Phildadelphia Great Schools Compact Update Meeting #12 & #13
May 02, 2012
The Committee is working on a community engagement strategy for the Great Schools Compact, with the goal of sharing information the Compact’s forward movement and status with a broader group of interested parties, and soliciting their input and ideas being explored and pursued by the Committee.
- PSP walked the Committee through an updated outline of the grant proposal to the Gates Foundation, which is due on May 1, 2012.
- PSP confirmed that Philadelphia is the only city where the Archdiocese has officially joined the Compact.
- The Committee discussed the charter school funding formula at length, with the goal being to better and more concretely understand concerns. The district will provide more details on how charters’ per-pupil allotments are calculated in future meetings.
- The Committee discussed the charter renewal process, including the first two hearings held earlier that day.
- Both hearings went well, and the tone was collegial and clear.
- The SRC is interested in hearing any and all feedback on the process from all schools.
- Schools that received a “one year fix” re: modification requests in 2010 are to receive their draft renewal “term sheets” from the district’s charter office ASAP. Overall, term sheets will be distributed to schools in batches, as the charter office can get them drafted.
- Charter representatives in attendance asked about the status of SPI recalculations. The district confirmed that the recalculations were being worked on internally.
The Committee discussed the prospect of charter legislation being introduced in the current session of the state legislature—in particular the issue of creating additional authorizers within the commonwealth. Charter representatives explained that the lack of transparent and consistent authorizing practices by the SRC historically has made the prospect of another authorizer option appealing to many charters. While the current SRC has signaled its intention to expand charter enrollment as part of the “Blueprint for Transformation,” charter reps pointed out that current SRC members won’t be on the commission forever. Charters would like long-term assurance that they will have options for authorization. Conversely, the SRC representatives noted that the installation of a second or multiple authorizer(s) would create unpredictability which would exacerbate the challenges of the current fiscal crisis and harm the district’s credit rating, and therefore its ability to borrow. The Committee agreed to revisit this topic in future sessions.
Charter representatives stated that the Charter agreement documents that were recently shared with charter operators were filled with language that a considerable number in the charter world found problematic. Charter operators stated that it was determined at the compact table that the SRC needed predictability in planning through caps and catchment areas, preferences that would be negotiated and mutually agreed upon. Yet, in the initial charter document, there is language that states if an operator desires a modification, like an increase in enrollment, that the district will dictate to them their catchment area/attendant zone. If an operator does not agree with the terms presented then negotiations end. For charter operators who aren’t part of the Compact Committee dialogues, they’re paying attention to the documents coming from the Charter Office and news reports that paint a decidedly negative light on the charter term sheet and are being advised by their legal counsels to not sign off on anything in fear of having their charter revoked. Charter operators also mentioned that the charter agreement contracts almost come across as a conspiracy against charter operators by using language that makes it seem as if charters can be revoked through a minor infringement. In particular, insurance language is constructed to make charter schools out to be a subcontractor of the School District rather than an independent charter entity. Charter operators acknowledged that there is a synergy at the Compact table but that feeling does not survive beyond the Compact meetings. Charter operators suggested that the actions of all parties away from the Compact table be consistent with what was agreed upon at the Compact table.
A suggestion was made that language coming out of the District’s Charter Office be reviewed with greater scrutiny, ensuring appropriate tone, form, and content to better serve the charter community. There was also recommendation that charter agreements be revised, possibly using the 2005 charter agreement template which many believe allows charters to be autonomous and also be in line with other charter agreements in other cities. All agreed with the notion that the current agreement may need to be adjusted, stating that key members of the Compact should be present during the conversations to ensure they would be conducted properly. Charter operators vetted Pat Hennessy, an attorney who provides legal counsel for many charter schools, as someone who could represent charter organizations during these conversations.
Discussion then moved to the District’s Charter Office itself, as it was mentioned there being an issue of customer service. One particular incident revolves around the Charter Office requesting the financial information of charters without providing a reason as to why they requested the information. It was pointed out that there is still a culture issue that exists within the office that is need of remediation. It was suggested that in both the short term and long term that the Compact reinvent the Charter Office as it is part of the Compact work. Acknowledging that the Charter Office is understaffed, the need to increase the charter office’s operating budget, leveraging funds from the charter community so not to burden the SRC with finding money that may not exist was highlighted. It was also stated that it was necessary to create an outline that gives shape to an ideal Charter Office keeping both the short term goals (charter renewals) and long term goals (better functioning Charter Office) in mind. Charter operators advised that the Charter Office has been revised several times over the years and indicated that the culture of the Charter Office would be affected by who signs off on the paycheck of those in the Charter Office. A recommendation was made stating the necessity to have a senior-level executive, akin to a Chief Academic Officer, at the head of the Charter Office independent from the School District who could then report to the SRC rather than having a staff that is managed by the SRC. Compact members felt that the charter community should vet candidates.
It was the opinion of many compact members that district and charter representatives at the Compact table should identify key areas of charter legislation that both sides could demand Harrisburg consider for Philadelphia. It was also stated that the absence of such a unified recommendation would ultimately result in unhelpful legislation for the district and charters alike. Key topics were pulled out of one of the draft bills that were circulating around the State Legislature last Fall. Areas of interest were briefly discussed, with charter operators siting their inability to serve in multiple capacities and dual enrollment not being permitted for students. It was the general feeling of the committee that any agreements made by the District/charter group directed to the state should be presented as a Philadelphia-only solution and time-bound (5-year to match the District’s 5-year plan).
There was a review of key components of the Gates proposal submission. The items reviewed were as follows:
- All parties have committed to eliminate failing schools representing at least 5,000 seats in each of the next five years through a combination of turnarounds, closures, school expansions
- Creation of an improved school-performance framework will be in place by the time 2011-12 student outcomes data are available, and that a third-generation framework incorporating more college-readiness data could be developed within a few years
- Development of a multimedia information resource called GreatPhillySchools that will enable parents to use a simple, intuitive interface to research and compare all of the city’s nearly 400 K-12 schools. The resource will be free to users and will be accessible in print and online
- Development of a common enrollment system for all public schools (and perhaps for parochial schools)
- Creation of a reimagined Office of Charter Schools, one that sees charter schools as its primary constituents and that brings together outstanding support services and rigorous but transparent authorizing practices
- Reinvigorate Intermediate Unit 26 as an educational services agency focused on providing cost-effective, best-in-class services and programs to all K-12 school providers on an opt-in basis
- Creation of a Philadelphia program that emphasizes instructional leadership, management skills and mastering the technical elements of school administration (including school law, special education, state education policy, and more)
- Expand Impact of Teacher-Effectiveness Training for Instructional Leaders & Coaches
- Development of K-12 benchmark assessments aligned to Common Core, focusing initially on math and reading
- Develop and broadly share subject based instructional strategies that move classroom teaching in the direction of student centered or student-led lessons from the currently predominant teacher-led approach
- Development of a new postsecondary model for educating would-be teachers to expand the pipeline of teacher and leader talent in Philadelphia
- Make surplus facilities available to independent school operators at prices that take into account fair market value to create powerful incentives for school operators to provide outstanding student outcomes amongst the most underserved student populations