Caucus Members Issue a Call to Action

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Working Educators members have written a call to action for Philadelphia teachers to "speak out and shed light on the injustices that are occurring in our schools every day".

Published on The Notebook's Blog, the piece calls on teachers to take action on our Philly Teachers Sound the Alarm Campaign. Check out the full text below, then go contribute your post to Philly Teachers Sound the Alarm. 

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How to Plan a School Protest

You may have seen the City Paper report about FSAS' breakfast protest. Below is a description of how that protest went from idea to reality, courtesy of Caucus Member and FSAS Building Rep Amy Roat.

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Why We Protested

In September, my principal and the Food Service manager asked the staff at our school to serve breakfast to the students in Advisory.  We had no staff to keep them safe before school, and there was a promise that we would get another Food Service employee if our breakfast attendance increased. It was a lot of hard work on the part of Advisors, and there were unintended consequences – a serious mouse and cockroach infestation.

Not only were we denied another employee after increasing our breakfast attendance 77%, but rumors abound that there will be a cut in staff in the cafeteria for next year.

How we Planned the Protest

Most importantly, teachers should develop relationships across the school – food service, school police, custodial staff and safety staff.  Spend some time chatting -- it is not difficult to find common ground.  We were all experiencing the ill-effects cutbacks of supplies and staff.  We all feel disrespected and know that 440 is totally disconnected from our reality.

When I heard that we had won a $3000 prize for improving our breakfast attendance, I congratulated our Food Service Manager and found out the rest of the story. For some reason, the district was not allowing us to keep the money, and people from 440 were showing up for a photo op. That got everyone talking at lunch time. 

By the next day we had a plan.  I emailed a description of what was going on and described our protest plans. More importantly, teachers at every lunch period talked it up and reminded each other to wear red. The combination of an email and face to face communication is most effective. It is common for me to receive texts during the day that say ”did you know…”  We are in the habit of communicating and taking action.

The day before the protest, two of us approached the food staff and told them how much we cared for and respected them.  We were upset about the situation and were planning a protest, but we would not tell them the details to protect them.  We contacted a reporter and offered him an exclusive if he guaranteed a story. 

The day of the protest, we gathered behind closed doors and discussed exactly what we would do. Then we walked in together. A teacher took the pictures and emailed them to the reporter.

A solid protest requires trust, knowledge, discussion, agreement, publicity and action. This one took about three days to plan.

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Making Art for Change at Girard Elementary

 Looking for ways to bring inspiring projects to your school? Check out this write up from caucus member Tom Hladczuk of Stephen Girard Elementary about a project that involved both art and civic engagement.

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The project started When I met Sarah Kodish-Eskind and Jackie Quinn, two artists who run the Art Cart, a mobile art display and selling space that they use to display and sell the work of local artists. I asked if they would like to work with a school and expand the community concept to working with children and getting their community more engaged with the school.  They had been thinking along similar lines, so we set about planning it.


In cooperation with Girard teacher Kristy Katz, we applied to Public Citizens United for Children and Youth for a PICASSO arts project grant to fund our idea. We wanted to expand our students' experiences at the school and show the community what they were capable of. The two artists who started Art Cart had this vision as well, independently, and had been doing it to empower local artists.  Kristy had the experience of working with the grant before, and doing an engaging art project through PCCY funding.  PArt of PCCY's mandate is to do advocacy as well.  So we planned it together.


We had never done this kind of project at my school before, and it was fantastic! The grant made art classes possible for the students. They designed their own personal symbol and used it to make their own pencil cases and posters. They told their story by working together to create, design, write, edit, problem-solve and sew.


With the budget crisis looming at our school, we decided to make the project a political one as well. We sent letters stamped with the designs you saw to the local elected officials, and we went on visits to City Council Offices with a parent and student in tow.

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The purpose the project was use art as a way to engage the community, give children a voice, and show what public schools can accomplish what they do best when not held back and forced to do rote learning and test prep for standardized tests of low-level skills.

If you are inspired by this project, you can support our students by buying a pencil case! They will be sold at Ultimo Coffee on Saturday, June 14th, at 15th and Mifflin Streets, from 10:00 AM-3:00 PM and on Saturday, June 21st, on Rittenhouse Square.

