but love is not enough in a crazy-making situation like this school. Fortunately, she was able to identify a few colleagues who could support one another (Am I really crazy here?) to keep their focus on teaching.

    • Thanks for posting, “Hoping for better (this time)”. A major concern I have of the “reform” movement is the constant effort to blame and tell teachers how they should be teaching. Top-down pressure without buy-in from those on the frontlines fails again and again in American education reform – for decades now. Parents and teachers are not asked enough about what to prioritize, how to invest resources or what curriculum will resonate with the kids at their school. Resources, both human and monetary, along with hyper-local control of schools, ie principal – teacher-parent sharing within and among communities is a good place to start. Every community will arrive at various solutions customized for them. If they so desire, they can teach others their strategy for success and others could be free to adopt, tweak, etc. This dialogue is happenning at the national level, led by Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American Public System. Ackerman was an apostle of many of the things the charter movement, the Broad Institute and the Gates Foundation funded and relentlessly blasted out into the media unvierse. Blaming teachers, bubble tests, micro-managing worked for corporation foundations and administrators. However, activating and empowering the impoverished to take control of their own schools is not high on the list of welathy, white, privately educated leaders and philanthropists.

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