This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
At its March meetings, the School Reform Commission:
- Heard testimony on March 17 from Suong Nguyen, the grandmother of Hao Luu, an Asian immigrant students attacked outside South Philadelphia High School on Dec. 2. Nguyen, one of 18 speakers to testify about the attacks on students Dec. 2 and 3, said through a translator that her grandson’s reputation had been ruined as a result of accusations that he belonged to a gang. She detailed Luu’s side of the story and the disciplinary actions he suffered after he was beaten. Nguyen asked that the District clear his record. Testimony revealed that Hao Luu, as well as most of the Asian students who spoke before the SRC, were not interviewed as part of the District’s investigative report conducted by retired federal Judge James T. Giles. The commission asked for an explanation of the handling of Luu’s case.
- Heard from over a dozen speakers on March 10 in support of South Philadelphia High School Principal LaGreta Brown. Brown has come under fire for her handling of the violence at the school on Dec. 3 and was depicted in an Inquirer editorial cartoon as being asleep on the job while the school was in chaos. Many expressed outrage at the cartoon, including Jerry Mondesire, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, who said, “It is disgusting. It is a lie and it is offensive…Let’s stop looking for somebody to blame for what has been going on for almost half a century at South Philly High and other high schools.” Brown also took the podium in her defense saying, “I come to work many days by 6:30 a.m. I leave work many days after 6:30 p.m. I’m rarely at my desk during the day. Most days I’m located in the halls and in the classrooms. How dare anyone portray me as sleeping through this.”
- Heard a presentation about the midyear progress of Imagine 2014. Jennie Wu, the District’s deputy for strategic planning and implementation, and David Weiner, chief of accountability, gave an update on the District’s progress toward reaching the process goals outlined in the first year of the plan. The District said class sizes in Empowerment kindergarten classes were reduced to an average of 20.4 students. The goal in the plan is to reduce all such classes to 20 or fewer. Empowerment schools’ grade 1-3 classes now average 21:1. The student-to-counselor ratio in the middle grades is 93:1 and in the high schools is 254:1. The District has also made progress in placing a parent ombudsman in all Empowerment and school improvement schools. Eighteen selected schools have launched an in-school suspensions program.
- Heard about the District’s plans to use weighted student funding (WSF), a new school budgeting method that will distribute resources to schools based on a formula that gives extra weight to students with special needs. Chief of Accountability David Weiner gave an overview of the concept, scheduled to be implemented across the District in the 2011-12 school year. Weiner presented a list of schools that are piloting the weighted student funding formula in the upcoming school year and discussed the Weighted Student Funding Planning Committee that will be formed. The committee will consist of parents, community member, students, principals, and central and regional administrators. It will begin meeting this spring and meet regularly through the summer. By fall, it will present WSF recommendations to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, after which a policy resolution will be presented to the SRC for adoption.
- Heard a quarterly report about the participation of minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE) in the District’s procurement process. John L. Byars, executive director of procurement services, discussed the impact the District’s anti-discrimination policy, adopted by the SRC in 2003, has had on MWBE participation. The policy was adopted to ensure equal opportunity in the award of District contracts. Byars said that since 2003, MWBE participation in contracts has increased from 2 percent to 27 percent. Byars said the policy has also allowed for more extensive outreach and recruitment of these companies.
- Voted to approve an extension to Philadelphia Polytechnic Charter School until June 30 to provide 16 pieces of documentation to the District as a condition of its new charter. Some of the documents include evidence that the school has established a curriculum to accelerate student progression through high school; evidence of internship programs with local businesses; and evidence of optimal student recruitment, remediation, and retention strategies. The school has been slated to open in September.
- Voted to approve an $186,000 contract with Methodist Services for Children and Families to provide care and early childhood education for eight infants/toddlers at Lincoln High School’s new Early Childhood Center from March 18, 2010 through June 30, 2011. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky expressed concern about the cost and voted against the resolution.
- Voted to approve a contract of nearly $250,000 with The Great Books Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, to provide professional development to enrichment teachers in the Empowerment Schools through August 31.
- Voted to approve an amendment to the original contract issued to SchoolWorks, an educational consulting group, in 2009 to develop a comprehensive protocol to evaluate the quality of a school. The amendment calls for a $132,000 increase in the original contract amount of $300,000. SchoolWorks managed the recent school reviews at 14 Empowerment Schools.
- Voted to expel 31 students.