Thinking Hard about Community Schools

In recent months, people in Philadelphia have been hearing a lot about “community schools.” Both Jim Kenney and Darrell Clarke have made public commitments to this reform, which would potentially transform public schools into neighborhood hubs by expanding community partnerships and bringing in external providers for services important to students and families. Creating community schools has become a growing strategy nationwide, with major recent commitments to these schools in cities like New York and Baltimore.

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While the pledges of our next Mayor and our City Council Speaker have garnered big news, they come in the context of years of advocacy by the organizing coalition PCAPS, which has pushed to bring community schools to Philadelphia, beginning with a pilot in at least 25 schools. Community schools have also been in the news recently as PCAPS and school community members have campaigned to have Huey, Cooke, and Wister elementary schools become community schools, as an alternative to the School District’s proposed charterization plan.

With this rapidly developing movement towards a new school model, the Caucus of Working Educators has a few questions for students, families, and PFT members to consider:

  • How will new services provided at a community school be funded and supported? Many previous initiatives organized by the school district have been lauded as “the solution,” only to fall to pieces when the funding or political support dried up. Moreover, we must make sure that any new funding will come free from special interest strings.

  • Who will be responsible for oversight of community schools? Community schools are a strategy for connecting resources and services to student needs -- they are not a one-size-fits-all model that can be applied in the same way to every school. Decisionmaking for these schools should reflect that. In the field of education, we always have to be mindful of the ways that powerful interests can hijack “reform” models to advance their own interests (be they cost-saving politicians or curriculum-peddling corporations). Individual schools must have their own decisionmaking abilities, and power should be wielded by the stakeholders at that particular school. 

  • Will any educator positions at these schools be outsourced? Some community schools models replace longtime educators with part-time employees who provide  learning support, health and psychological services, giving students a lesser version of the expert resources they previously had access to.

  • Will positions lost to the “Doomsday Budgets” be restored? After years of cutbacks, it has become unacceptably common in Philadelphia schools to lack a full-time nurse, counselor, and librarian. Contracting with external providers must not be used to allow policymakers to avoid returning to a budget that restores certified, full-time school professionals to every school.

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If implemented well, the community school model could provide students with the comprehensive support they need for academic success, while addressing critical needs of students and families. If implemented poorly, however, the model could actually undermine the stability and sustainability of what schools currently offer Philadelphia’s children.

The PCAPS Community Schools Task Force, which includes members of the Caucus of Working Educators, will soon release a platform setting out specifics for what a community school should look like. As we approach the inauguration of Mayor Kenney, it is crucial that educators are asking the hard questions to make sure any new model for our schools does right by our city and our children.

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Shout Out Philly's Amazing Educators for #WETeach Tuesdays!

Teaching is one of the noblest professions and represents that selfless sacrifice that men and women are willing to make to provide for the betterment of America’s youth. But between punitive education 'reform' policies, the starvation of public education, and the myth of 'failing' urban schools and their 'bad teachers', teachers don't get much credit these days.

The Caucus of Working Educators feels that it's about time the many great teachers across the city are acknowledged! We are asking educators across the city to begin posting #WETeach Tuesday posts on FB and Twitter on Tuesday that highlight the powerful educators we work with every day.

The ideal post is a short (1-3 sentences) write up expressing what makes their highlighted teacher a great teacher. Don't forget to include an image as well (see example below).

This acknowledgement of educators strengthens our power as a union by focusing on the one-to-one relationships that give us strength as a union and allow us to fight for our students in our buildings, neighborhoods, and city. It also provides an opportunity to overturn the myth of the “bad teacher,” by highlighting the great work and professionalism that we all engage in everyday.

Ready to get started? Here's an example of a #WETeach post:

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Response to Superintendent Hite's Contract Renewal

The Caucus of Working Educators of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers does not support the School Reform Commission’s proposal to renew Superintendent Hite’s contract for an additional 5 years, while there are still more than two years remaining in his current one.