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The Value of Teacher Tenure

If one reads some of the education reformers' reactions to the Vergara decision effectively eliminating teacher tenure in California, one would think that tenure is a way of protecting evil, incompetent teachers from perpetrating malpractice on loads of innocent, unsuspecting students.

The truth, however, is that tenure does not guarantee teachers their jobs. It is just a way of affording teachers due process rights so they are not disciplined in an unfair or prejudicial manner. Principals and other administrators have a clearly defined and not-that-difficult process to discipline and even fire teachers if they care to use it.

Many experienced teachers will tell you that the protection of tenure is what enables them to advocate strongly for the rights of their students.

Most of us have more than one story about trying to get services of some kind for a student and running up against  institutional or administrative apathy, intransigence, or outright resistance. Knowing we are protected by tenure rules give us the freedom to fight for the rights of our students in the way they deserve.  If teachers were constantly afraid of being written up and/or fired with out due process, they might hesitate to go to bat for their students.

What happens when the school district lets it be known they do not want to spend any more money on Special Education services for students, but a teacher has a student he/she just knows has a reading disability?  Bugging the principal, psychologist, and office of special education services enough times to get that student tested might actually get a teacher fired if there were no tenure protections.

What about the teacher who calls and reports the abuse of a student by a family member? If the family were angry and powerful enough, that could be a problem for a teacher without tenure. 

What about test cheating whistle-blowers? In the Philadelphia cheating scandal, some who did not participate in cheating were targeted by cheating principals, but tenure protections prevented these honest teachers from being fired.   

In all these instances, tenure protects both students and teachers—not the bogeyman of the incompetent teacher.

The “tenure is bad” straw man argument is simply a way to allow school districts and principals to fire experienced teachers and make sure that the teaching force becomes a bunch of fearful worker bees who dare not have an opinion or advocate for the rights of their students.

 

Additional commentary:

 

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WE Run for Philly Schools

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Caucus member Luigi Borda is many things. He is a parent, social studies teacher, and PFT building representative at Masterman Elementary. He is an avid runner who has been very involved in local politics as a tireless advocate for our city's children. Luigi has combined these two interests to help make some very powerful statements for the need for full and fair funding for Philadelphia's students. 

Luigi started in 2011 by running 100 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to bring the message of the support our students so badly need to our state representatives. He continued this at Masterman with the school wide Laps for Education event in 2012 and 2013. Luigi was joined by his fellow teachers, parents, students, and community members as he ran 100 laps around Masterman's city block.
Both events raised thousands of dollars to help save extra curricular activities that were cut from the budget. This year's Laps For Education takes place on June 12th, All are welcome to join in the run or you can donate at the Masterman Home & School Website.
After helping to found the Caucus of Working Educators this spring, WE members helped Luigi develop his idea for the WE Run Philly Schools initiative. We wanted to let our elected and appointed officials know that it is the hard work and dedication of students, parents, and teachers that keep our schools running in the face of terrible and chronic continued neglect.
In April, we demonstrated this by joining together to run laps around school district headquarters.We came back bigger and better in May, at last month's SRC meeting, pictured above. 
Our next event is WE Run For Philly Students. Philadelphia has a wonderful running community that supports so many great causes in our area. We'd like to mobilize and activate our city's runners to raise awareness and money for groups that help our city's children, at a time when they need it most.
We need more running events that benefit our students and we'd love your input on how to make that happen! What running groups should we partner up with? What worthy organizations should we raise money for? We'd love to hear your thoughts at our End of Year Happy Hour Celebration at Frankford Hall on Friday, June 13th!
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Guide to PFT Contract Proctections

With the end of the year right around the corner, and observations and personnel letters being filed, now is a good time to review:

What are the basic protections of my PFT Contract?

The PFT contract is a detailed and valuable document worth reading in its entirety—but at 200 pages, it can also be useful to have a summary of the most important points!

Below are some brief descriptions of certain protections provided by the contract. If your building does not follow these procedures, we encourage you to work with your PFT Building Rep and Regional Rep to address these issues.

