Saturday, May 17, 2008

Back in the saddle with School Reform

Jen posted:
Mr. Roosevelt is supposed to make his recommendation regarding Schenley at the Education Committee meeting on Monday, 19th at 7 pm (I think it was originally scheduled at 6 pm but has been bumped back an hour for a closed door executive committee session, I have no idea what that means, if anything!) This isn't a public hearing, just a meeting you can watch. But, show up if you can, maybe wear a little red/black to show your support. You might be able to chat with your board member afterward too. Of course, you can always call, email or write, too. The recommendation will be voted on in June, though we don't know a date yet.

It's taken me a while to get around to writing up Monday's public hearing, but here it is. I'm putting one testimony below my signature -- it's great, be sure to at least read that part of this email! I'll try to mail around my testimony (the updated version is on another computer, if I go get it now, this will never be sent) and anyone else who sends theirs in the next email.

There were 31 speakers listed, with 5 no shows. The basic breakdown was 2 speakers about Miller's criteria for a new principal, several more speaking about high school reform more generally including Carey Harris from A+ schools giving feedback (I missed this three minutes, if anyone sends me a summary, I'll pass it along) and 3 spoke about the need to plan for special education in the new (and/or reformed) high schools from the beginning, not as an afterthought.

Other concerns about reform were expressed including someone sharing accounts of problems in ALA schools and the number of promises made for these schools that weren't kept. About 14 speakers spoke specifically in opposition to the plans for Schenley, and a couple of other more general reform speakers also supported Schenley. A Montessori parent thanked the board for money that made possible a new science teacher and noted the changes that a new teacher and a committed principal can make. (Amazing how well that bottom up, money to teachers and kids in response to stated needs works so well, isn't it?)

Points made about Schenley included:

• little or no effort (that we've heard about, at least) to looking at alternative plans for Schenley, including just removing the plaster which could fall, and continuing to use the building while plans for renovation are made. It was pointed out again that Schenley is particularly well-suited for doing some renovation work while students are in the building -- meaning that a plan renovations could continue over a long-term schedule after any "safety issues" are addressed.

• the loss of ESL (those students are not moving with the current 9th-11th graders) and how that removes an additional international piece that has been part of Schenley/IB

• the number of changes that have been made in the district over the last 20 years that were then regretted and reversed and often reversed again. The need to listen to parental and community input before making plans, rather than after to avoid this sort of waste.

• the buildings which have been renovated and had additions added, in a district with falling population, with far less support than this Schenley has.

• the lack of knowledge in the district (and even in those affected by this change) about the reform plans, both current and future.

• the diversity at Schenley, the interaction among kids at Schenley (despite administration reports otherwise), the fact that Schenley looks like the district in its racial make-up (it felt very odd to be asking to have different kinds of kids together, not only for the direct benefits of that, but also because it links their needs together -- I kept wondering if we are really in 2008).

• statistics about Schenley (I don't count CAPA, it has entrance requirements and can remove kids):

One of three high schools with PSSA scores above the district average and the only majority African-American (70%) school that is above the average
the highest scoring African-American students in the district (white kids tie for highest),
highest %age college bound seniors for every group broken out (black/white x male/female)

(you can look for yourself at -- the 2007 Report on School Progress: A Closer Look (right hand column) there are more stats there, too)

Let me know if you're hearing anything -- I was asked by two different reporters what our "strategy" was now. I was a little flummoxed by that, I admit. Our strategy is trying to inform people, trying to get the whole story out there, and trying to get answers and be heard...sort of the same thing it's always been! But, if you've got a more exciting strategy than that, PLEASE let me know and I'll pass it around!

Jen Lakin

Good evening. My name is Michele Feingold. I am a Schenley and Frick parent who graduated from Allderdice long ago, before I knew Schenley was worth fighting for and preserving.

I currently work in clinical research. Our clinic often chafes at the limits imposed by our Institutional Review Board, or IRB. We sometimes wait for months before we can start enrolling subjects in a study. This is because our IRB requires us to answer every possible question about study protocol, design, safety and documentation to their complete satisfaction.

Perhaps our IRB really has the right idea and their caution is justified. After all, we are talking about human subjects. And don’t you think, truly, this is the approach a school board ought to take? I’m not talking about endless in-depth inquiries, just careful, well thought out and fully vetted plans that consider as many alternatives as possible and examine the real and potential shortcomings rather than just making rosy predictions. For example, when weighing the cost of renovating historic Schenley in the heart of the university district, consider the costs of renovating Reizenstein and Milliones and Frick and Peabody, versus the possible benefits of selling the Reizenstein property. What about the issue of IB students who find themselves unable to fulfill the requirements of the program – would they actually have to leave their school as well as their classes? What about that? What about the meta-message given to mainstream students by sending them to Milliones, away from their supposedly smarter peers and into a more racially segregated environment? What are we telling them about themselves? And what about the inevitable refusal of many white mainstream families to send their children there? Let’s be idealistic, but not naive.

Honestly, did the community ever get an invitation to brainstorm alternative options before the high school reform plan was handed down? Why not let CAPA be the pilot program for six through twelve before we commit ourselves to the master plan? Consider hiring Nick Lardis to plan a renovation of Schenley without having to close it down. Bring University Prep into the building. Institute a school-wide program of diversity training and consciousness-raising that will make Schenley a regional and national model of class and racial integration. (That could even reduce hostilities at board meetings.) Let loose the energy of parents and alumni who are chafing at the bit to be meaningfully involved in their community and their children’s education, and they might dazzle you with their ability to raise money and support the board.

It’s fine to dream big, but let’s dream smart. Grandiose visions have a way of crumbling and leaving a lifetime of bitterness. Slow down, listen to and partner with the stakeholders, and your time spent on the board could be an overwhelmingly positive experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Tenth Annual “Take a Father to School Day’

Friday, May 23, 2008 at your child’s school




Tuesday May 20th at 10:00 am

After the proclamation join us in the rotunda for informational booths, handouts and giveaways. Lunch will be provided for the first 75 men.

This is an event not to be missed. If you are a male in the city and you believe in education, come and join us.

For more information contact:

Mr. Mark Brentley Sr., Chairperson



Mrs. Robin Wenger, Board Executive Assistant