Superintendent, SRC Chair Estelle Richman, Commissioner Bill Green Issue Statements on Final SRC Meeting

Posted on June 21, 2018
Categories: News from SDP

PHILADELPHIA — As the final School Reform Commission Action meeting comes to a close, with  the local Board of Education scheduled to assume governance July 1, Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, SRC Chair Estelle Richman, and Bill Green, SRC Commissioner, are issuing the following statements.

Dr. Hite:

“I would like to thank all members of the School Reform Commission, both past and present, for their work to support Philadelphia’s public school students. The leadership the Commission demonstrated during challenging times, and its focus on creating a stable school system that  provides a quality education for every student across the city, has enabled our current progress and the return to local control. I am also grateful to the Commission for having brought me to Philadelphia – an amazing city – to serve as its Superintendent.

The move to return the School District of Philadelphia to local control under a Board of Education is historic. I am excited to work with the Board as we continue to make progress, improve educational opportunities, and ensure our schools are welcoming, safe and vibrant places for our students and staff.  Together we can help all Philadelphia students reach their limitless potential.”

Chair Estelle Richman:

In nine days the SRC formally and officially ends after 16 years. During the 16years there have been 24 members, tenure ranged from 2 years to 7 years. There have been four Governors, three Mayors, and four Superintendents. There were three Superintendents and three acting Superintendents during the 10 years prior to the current administration. There was never an opportunity for stability because change of leadership demanded attention.

My thoughts on what I have learned during the 15 months I have been on the SRC supported by my 25 years on working in Government positions at the City, State, and National levels.

• Schools are complex entities with many moving parts. They are mostly funded by tax dollars and therefore are accountable to taxpayers. They are govern by laws, policies, and regulations from the State and Federal level. There is nothing that requires these laws, policies, and regulation to be consistent with each other.

• The primary task is to provide a free, appropriate, accessible education to all children up to their 22 birthday. In urban areas like Philadelphia where the poverty rate is high, the job of education is most challenging. High numbers of children and youth start school and return to school not ready to learn. In most cases, this is not the fault of the child or family but is systemic.

• Children and families are challenged by food insecurities, medical challenges, trauma experiences, inadequate housing, financial struggles – to name a few. It is expected that school will find ways to address these needs and create a learning environment for all children. Philadelphia schools has cultivate hundreds of partners to help meet these needs. Philadelphia probably has one of everything but not enough of anyone.

• What I have learned.

• Stability of leadership is absolutely critical.

• Maintaining a Balanced budget is essential to growth and vision

• Families (broadly defined) are critical to making schools work. Listen and work with them.

• All children and youth, regardless of challenge and handicap, are entitled to a free, accessible, and appropriate education that teaches them skills that will support them as adults.

• My thanks to

• To the SRC staff, specifically Claire, Sithi, Pam, Denise, Rosie, Tracy, and Sakeerah. Your support has been not only valuable but productive in accomplishing the goals of the SRC.

• All of the teachers, Principles, staff that work every day to support students and to those who welcomed me and other SRC members into their schools. A special shout out to Principal Mason and Counselor Maxine of Mifflin School for their help in understanding behavioral challenges in elementary schools.

• To CBH (Community Behavioral Health) for providing funds to the School District to hire School Social Workers/Counselors to provide additional supports to our students. The goal is to continue to expand this cadre of professionals until all schools have increased support for students.

• To those of you who have religiously attended and testified at public meetings around issues – thank you for caring about our schools, our teachers, our staff, and our students. As tough as it was to listen to your comments or your songs, your passion and energy will continue to motivate folks to do better.

• To Dr Hite. Thank you for the stability you have brought to Philadelphia /schools. Thank you for your vision to have all of our schools centers of excellence for learning.

Hooray for local control.

Commissioner Green:

“A bit of history and some thanks, on the occasion of the final School Reform Commission meeting.  In a few years, looking back, today may be the one day that the new local school board will be envious of the SRC Commissioners.

The SRC was created in a bargain that gave the Commonwealth putative control over governance of the District in exchange for additional state resources being allocated to the District.

Whatever the merits of the governance trade-off, the fiscal benefit held through the Rendell administration. But when the “Great Recession” hit the Commonwealth’s budget, the District was ill-prepared.   Years of fiscal mismanagement at the District – including using one-time federal stimulus funding for ongoing operating costs, rather than needed investments in training, infrastructure, or materials that would have had a long-term impact – were laid bare.

With the fairly consistent and predictable increases in state funding during the Rendell years at an end, the SRC had to confront both an immediate fiscal crisis and a significant structural deficit.  In the years since, the members of the SRC and District leadership worked with the City and the General Assembly to raise over $600 million in annual recurring revenue not including next year’s funding.

The dedication, focus, persistence, and character of those who served during that challenging period – and their willingness to make excoriatingly difficult decisions – made it possible to have our last meeting today.

The thanks begin with the steady hand of Bill Hite and his team. Bill’s talent, character, integrity, decisiveness, and genuine caring and love of the District’s children set the tone.  Coming out of this turmoil, the District is making visible progress: every year, more children are reading by fourth grade; the depth and breadth of teacher training has increased; there are no longer any persistently dangerous schools in the District; the Charter Schools Office was expanded and professionalized and charters are being held more accountable; every school has at least one counselor and nurse; and effective principals have been trained and put in place.  I could go on and on. The progress, though still incremental, is tangible and measurable and aligned with Bill’s vision and anchor goals.

Others who served in the District deserving mention are Paul Kihn, who designed much of the accountability and measurement we apply to District and Charter schools beginning with the Authorizing Quality Initiative; Matt Stanksi who somehow made the numbers work and Uri Monson who continues to do so; Fran Burns, who kept everything else working; and Stacy Holland, whose vision of partnership and external support continues to pay dividends for the District. I’d also like to thank Claire Landau, who has been a steady, calming influence for the District and the SRC, and who has had more bosses than perhaps anyone here.

There are too many more to mention.

Last, but not least, are the Commissioners who set the tone of the SRC and did the heaviest lifting before I joined.  I mention only those with whom I had to pleasure to serve or try to fill their shoes. Specifically, Farah Jimenez with whom I began this journey, Feather Houston who guided Matt’s steady hand and who had a unique ability to talk me down from the ledge; Pedro Ramos whose leadership style inspired confidence in Harrisburg and Philadelphia; Wendell Pritchett and Sylvia Simms, who kept us focused on the big picture—the children and the importance of diverse educational opportunities.  We should also recognize Chairs Marge Neff, Joyce Wilkerson and Estelle Richman who were always collaborative, focused, and professional, whether or not we agreed on issues.

While I am proud of the work of the SRC, I am hopeful that the new local Board of Education can continue our progress and continue to follow the lead of Dr. Hite, whose vision and direction have made today possible.”