You can also download this information as a printable PDF to distribute to your colleagues!

How much prep time am I guaranteed by my contract? (Article XVIII, Sect. B1)

  • Elementary Teachers receive 225 minutes of prep time per week, which equates to 1 preparation period/day.
  • Middle and High School Teachers (please speak to your individual building representative because each school will vary based on scheduling)
    • Advisors receive 360 minutes of prep time per week, which equates to 8 prep periods per week.
    • Non-Advisors receive 270 Minutes of prep time per week, which equates to 6 prep periods per week.
    • Secondary Teachers are also guaranteed a 30 minute duty-free lunch each day, which is separate from prep time. Elementary Teachers are guaranteed a 45 minute duty-free lunch.

 

What happens if my administration asks me to miss my prep?

  • Lost prep time must be documented in writing with the date and the reason. Notice is to be given prior to the missed prep but no later than the following day. Note: this excludes preps that teachers cover for each other directly.
  • You are to be repaid for any lost prep time after the first 4 prep periods lost per school year. Repayment in the form of actual time does not require your permission if granted within 30 days.
  • Prep time not repaid in the form of actual time within 30 days of the original lost prep is eligible for repayment. You have two options for repayment of missed preps after 30 days:
    • You can elect to have it repaid as personal days for the following school year. Seven prep periods equals one personal day.
    • You can elect to have it repaid in your last paycheck of the year at the current extracurricular activity rate of $39.87/hour.

 

Do I have the right to have someone with me in a meeting with my principal, parent or other non-PFT persons? (Article XIV Sect. 4,5,6)

Yes! You have the right to representation in any meeting.

  • Notice for meetings with administration (that could affect your rating or your file negatively) s) )hould be in writing and must state the reason for the meeting and that you are allowed to have representation from the PFT in the meeting.
  • You can request that ANY PFT member join you in meetings that take place with any non-school district employees (i.e. parents) present.

 

What can be placed in my personnel files? Am I allowed to see what is in my files? Who is allowed to place information in my file? (Article XIV, Sect. B)           

  • You have 2 files. You have one official personnel file kept at 440 for official district and PADOE documents. You also have a personnel file kept at your building for unofficial documents and memos.
  • The only people allowed to place anything in your files are:
    • Employees from District Human Resources
    • A ratings officer (with your permission), usually the school administrator charged with observing you in a professional capacity.
    • Anyone who is witness to events pertaining to any kind of disciplinary action at your school (again, with your permission, this will take place during a meeting with representation).
  • You have the right to review your personnel file kept at 440 every year. You can ask your PFT Building Representative for a file review request form at the end of the school year.
  • You also have the right to review your building level personnel file. You should be given the ability to check this file in the presence of your PFT Building Representative at the end of every school year. They will advise you on what can be destroyed and what must remain in your building level file.
  • Any information considered derogatory or that could cause you to be suspended or fired (such as a 204 formal discipline letter) cannot be placed in your personnel file at 440 without a formal meeting and your consent by signature.
  • You have the right to dispute or correct any information placed in an informal observation by a written letter and/or evidence to be attached to the observation. You are also allowed to attach evidence to any memos given to you.
  • Any unfavorable anecdotal records you receive can be removed from your personnel file after 18 months, as long you have not had any more unsatisfactory events in the intervening time.
  • After 5 years, the following items may be removed from your file and destroyed:  Letters of suspension or demotion, personnel transaction forms and state ratings forms.
    • You must apply to have this action performed.
    • You cannot have any additional incidents during the 5 year period you wish to have destroyed.

 

If you have any questions regarding these policies, please ask your PFT Building Representative or Regional Representative. For more resources like these, connect with the Caucus of Working Educators at www.workingeducators.org.

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Lessons from Muñoz-Marín

From the outside, the vote on whether to turn Luis Muñoz-Marín public school over to a charter operator seemed like a done deal. But when the call went out to Working Educators for spanish-speakers who could help call parents and gauge their support, I quickly learned that the opposite was true. Spending Wednesday evenings in the basement of the PFT offices, calling family after family, WE volunteers quickly saw that parents powerfully supported keeping the school public.

