This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
School District officials returned to City Council on Tuesday afternoon and told council members that there is a public misconception about the plan to divide schools into achievement networks. Officials explained that the plan as they had envisioned it would be staffed primarily by District officials in a “service” rather than a supervisory arrangement with principals.
“What I heard said about [the networks] doesn’t follow as I understand the recommendations,” said School Reform Commission member Feather Houstoun.
SRC Chair Pedro Ramos said that instead of requiring compliance from schools, the network employees would provide services requested by principals.
Their explanations came after Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez suggested that the District should “put the brakes” on the networks’ implementation.
“At some point we have to start speaking in a common voice so we can quell the hysteria out there in the community,” Sánchez said.
Houstoun and Ramos emphasized that the details of the networks are still very much in development, but seemed to back off the idea that they would be mostly operated by outside managers. Ramos described the network proposal, part of a blueprint designed by the Boston Consulting Group for Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen, as a “concept.”
“The goal is to provide more support to schools and principals,” Ramos said. “We need to understand more directly from principals what helps them, what do they want more of, what do they want less of, what should be the standards people outside the schools [in the networks] are held accountable for.”
Council called back the officials after a day-long session last week and questioned them for two hours. Other highlights:
- Councilman William Green asked whether the District would agree to have its budget and five-year plan audited by someone chosen by Council. Ramos said yes. The plan, which forecasts a $218 million shortfall next year, relies on substantial borrowing and on Council’s approval of a tax assessment change that would bring in $94 million in additional funds. Council also said they wanted to hear quarterly from the District rather than only once a year at budget time.
- Houstoun said that if the District doesn’t hold to the timetable of closing 40 schools next year and six a year after that, the SRC would have to come up with funds somewhere else.
- “We’d have to raise money for every school we didn’t close,” she said.
- As part of the effort to make more efficient use of underused buildings, Ramos said that the District is looking into co-locating District-run and charter schools in the same buildings, as is done in New York City.
- In a discussion of school climate with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, Ramos emphasized that it is necessary for every adult in school to be responsible for improving school culture and climate, rather than assuming that that is only the job of school police and non-teaching assistants. Numbers of staff in both these job categories have been cut substantially.
- Finally, Ramos said that he would love to see a school located at the now mostly empty District headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.