Confessions of an Urban Principal / The Squeaky Wheel
by Frank Murphy
Installment 7 of 8
People have been sharing their reactions to Saturday’s meeting. I received a call from Ken this morning. He is a local leader. He was upbeat. From his sources he was able to get a fix on Vallas’s reaction to the concerns of the Meade community. Several individuals who work closely with the CEO had told Ken that Mr. Vallas was impressed by the respect shown to me by both parents and other community members.
Though Ken hadn’t heard any definitive statement concerning the fate of our school, he is confident that we will be spared. He said, “Meade is going to stay with the Temple Partnership. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Our conversation turned to discussing a front-page article in yesterday’s Sunday edition of the Inquirer. It examined numerous contracts the School Reform Commission has approved since the state takeover of the district. The reporters had found that large sums of money had been paid out to Educational Management Organizations (EMOs), other private companies that administer disciplinary schools, textbook publishers, charter schools, test prep firms, standardized test manufactures, and other educational product contractors. John Perzel, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, was quoted as saying, “Vallas’s embrace of private enterprise goes beyond what we could have expected or hoped for.”
Representative Perzel, one of the leading architects of the state takeover plan for the Philadelphia School District, was also quoted as saying, “Philadelphia’s experience has validated privatization, showing that companies can solve problems beyond the scope of the educational bureaucracy.” His comments place him as a member of the group of corporate school reformers who are intent on gaining a strong hold on the public treasury. Their goal is to create new for profit educational markets. They attempt to undermine the public’s confidence in the public school system. In doing so they pave the way for the creation of charter schools and the use of vouchers. The Vallas’ administration contributes to this effort by using student test scores to identify schools as failures. It is easier to impose punitive sanctions when a school’s creditability is destroyed. When Thorton attempted to hand out his inaccurate data packet at the church meeting, he was setting the stage for a hostile takeover attempt of Meade.
The article also discussed the district’s intention to hire outside companies to manage the transition of district high schools into smaller units. It appears that every area of the district’s operations is in some way being impacted by privatization efforts. The expertise and knowledge of School district employees are being ignored as private interest groups are increasingly setting the district’s direction. This trend does not bode well for the future of our public schools.
Jolley Bruce Christman of Research for Action, was also quoted. She said, “It is still an open question whether these groups actually bring the expertise, knowledge and best practices that will make a difference.”
Ken ended our conversation with this observation. “It seems that the media is starting to take a closer look at the effectiveness of school reform in Philadelphia.”
Shortly after my conversation with Ken, Bill Moore called. He had just talked to Thorton. Bill received an assurance from him that Meade and Ferguson would continue to be part of the Temple Partnership. The CAO said the lawyers were working on drawing up a new management agreement.
As soon as Bill hung up I contacted John. He informed me that Vallas and the Temple President are in fact talking through their differences. According to John, they have agreed on the big picture issues. I wasn’t sure what he meant by this remark.
I didn’t have much time to get to the district headquarters, after I completed these conversations. I was scheduled for a 9:30 conference with the newly appointed Superintendent of the CAR region. Just as I was about to walk out of the office I received another call. Someone from the Human Resources Department was on the line. She informed me that an important package would be delivered to the school before noon by a school police officer. The package contained multiple copies of a letter addressed to the teaching staff. I was instructed to immediately distribute it to the teachers. They are being offered an opportunity to opt-out of your school explained the H.R. representative. “Since it is possible that their work rules may be radically changed they are eligible to file a forced transferred request. All of the teachers in the CAR schools are receiving this letter. If they choose to do so, they will be moved to another school without losing any of their school based seniority. They must respond by the end of the school day on Thursday.”
This didn’t sound as though we were going to remain in the Temple Partnership.
I made it to my meeting on time. Cordially the CAR Superintendent and I greeted each other. After a few minutes of conversation I discerned that she wasn’t familiar with Meade. I gave her a copy of the action plan our Instructional Leadership Team had developed in January. During our conversation I highlighted for her the history of my school for the last eight years. I listed our achievements and described the issues, which have confronted us.
She appeared to be interested in the information that I shared. “You have some very challenging problems, Frank. The CAR region is going to be good for you. I will be the only person you will report to from now on. You can make a lot of things happen with my support. Together we can plan strategically to fill in the gaps in your instructional program. It’s up to you to determine how your school will work. Whether your program will be a success or a failure is on you. You will be the person who people will remember at your school in the future. You want your legacy to be good. You have a lot of support and respect from your parents and community. I can see that in these letters.”
On her desk were copies of the letters sent to the district chief from the Meade Home and School Association. I wasn’t sure where she was going to with her legacy speech. Was it a warning or friendly advice? She also stated that she didn’t know whether Temple would continue to have a relationship with Meade. “I’m going to have to get clarity from Greg Thorton on Temple’s relationship with your school. I’m going to see him later today.”
Our conference ended with her stating, “Yours is a very difficult situation. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, Frank.”