“Buenas tardes, me llamo Max y soy un profesor con el distrito escolar de filadelfia. Estoy con la coalición para mantenerse pública la escuela Muñoz-Marín, y queremos saber si podemos contar con su apoyo?” Can we count on your support? 

“Claro” was the most frequent comment I heard. Of course.

We spoke to block captains who had been mobilizing their neighbors, mothers who did not want to see their favorite teachers gone. “My daughter is in special ed”, one parent mentioned to me. “I don’t know what will happen to her under ASPIRA. All special ed parents should be concerned”.

Longtime Muñoz-Marín volunteer and retired teacher Vivian Rodriguez wrote for the WE blog about the community’s fight to keep their school public: confusion over the vote being pushed back, alienation of teachers who had to choose whether to stay at a school that might not exist next year, frustrating accusations about school leaders.

Despite the challenges, last Thursday the parents at Muñoz-Marín voted overwhelmingly to keep the school public.

If parents hadn’t courageously come out for their beliefs, would the community’s support for their public schools have been lost in history? Could this story have looked like the other charter takeovers we hear about every day, in which community opinion garners only a short quote at the end of an article filled with the voices of politicians and (so-called) education experts?

My experience volunteering as a WE member with the campaigns for Muñoz-Marín and Steel Elementary demonstrated the powerful voices of parents, communities, and school leaders in the battle for public education. These are the voices that have been marginalized and ignored in the corporate reform movement, but are increasingly gaining power in cities like Newark, Chicago, and now Philadelphia.

When families and communities are asked, they decisively want adequate funding for our public schools, not to turn them over to private companies.

We know that parents and communities are not usually asked for their opinions, though. From the outside, corporate reform will continue to look like a done deal, such as in the ongoing school ‘transformations’ at Blaine and Kelley. These schools make it clear that our work is just beginning.

However, the victories at Muñoz-Marín and Steel this month show that we can make sure our voices are heard, regardless of whether they are asked for. When a diverse coalition of parents, teachers, and community leaders come together despite the alienation and frustration, we can show that corporate school reform is far from a done deal.

Join WE this Friday, June 13th, to celebrate this year’s victories together -and plan for new ones!- at our End of Year Happy Hour at Frankford Hall.


WE volunteers call parents and families of Munoz-Marin students leading up to the vote.WE volunteers call Muñoz-Marín families ahead of the big vote.

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A Letter from Inside Munoz Marin Elementary

By Vivian Rodriguez

What is it like to fight a charter takeover? Below is the story of life inside the school for the past two months, from a longtime volunteer.

The News

On April 1st, our school was hit with a sledgehammer: The district proposal to turn Luis Munoz Marin into a Renaissance Charter, operated by ASPIRA of PA.

Most emphasis has been placed to our community of parents, and understandably so, because their children are the ones who stand to lose the most. But little has been mentioned about how the proposal is affecting our staff.

The timing of the vote is not a coincidence. Site Selection started in the middle of April and ended on May 30th. Because of the possibility that Munoz Marin would not be a public school next year, teachers were considered forced transfers and were expected to select a new school.

The staff was heartbroken! Theoretically, they needed to go through with the process of applying for a new school, but by doing so, it felt like they were giving up on Marin. Like the PFT said, this is the kind of turmoil that the District was trying to create.

From day one, we knew that this would be an uphill battle against ASPIRA and the District Charter School Office. After a few days of emergency meetings, we began to put together our own Parent Proposal for the next school year.

 

The First Presentation

On April 15th, Dr. Hite came to kick off the meeting. His presentation was remarkably simple without visuals. Our parents were not convinced. They asked questions and made comments in favor of keeping Munoz Marin a SDP public school.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn went next, and presented a PowerPoint with all sort of graphs showing why Marin was selected for this potential turnover. A highly subjective and out of context presentation, of course. I would have rather seen a graph with all the schools that were considered before the selection took place and a photograph of Mr. Calderon selecting Munoz Marin out of that group of schools.

Our presentation was next, and it went well. The whole School Leadership Team presented and a well-written plan mostly based on our actual school improvement plan for the year 2014-15.

Next came ASPIRA.