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The SRC should not decide to renew the superintendent’s contract without the data and observations of an appropriate evaluation. The School District of Philadelphia cannot afford another financial misstep.  Let us not forget the lesson from 2011, when the SRC extended then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s contract for one year. That very same year, the SRC fired Ackerman and bought out her contract for $905,000.

The reported reasoning for this decision includes the district’s need for stability, as opposed to evaluating Hite’s actual accomplishments. His record includes more school takeovers, privatization, layoffs, and outsourcing of union jobs that has resulted in more turmoil and instability, not less.

Philadelphia Public School students, families, and staff deserve to be a part of this decision in an actively engaged format. This decision should include actual voices, opinions, and data from the community at large, rather than another unilateral decision that looks and feels like the business as usual. The SRC should invite the community to a series of round-table discussions and actively utilize the conversations to make a more informed and shared decision in regard to Hite’s extended contract.

The SRC should use those conversations to re-evaluate the qualifications that our superintendent should possess. The School District of Philadelphia deserves a superintendent that:

  • has no affiliations with the Broad Foundation

  • is experienced with community engagement

  • demonstrated teaching and leadership experience within the School District of Philadelphia

  • demonstrates a willingness to work with all major stakeholders

  • demonstrates a commitment to public education

  • demonstrates the desire to work in conjunction with rank and file members towards a fair and equitable contract, and

  • demonstrates a passion to provide a top-notch education to all children regardless of zip code, race, ethnicity, sexuality or socioeconomic status by fighting for all of the resources lost in the last four years to be returned to each and every school.

This new proposal binds the SDP to Superintendent Hite’s leadership until August 31, 2022. Given the current situation, an early decision to renew the superintendent’s contract is not a sound decision. The district is in the midst of a budgetary crisis. The credit rating and the overall morale of the School District of Philadelphia is at its lowest. Major decisions continue to be made with zero input from the staff and families of our children. If any of these conditions cause the SRC to reconsider its decision and terminate Hite’s contract early, it could cost the district at least $300,000 per year.

If you do the math, our students simply cannot afford this decision.

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Occupy the SRC on Nov 19th & Fight to Keep our Schools Public

On October 15, members of Working Educators filled the SRC meeting along with many of our friends in the Philly Education community. On Thursday, November 19th, we will do it again!

Parents and teachers from Cooke, Huey, and Wister will be present to testify about how their communities want the respect and adequate funding they deserve, not privatization of their schools! Join us outside 440 at 4:30, and inside the meeting afterwards. RSVP and share on social media by clicking here.
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Bring your work to show what we do #beyondthebell. Help fill the speaker's list by sharing testimony. Bring your phones and cameras to take photos and video. Live tweet, post, and share your views on a public meeting. Follow our Twitter @CaucusofWE as we live tweet it. 

We do not show up to SRC meetings with the expectation to change their minds, but join with fellow education advocates to stand up for the truly democratic, community process Philly schools deserve. As the saying goes, the people united will never be defeated. On November 19th, help us flood the SRC meeting with public education supporting teachers and families! Let's show them what a REAL public meeting looks like! 
 
Check out some of the testimonies from Working Educators members at the last month's SRC meeting. 
 
George Bezanis: https://vimeo.com/142590649
 
 
 
 
 
For more testimonies from WE Members and our parent & community allies, please see Ken Derstine's videos here: https://vimeo.com/user3379601/videos
Join us on Thursday as we continue to speak truth to power, stand up for a democratic vision for our schools and communities,  and #OccupyTheSRC!
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After The Campaign: Reflections on Work To Rule

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Earlier this month, we brought you the story of Mifflin Elementary organizing their Work To Rule Campaign. Their week-long action is now complete -- here's how it went, from caucus member Pamela Roy. 

Last Friday, after participating in a week of work-to-rule, the staff at Mifflin went out to happy hour. There, we shared some of our successes and desires for improvement.

On a positive note, many of the parents of our youngest students became aware of the amount of time the teachers at our school spend watching their children after hours. Most kindergarten and first grade parents became very aware of the drop-off and pick-up times with the understanding that there would not be adults present to watch their child. Some parents expressed their displeasure that they could not drop their child off as early (some drop them off up to 45 minutes before school starts). We hope that parents will continue to realize the importance of timely drop-off and pick-up times, for the safety of their students.

