"A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

I have been spending the summer tutoring and doing professional development (and vacationing), and I have been thinking about school staffing issues. I am wondering if Dr. Ackerman's consistent hiring of more and more administration (perhaps to insulate herself) at the same time she is letting school support staff go is a wise decision. It is very easy to fire or lay off school support staff--this is mostly because, to people who do not work in schools every day, their titles and duties seem to be rather nebulous. Many people might ask what a "non-teaching assistant", or a "parent ombudsman" or a "community relations liaison" actually does. Well, they all do something vital for the life and smooth running of the school. The most well known community liaison currently may be Violet Sutton-Lawson , recently laid off from South Philly High, the woman who used her body and formidable personality to protect an Asian student from being beaten during the horrible events of December 2009. Sutton-Lawson's actions were certainly heroic, but truth be told, there are many unheralded support staff personnel in schools who work heroically with students every day. Sutton-Lawson's work with pregnant teens has probably helped many of them stay in school--kids can't get an education if they do not attend school and feel safe while they are there. Support staff can listen to, protect, advise, and help discipline students every day. Non-teaching support staff help make the smooth and safe running of schools possible. Many non-teaching assistants (NTAs) help keep order in large school hallways and other common areas, and they also give students another adult in the building who can support and mentor them. That kind of support and continuity is invaluable to all students, but especially to those who come from deprived circumstances.
In my K-8 school this year, our parent ombudsman and student advisor were crucial in helping the teachers and counselor help get a student removed from an unsafe situation at home and put with a relative who could give the student proper care. Our support staff was able to arrange appointments, follow up on phone calls and inquiries, and do home visits and gather data that teachers just do not have time to obtain. Because these two people did their jobs well, we were able to work together to turn this student from a child with 3 absences per week into one who attended school every day. If we did not have these two people in our school to help teachers and counselors, it would have taken us much longer to help this child. Stories like this one may not seem important in such a grand plan as Ackerman's Imagine 2014, but it is the thousands of small successes that support staff help us with that will help make the plan come to fruition.
I suppose Arlene would say she is saving money with all these cuts of crucial school personnel, but a beginning NTA makes just over $19,000.00 per year, and the top salary is a little over $39,000.00 per year. In a 3.2 BILLION dollar budget, the pay for these important positions hardly seems excessive. However, Arlene would rather keep hiring administrative staff at salaries of about $180,000.00 per year (yes, SIX figures), than keep students safe and cared for and her actual schools running well. I know that any teacher, principal, or student I talk to has a very clear idea about the great value of our support staff, what we are not very clear on is what a six figure salaried "chief" or "communications officer" sitting at 440 North Broad Street (SDP headquarters) actually does to make the lives and education of our students better each and every day.
+++Update: More administrative positions, more SIX figure salaries.
+++New Update: Arlene and her minions make more than the mayor, governor, and the superintendents of NYC, LA, and Chicago (not including bonuses). http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/20100729_Phil_Goldsmith__Ackerman_and_SRC_tone-deaf_to_Philadelphia_taxpayers__financial_plight.html

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Did Saliyah Cruz Steal Arlene's Thunder?

This post is quite Philly specific, but I feel it needs to be discussed. Did Saliyah Cruz, the successful, dynamic principal of West Philadelphia High School, lose her position this week because she was simply too successful (not to mention received good press), and was stealing the spotlight from her boss, Arlene Ackerman? For those not familiar with the story of West or Saliyah Cruz, West Philadelphia High is a large, comprehensive neighborhood high school (meaning no entrance requirements) that was in total chaos a few years ago. Since Cruz has become principal, West has come off the "persistently dangerous" list, the climate has improved dramatically, and everyone truly involved in education (not those in the "echelons above reality") has been convinced that West was on the road to great things. In fact, Cruz had accomplished that Holy Grail trifecta of principals: She had the loyalty and admiration of her staff, her students, and their parents. West also had another unique and stunning accomplishment--its well regarded car club had progressed stunningly far in the Progressive Automotive X Prize (even beating out MIT). But, according to Ackerman and her minions, West's PSSA scores had not come up enough and Cruz had to go. It is true that West's scores are not good, but reading had improved, and let's face it, climate has to be good before real learning can take place. Cruz and her staff had improved climate--real learning gains would have followed. Sadly, Cruz and her team will not be given this chance. First, West was named a "Renaissance School"-- and the parents diligently went through the district mandated process to pick a "provider" (read outside company). But, when it came time for the School Reform Commission to approve West's choice, politically connected people (including a city councilwoman) literally whispered into the ear of the SRC chairman and had the vote tabled. Many people feel this was a violation of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act, but, hey, it's Philly.
What is the REAL reason that West was put into more turmoil and is now losing its dynamic and dedicated principal? Well, people, it certainly is not for the good of the children as Arlene and her people would have you believe. I think that the real reason Ms. Cruz finds herself exiled from the community that had come to love her is that she was too successful. She is successful and beloved, and getting good press--and, in addition to all of that--she was making a real difference in the lives of her students. In Arlene Ackerman's cock-eyed world, this can simply not be tolerated. In Arlene's bizarro world, she will defend you practically to the death if you are the principal of another geographically named high school and you allow the climate to deteriorate to the point where one group of students prey upon another group of students and beat them practically senseless. If your incompetence and inaction as a principal lead to a federal civil rights lawsuit, you can keep your job for months and Arlene will defend you until it is discovered you have no principal's certification. But, if you are a dedicated, dynamic principal like Saliyah Cruz, and you put your heart and soul into your job every single day thereby making the lives of hundreds of children better, you will be replaced! This is Arlene's world, and unfortunately, many of the schoolchildren of Philadelphia must live in it.