ASPIRA Executive Director Alfredo Calderon came into the Auditorium with his entourage and security guards that look like bouncers. ASPIRA presentation with 10+ graphs and tables showing their “improvements” and our “failures.”

The SDP Charter School Office was supposed to check all these graphs and verify their accuracy before allowing ASPIRA to present their manipulated data to our parents. But that did not happen. ASPIRA’s plan for Marin was essentially to paint the school, buy new furniture, put more cameras, etc. Their plan did not include specifics about how they were planning to improve our PSSA scores.

Throughout the meeting, the parents in the audience were highly critical of ASPIRA and their attempted takeover. Had the vote happened that day, I know how it would have gone.

So why did the vote get moved?

 

The Delay

On April 22nd, Mr. Calderon, from ASPIRA, was interviewed by Univision. The interview was in Spanish.

In that interview, Calderon said was that he was already working on a delay of our voting day. That was six days before our administration and SAC Team were informed of the switch.

On April 28th, the day of our 2nd Parents Meeting and 3 days before the vote, our principal received a call from Mr. Peng Chao, our contact person from the Charter School Office. She was informed that the voting day was changed and that Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez was coming to address the reason for the change.

Our school did not welcome the councilwoman. Most of our parents didn’t even know who she was. Her recommendation was to delay the vote because parents had called her telling her that the process was rushed, and parents needed more time.

She was attacked left and right.

How many parents called? How can you verify that these were LMM parents? How are you related to ASPIRA?

Quinones-Sanchez answered: even if I one parent called I would have listened. I am a proud “ASPIRAnte”. Both Mr. Kihn and Mr. Chao were present, but didn’t explain the reason for the change. At one point, she denied that this was all political, but she did admit that she was once the director of ASPIRA.

At the very end of her speech, Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez stated that she was sure that Luis Munoz Marin’s parents would see that ASPIRA was a better choice, and openly endorsed ASPIRA in front of all of us.

Our teachers fell apart. They had to accept their positions in the new schools by May 30th, without knowing the fate of Marin.

 

The Waiting Period

Parents received some kind of communication directly from the CSO about the change of date from May 1st to June 5th. In order to give more information to our parents about the proposals, there was an understanding that a series of meetings were going to happen.

Such official meetings never occurred. Instead, ASPIRA’s staff was outside our doors during admission and dismissal time. The distributed flyers with attacking Marin advertising three meetings at the local recreational center. They sent a bus almost every day to take parents to visit ASPIRA’s schools including their own schools, Pantojas and Hostos.

When our administration called the CSO to complain about ASPIRA’s aggressive tactics, We were told that ASPIRA had the right to be there, and that they would look into the flyers.

It took weeks of harassment and an extremely serious attack on Marin’s Staff on their last flyer to make them stop. That flyer insinuated that Marin’s principal and staff were going to be arrested because they cheated on the PSSA. They were desperate!  

 

Right Before the Vote

So what was ASPIRA’s next move?

One week before the vote, Mr. Chao attended a School Advisory Committee (SAC) meeting and somehow arranged a meeting with the SAC and Mr. Calderon. The meeting was supposed to take place on Monday, June 2nd at the Luis Munoz Marin School.

When the SAC Team president and some of the members realized that this was not a mandated meeting, they cancelled the meeting via voicemail and email. The CSO insisted in having the meeting for any parent interested in speaking to ASPIRA, but no parent showed up.

At this point, Mr. Calderon has filed a grievance, which you can read about here if you like. The truth is that Mr. Chao shouldn’t have attended a SAC meeting to arrange such communications between ASPIRA and our SAC. The SAC shouldn’t meet with Calderon. They were mandated to visit ASPIRA’s schools and attend one of the two Parent’s Presentations, and they did. If any of the members, as parents of LMM, felt that they wanted to speak to Mr. Calderon in person, they could have attended any of the three extra meetings held in the area (although almost none of them did).

The vote is set for Thursday June 4th. The staff awaits the results, hoping that their school will be saved and that they will be able to stay at Luis Munoz Marin.