We also felt the roll-out and notification of parents was successful. In most cases, parents were aware of what we were doing- and why. However, we perhaps didn’t achieve the intended result, which was for students to contact the district and SRC and complain about the lack of resources in our school. Apparently, they were not inconvenienced enough to communicate this message to the decision-makers in our district.

As a staff, we wondered: what if there had been district-wide buy-in? Would that have been more effective?  Participation from all schools and all members would have sent a more powerful message. Additionally, we asked: Would this have been more effective if it had started on the first day of school?

Ultimately, we agreed that if we were to do it all over, we would make the following modification: we would have stayed in the building outside of contractual hours to have time to prepare for our classes.

Most teachers would agree that things like lesson planning, making copies, grading papers and the like are a part of the job, and those things usually take place outside of contractual hours. We would have liked more time and space to do those things in the building, with the understanding that we would not be watching or working with students outside of those hours, nor communicating with administration or parents. On a do-over, we would have still upheld our lunch periods as student-free time, and cancelled after-school activities.

In the end, the work-to-rule protest helped create solidarity amongst staff, while raising awareness with families that we have been stretched quite thin as professionals and our schools are sadly under-resourced.

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Le Bok Fin: What Do We Value? What Are We Forgetting?

If you were around in Philly this summer, then you probably have heard about Le Bok Fin -- Philly's the "hottest new bar" stationed on top of the former Bok Technical High School.  As working educators and community members, many of us in WE and TAG were deeply upset about this type of development in our city.  
Although the narrative of development says: "a building shouldn't remain empty" -- we wanted to push back against that type of market-driven logic and remember that Bok's current status is the result of a massive slashing and gutting of our public schools' budget, on top of the historic disinvestment we've seen in Philadelphia's public schools for decades, and the subsequent disaster-capitalism-type shuttering of 23 schools in 2013.
Gentrification often depends on a certain amount of "forgetting" -- i.e. how the space used to function, who inhabited the space and benefitted from its resources.  Educators and community activists came out to talk to bargoers about the real story of Bok Technical High School, to ask the question, "What do we value in Philadelphia?" and to share a vision of stable communities and equitably-resourced public goods that benefit youth of color in our city.
Check out the video from the September Action at Bok Technical High School. 
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What Equity Looks Like: Caucus Response to Action Plan 3.0

On Thursday, September 30th, SDP Superintendent William Hite announced that he will continue to continue to disrupt the education of thousands of Philadelphia students by implementing Action Plan 3.0.  

Superintendent Hite claims that the plan to “phase out” two schools and turn three more over to Renaissance Charter operators must be implemented in order to  “deliver on our vision of equity.”  Why does that vision include closing or causing upheaval in schools that are in struggling neighborhoods and have been denied adequate resources for years?

Here are a few ways that this new plan is anything but equitable, and examples of how things could be done differently:

  • Two years ago, the school communities of Steel and Munoz-Marin had the chance to vote on whether to accept outside charter operators. By contrast, this new plan was designed without any teacher, parent, or community input. Schools were only informed of their fate early Thursday morning.

  • When Steel and Munoz-Marin faced their vote about possible charter takeover, the current staff were given an opportunity to present their own plans for the school. Why are no district teachers being given the opportunity to speak for their own schools?

  • The three schools suggested for Renaissance charter takeover--Cooke, Huey, and Wister--are all in neighborhoods where the educational fabric has already been cut to pieces by encroaching charters. That they would also eventually be put up for charterization is not an accident.

  • The possibility of naming up to three turnaround schools means that all of the staff will automatically be removed from the school, and only 50% can return. By contrast, when a school applies for a “redesign,” they can keep all of their staff. Why does a “turnaround” require that students be separated from the teachers they trust?

Hite’s letter to teachers also claims that the SDP has “made progress obtaining the necessary resources to adequately serve our students and families.” Unfortunately, the biggest new resources are ones that push teachers towards more assessment, such as the “Driven by Data” handbooks that teachers at Central High School collected to resell so that they could raise funds for paper.

