Check out some of the significant updates from November's monthly school board meeting!
(Note: Not everything discussed at the meeting is outlined below; there may be important action items that were not covered here.)
November is Native American Heritage Month. The meeting began with a land acknowledgement from the school district reminding audience members that Philadelphia schools occupy the land that belonged to Lenni Lenape peoples.
UrbEd’s land acknowledgement: In Native American Heritage month and all year UrbEd wants to acknowledge the pain and suffering that has allowed Philadelphia and the UrbEd to exist where it is today. The land UrbEd was founded and continues to operate on was forcibly taken from the Lenni Lenape people. Though we understand this acknowledgement is only a small part of a larger issue, we wish to honor and pay respect to the Lenape communities of past, present, and future that resided on this land.
A major focus of the speakers was the changes to the school selection process. This year the school district has standardized admission to special selection schools both at the middle school and high school level. Like usual students can apply to 5 high schools but there are other major changes. The process will no longer include PSSA scores, interviews, letters of recommendation and the school district will manage the entire process instead of individual administrators/schools making decisions. Once students meet a minimum criteria they will be entered into a computerized lottery system that considers zip code preference. The change is intended to make the process more equitable but parents and educators at the most recent board meeting have voiced concerns.
One general category of concern revolves around the special selection schools with middle schools such as George Washington Carver, masterman, SLA Beeber, and GAMP. Parents and students were encouraged to perform well at these middle schools with the understanding that they would be given extra consideration for high school admission as they already had been accepted into the middle school and proved performance. Parents and students spoke about feeling blind sided because this shift happened so dramatically without a transition process. Multiple parents from George Washington Carver challenged the school district’s claim of making the process more equitable emphasising the diversity and community Carver serves. Carver services predominantly students of color and low-income families who could be negatively impacted by these changes. As mentioned by parents, Carver is 65% African American 13% ASian 10% Latino 7% Caucasian and 5% other. 68% of students are low income.
One of the academic criteria for these special selection schools is a graded writing sample students will take in school. Multiple parents and Board member Malory Fix Lopez had concerns over feedback distribution for these writing samples. As of the board meeting students would be receiving automatic feedback with their scores and will know if they qualify for special admission schools. Students will have to find out possibly very upsetting information in front of their peers and if students finish early will find out before their peers.
Asbestos and School Air Conditions
A continuous concern from parents has been the high CO2 levels and presence of asbestos in school buildings. District representative from the office of environment management Victoria Flemming responded to some concerns by emphasizing that the district must comply with AHERA federal asbestos regulations and spoke about how the district cannot agree to ambiguous shifting of best practices. These best practices, according to Ms. Fleming, are undefined and at times may go against district goals and guardrails procedure.
The office of school safety approved a new contract with the School Police Association of Philadelphia. This school year the department established amnesty boxes before metal detectors at every school. These boxes have labels that clearly state what students cannot bring into the school building and provide a way to dispose of these items without consequence before coming into the school building. Since the 2013-14 school year PHLed based arrests have decreased 84% from 1580 to 251 in the 2019-20 school year. To mitigate the effects of gun violence in the city, the office of school safety has continued to have victims services teams to help in schools and established mentoring programs intended to help students.
COVID-19 vaccines are now available for all people age 5 and up. To find a COVID vaccine near you, you can go to https://www.vaccines.gov . Booster vaccine shots are now available for most adults over 18. The district is also establishing a new COVID response team to help address issues that have or may emerge.
There are major staffing issues across all areas of the school district. There are 200 teacher vacancies but the district is not planning on pushing through teachers to ensure quality teachers. Below is the district’s current staffing procedures for guidance counselors. There are 390 total counselors in the district for roughly 200,000 students. Student enrollment is also down 4,300 post COVID.
The listening section of the superintendent search has ended and the school board will be releasing a job description soon and begin the search process for candidates.