 

Vivian Rodriguez is a retired special education teacher with 30 years experience in the School District of Philadelphia and the city’s Latino Community. She has spent the last 5 years as a volunteer at Luis Munoz Marin Elementary.

 

 

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New Summer Reading Series!

Working Educators and Teacher Action Group are proud to announce our new Social Justice Unionism Summer Reading Series. Join a small group of colleagues, educators, and supporters from around the city to hone in on some of the biggest issues facing education and unionism.

Whether you're looking for an overview of education politics, exploring neoliberalism, or discovering how union activists have energized their unions around the country, and so much more- we've got a book for you! Take a look at the book list below, and then go to our sign up page for more info and to get your name on the list!

Books we'll be reading...

-Reign of Error:  The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, by Diane Ravitch 

-The Death and Life of the Great American School System:  How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch 

-Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia, by Matthew Countryman

-Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement, by Jane Mcalevey and Bob Ostertag 

-The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein 

-Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity, by Micah Uetricht 

-How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers, by Labor Notes 

-A Chronicle of Echoes:  Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, by Mercedes K. Schneider 

-Class Action:  An Activist Teacher’s Handbook, by Bhaskar Sunkara

Click here for more information and to sign up!

 

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Statement on Blaine and Kelley Elementary Schools

We the members of the Caucus of Working Educators (WE) of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, decry the unjust treatment of our colleagues at the Blaine and W.D. Kelley Elementary Schools. We protest the use of a non-existent “Transformation Model” to justify the wholesale forcing out of the faculties of both schools.

The School Reform Commission has never voted to approve “Transformation” as a turnaround model. There were no community meetings announced by the district. 

How could this happen? In a reprehensible bait-and-switch, the two schools were invited to apply for funds from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), which could help them to adjust to significant enrollment increases brought about when nearby schools closed.

The SRC voted in August 2013 to accept a $1.5 million PSP grant for each school. Although Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn told a NewsWorks reporter in March that the money would come with “no strings attached,” PSP essentially went shopping for two schools whose principals would take their money as long as they agreed to discard their teachers. 

To be clear: nowhere in the application for PSP funding did Blaine Principal Gianeen Powell suggest that teacher quality or teacher technological skills were lacking at Blaine. Nowhere in the grant agreement between PSP and the School District is there a requirement for a complete turnover of the faculties.

Teachers at Blaine and Kelley were not told until March 7, 2014, after months of planning for the new grant, that they would have to reapply for their positions because their schools had been named as “Transformation Schools.”  Many parents told union members just days after the district’s announcement that they knew nothing about the transformation, and were shocked that teachers were being forced out.

Teachers and staff have not been afforded due process in this phony turnaround scheme. The educators who have dedicated their professional lives to the care of some of the most vulnerable students in the city are being forced to suffer the emotional distress at having to leave their students behind, and at having to deal with the disruption of their own careers in order to further the mission of the corporate “reformers” who do not have the best interests of our children at heart. 

As members of the WE Caucus, we see the violation of the rights of the Blaine and Kelly teachers as a wake-up call to all educators in Philadelphia: this can happen to you and your school. 

We must strengthen our alliances with community and parents to stop this from happening to any school which PSP chooses for “transformation.” We must build on the victory of the parents and teachers who fought to keep Steel Elementary a public school.

Educators, students, and parents have been working for years across the District to transform their schools.  The Caucus of Working Educators believes that local communities and those affected by school reform should be looked to for the wisdom and knowledge to transform their schools. This process should be bottom-up, participatory and highly democratic to engage schools and communities in school improvement. Philadelphia has had enough of "transformation models"  imposed by outside forces.

The WE Caucus demands a full explanation by the district about how this bait-and-switch was perpetrated.  We demand that the SRC explain why they are allowing this blatant injustice, under the guise of a non-existent turnaround model, to continue.  We demand that the district afford the teachers at Blaine and Kelley the due process rights to which they are entitled.

 

For more information:

Lisa Haver's SRC testimony on Kelley/Blaine

 

Notebook/Newsworks article on transformation schools


City Paper article on PSP- a glimpse into PSP's involvement

into the privatization of Philadelphia public schools


Kristen Graham's article on Kelley /Blaine

 

 

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