In fact, most educators can tell you that since 2013, there has been a consistent stripping of resources, both human and material.  Most school lack a full time nurse and school counselor.  Most schools lack safety personnel to supervise students before and after school, as well as in the halls during the school day. Most schools have one secretary and most principals struggle without an assistant principal to guide their schools. The district does not have the right to label schools as failing and ripe for overhaul in these conditions.

Philadelphia’s Caucus of Working Educators is already working to support students, teachers, and community members who wish to defend their schools from takeover or closure. Any educators who are looking for support can reach us at contact@workingeducators.org.

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[Photo from WE Sign-Making Party for MLK D.A.R.E
(Day of Resistance, Action, and Education) Protest early this year]
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How to Arrange A Work-To-Rule Campaign: One School's Story

This past summer, the Caucus brought a proposal to the PFT executive leadership to run a city-wide work-to-rule campaign. The purpose of such a campaign would be to have educators work to the exact letter of their contract for a limited time only, in order to highlight the great lengths that we go to every day to hold our schools together. The PFT did not adopt this as a universal campaign, but did recommend it as a possible action schools could take this fall.

Two essential pieces are educating families in advance of the action and running the campaign for a limited time only. The purpose is to reveal to the public just how many gaps educators fill, not to use that extra work as a bargaining chip. 

Below is the story of how Mifflin Elementary arranged their Work To Rule Campaign. Reported by Caucus Member Pamela Roy.
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I am on the building committee at Mifflin, and last week we voted to do a work to rule action October 5th-9th. The first step was for the building committee members to reach out to all other members of the building to explain what it means and why we're doing it, to get them on board. A coworker and I worked on a letter to parents explaining the same, which will go home at the end of this week.

Link to Letter Mifflin sent out (with detailed description of their actions)

Link to PFT template letter (with handy "how you can help" section for parents to contact SDP and the SRC)

During the week, we plan to support our colleagues in strictly following the contract. This means we are in at 8:20 and out at 3:09. No extra help offered to students on our lunch break, or contacting parents after school hours. No clubs will be held. No helping out with monitoring the schoolyard or cafeteria before 8:20 or dismissal procedures after 3:09.

We are also doing an extra action per day. Monday we are wearing PFT pins (such as the ones that say "Respect" or "Every child deserves a school nurse everyday"). On Tuesday we are writing and sending emails to elected officials to lobby for full, fair funding. Wednesday, we will do the same via phone. Thursday is PFT red shirt day, and on Friday, we will gather after school for happy hour off campus to debrief and talk about what went well, and what didn't.

The purpose of the action is for our parents and community members to understand how much extra work and effort we put in above and beyond what we are contractually required to do. Remember, parents are our allies, and it is important for them to help them see the current state of our schools due to current budgetary conditions.

If you are interested in a similar action at your school, and would like additional information about how we organized ours, feel free to contact me at pamelalroy@gmail.com with questions. 

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Building Rep's Corner: How can I overcome apathy in my building?

Welcome to the Building Rep's Corner, an advice column for union leaders written by experienced PFT building representatives. If you have a question you'd like to ask, or would like to contribute a column, please email us at contact@workingeducators.org!

Dear Building Rep’s Corner: With all the other challenges in the school day, I have trouble motivating members in my building to get involved with union issues or events as well. What can I do?
Sincerely,
Apathetic in Philly
~ ~ ~
Patrick Sommer, Autistic Support Teacher and Building Rep, Greenfield Elementary

Dear Apathetic in Philly,

I do not know how much of an expert I am, but I will share my experiences with you. I'm entering in my 21st year of teaching and have witnessed staff interactions towards the building rep each year. I try to participate in as many pertinent activities as I can and encourage colleagues to do the same.

You will, most likely, face a lot of apathy. This is our biggest problem as a union. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE THE UNION?!  You will probably hear a lot of complaints, i.e.; "Why doesn't the union do this?  Why doesn't the union do that?  I wish that we could just..."  

Some people are so fed up that they do not even want to hear any details of what is going on or what they can do.  Some people say that they just wanted to vent, when they complain and I try to offer possible solutions or tactics that could lead to a solution down the line. Many feel powerless.

