Pictured above: student leaders from Youth United for Change at the January meeting Board of Education in Philadelphia.
CRISIS of PRIORITIES:
Spotlight on Philadelphia’s Failing, “Factory-Paradigm”
Tension and acrimony simmered at the five-hour marathon meeting of the Board of Education (BoE) in Philadelphia. At many points “simmering” turned to boiling over.
Philadelphians focused on the single, universal priority, Health. Whether their topic was toxic buildings or toxic trauma, their priority was health.
Conversely, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) demonstrated at the meeting, irrefutably, that Health is not their priority.
The issue is priorities.
SDP’s “Factory-Paradigm” prioritizes production-line standardization and test prep and test taking and “school-report-card” trends, other internal systems, and “manufacturing” budget allocations as their priority, all to the detriment of health and the whole child.
Many speakers rose to also condemn the lack of transparency, accountability and trustworthiness of district officials. SDP damaged their trustworthiness futher, at the meeting, by trying to camouflage or deny their priorities with words. All the while, their actions and their inaction have consistently and deafeningly drowned out our Health.
Sidestepping direct engagement or even discussion, SDP used slippery word parsing “statements” about health, such as “it’s important”, or “we take it seriously”, or it’s “a” priority, or “we’ve been working towards making it “a” priority”, but ultimately indisputably SDP failed to identify the priority of health.
Stakeholders excoriated SDP’s shocking, priorities. Quotes from twenty different speakers may help convey their deep frustration and consistent anger:
- “I’m horrified by the [continuing] health crisis!” (parent),
- “Mental Health is your #1 Priority!”… “Do you Not agree?” (student),
- “It’s a broken system” (counselor),
- “Please be proactive, not reactive!” (student),
- You’ve chosen “unhealthy budget priorities!” (teacher),
- “How much more unnecessary suffering will you allow on your watch?” (counselor).
- “You prioritize efficiency over integrity” (teacher).
More stakeholders laser-targeted SDP’s aloof tone and still-broken protocols as insulting and unconscionable. “How can you only re-act to ‘airborne’ asbestos? It’s too late then, we’re breathing it.” The meeting atmosphere was intense. Continuing with quotes from different individual speakers at a single meeting of the Board:
- “lack of systems, and process is what broke trust” (principal’s union),
- “we were ignored and disrespected” (teacher),
- “The District is not transparent” (student),
- “an unacceptable level of incompetence!” (parent),
- health “information was actively withheld from parents by SDP!” (Nurse),
- “trust is destroyed” (teacher),
- “no response to our emails” (student group),
- “patronizing!” (counselor),
- “Dr. Frank videos are insulting, without purpose” (BoE member),
- many “promises broken” (student),
- “We can no longer accept ‘It is what it is’” (teacher),
- “there has not always been neglect, not always been a crisis” (BoE member),
- Our “youth met with ‘radio silence’” (counselor),
- You show “complete lack of respect for the families we serve!” (teacher),
- SDP proceeds with “no transparency, no accountability!” (student).
One of the most clear examples of marginalizing stakeholders, in person, at the meeting, came after SDP was explicitly confronted about blame-shifting by Youth United for Change (YUC). YUC is a student-led organization fighting for educational rights for low-income youth of color (those advocating for Mental Health supports are mentored by Nick Ospa).
After 3 years of detailed research and planning YUC presented specific requests for action on Mental Health resources, at four different BoE meetings (and at other venues), for more than a year, but YUC’s progress has been hampered and even blocked by an unresponsive Board and District.
National Women’s Law Center (NWLC ), from Washington, D.C., mentors a Latina student group in SDP. They angrily blasted the same blame-shifting at SDP. NWLC recently released “We Are Not Invisible | No Somos Invisibles“, or “Latinas, Mental Health, and Philadelphia Schools.”
“The NWLC report chronicles the lack of attention that schools give to Latina students…” a heartbreakingly ironic summary in their public struggle over Mental Health with SDP.
NWLC and YUC each first contacted SDP staff in spring 2019 with their new research and specific strategies and plan for Fall 2019, but they encountered only murky excuses, inaction and months of silence. As a result, transparency and accountability of SDP administrators became a foreign concept to the students at YUC and NWLC.
Shockingly, SDP blame-shifted, again, “live”, at the January 2020 meeting: “I never got the email”, according to Dr. Hite, even when mentors from the prestigious NWLC produced the email, on the spot[It’s pictured below]. Another embarrassing blame-shift: SDP dragged Philadelphia Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez’ name into the fray, blaming her for SDP’s own inaction (she denied blocking action). SDP staffer strategy seems to be to blame each other in a series of emails portraying aloofness, disingenuousness and blatant lack of accountability to stakeholders who are advocating for priority and progress.
Frustratingly, the students’ unblinking, explicit documentation in “real time” at the meeting, was required to demonstrate how Health is left to languish at SDP for many reasons.
Health is tertiary, it’s not the priority in SDP’s “factory”.
Our youth spoke truth.
Our youth demanded change.
We must do the same.
SDP priorities and philosophy, or decision making perspective, need radical change. It’s time to change the failing paradigm, now.
Note, this post is a “sidebar” to the central post “Lives at Risk” about the shocking priority of “health” (in multiple forms) at the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). Click Here to jump to the post “Lives at Risk”
Daun Kauffman is a community member in Hunting Park, Philadelphia, who has taught in NorthPhilly public school classrooms for 20 years. Daun earned an M.Ed. at Temple University and an MBA from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.
Kauffman is an active member of Philadelphia ACEs Task Force, writes at LucidWitness.com, curates a Facebook page, “Trauma-Informed Schools Journal” and manages a Facebook group, “Trauma-Informed Schools Group”.