I tell people that I recognize that everyone can not partake in everything, but I find it hard to believe when people have an excuse at every turn to participate.  It's not that hard to get a good number of colleagues to do informational picketing before school starts (especially if there's coffee and donuts), but, as you've seen, it's hard to get people to canvass, phone bank, etc.

I try to share as much information as I can with our colleagues through email and face to face connections. I would say that talking to a colleague one to one, or even in a small group, such as those with the same lunch/prep time works better than the mass emails, but the emails are still important, especially for those that you've already been able to talk to one on one.  

One of the ways I was immediately able to build face to face connections with my colleagues was through informational picketing on Friday mornings before school in May and June 2013 and 2014.  I started out as the building rep in May 2013. This just happened to coincide with a informational picketing campaign initiated by the PFT in early around the same time. I asked colleagues at Greenfield to join me in conducting informational picketing EVERY Friday through the rest of the school year. Wendy Coleman did take note of Greenfield's extra informational picketing efforts from the onset.  Jerry Jordan even stopped by once in 2014 and 2015 (I'm sure Greenfield's proximity to the PFT office played a part in this, but, nonetheless, it was good for staff morale). In addition, some students and parents participated. 

It's still hard.  People are frustrated and scared.  With all positions being site selected and leveling being site selected (as principals simply need to write a "compelling reason"), people are afraid to be removed from their current position and forced to interview for a job for a position they were already interviewed for years ago.  Some people state that what they do doesn't matter and that the powers that be are going to do whatever they want to do anyway.  There are other reasons too, of course.  If someone is willing to talk things through with someone who is active, then there is a chance to change that person's perspective.

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Defend Public Education During Back-to-School Night

At back-to-school night this year, we need to remind our city we are still fighting for fully funded schools. This letter from a Central High School teacher has tips for how to host a "What's NOT Back to School" Night at your school:

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[Photo from Central's 'What's NOT Back to School' Action last year.]

Dear fellow PFT & WE Caucus members,

As we begin yet another year of less than adequate funding for Philadelphia’s school children, it becomes imperative that we continue to tell the narrative. Class sizes are still too large, schools still lack fundamental staff such as NTAs, counselors, and nurses (now add substitute teachers into the mix), and basic supplies such as copy paper and textbooks are still lacking. 

At the same time, the Caucus is now embarking upon its listening campaign for the internal PFT elections. The one platform issue I would like to see included is that we become a PRO-ACTIVE union, not a RE-ACTIVE one. We shouldn’t simply wait for one slight after the other being to be lobbed at us by corporate reformers, Harrisburg and the SRC – only to reactively challenge them in court. We need to get in front of the train wreck and take the fight TO THEM.

It is in that spirit that we at Central High School have decided to launch our second annual “What’s NOT Back-to-School” rally this year. Central staff will be lining the sidewalk prior to Back-to-School night this Thursday evening, informing parents of these attacks on public education. 

The highlight of our rally will be a “Professional Development Textbook Resale Fundraiser” that we hope will raise over $1000 in order to buy much needed supplies for our school. Teachers are encouraged to donate their District-purchased Driven By Data books from this year (retail value $36.00) and Charlotte Danielson’s Enhancing Professional Practice (retail value $29.95) for resale through various online textbook buyback programs (click here). How DARE the district pay over $60 per teacher on corporate reform textbook garbage while our schools go without basic supplies.

When austerity has become the new norm, it’s vital to show that we’re still fighting for fully funded schools. I hope that you feel emboldened and choose to follow Central’s example by hosting your own Back-to-School rally and PD Textbook Resale Fundraiser. Feel free to use the flyers and press releases I have come up with. They are all in .doc format so that they can be easily adapted to suit your school’s needs.

In solidarity,

George Bezanis
WE Caucus member
PFT Building Representative
Central High School

P.S. Here are all the docs you need to get started:

What's NOT Back to School Night- Flyer for Parents: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Press Release: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Poster Ideas & Mailbox Inserts: PDF / google docs

 

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