by The Philadelphia Student Union July 20, 2015
When Superindentent Hite was brought to Philadelphia, his purpose was clear: enact the Boston Consulting Group’s plan for the School District of Philadelphia. This plan detailed the closing of dozens of schools in the district and a following reorganization of what was left into decentralized, independently managed “achievement networks.”
Last week, the School District of Philadelphia announced a list of new hires, individuals who will be in charge of the separate networks. Let’s take a look at a few. The title listed is the one that they are currently entering at the School District of Philadelphia.
Jeff Rhodes, Assistant Superintendent, Neighborhood Network 9
Rhodes comes to the SDP from his position as Director of School Quality at National Heritage Academies. National Heritage Academies is a for-profit corporation based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It operates 75 schools in nine states with approximately 50,000 students. In 2011-2012, it was the third largest for profit charter school company in the United States based on number of schools with second largest number of students. National Heritage Academies’ founder and chair, J. C. Huizenga, is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan affiliate of the right wing Mackinac Center for Public Policy think tank. National Heritage Academies is affiliated with the rightwing lobby group ALEC and is a member of its Education Task Force.
Rhodes’ former employer has also been accused of being unable to account for $10 million of public funds, presenting creationism as a scientific theory, among other allegations.
Eric Becoates, Assistant Superintendent, Turnaround Network
Becoates served as Superintendent of Durham Public Schools until 2013, when he resigned. Becoates left his post after several scandals, including his use of a district school bus and driver to take his family and friends to private events, his billing of thousands of dollars of personal expenses to his employee credit card, and his $15 million error in the district budget that prompted the school board to plead for money from Durham County that it didn’t need.
He left Durham with a $300,000 severance package.
Christina Grant, Assistant Superintendent, Opportunity Network
Grant comes to Philadelphia from the Great Oaks Foundation, which launched charter schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Before Great Oaks, Grant founded and directed NYCAN- the New York Campaign for Achievement Now- an affiliate of the CAN network, which includes PennCAN. Previously, Grant has positioned herself in the charter expansion world via her positions at Teach for America, the Office of Charter Schools at the New York City Department of Education, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP charter schools. She has advocated for teachers to not receive raises and lobbied for parent trigger laws.
Jack Perry, Deputy Chief of Academic Enrichment
Perry is the former Executive Director and Founder of Prestige Academy in Wilmington, Delaware. Perry was a Building Excellent Schools Fellow. Building Excellent Schools is a national organization which trains individuals in how to start and operate charter schools. The BES fellowship is a year long and involves 85 days of “hands on training”, cullminating in each fellow submitting an application for a charter school. BES has an annual operative budget of over $10 million, their funders are not listed on their website.
James Harris, Executive Director of Operations
Harris previously worked as the COO of Dayton Public Schools. He went from Dayton to Springfield, Massachusetts where he was the Director of Operations for Project GRAD USA, his most recent former employer. A number of schools in Harris’ district were turned over to GRAD as part of a turnaround model. A little more than a year later, under Harris’ watch, ties between the School Distict and GRAD were severed. When the class of 2014 began as freshmen at Dean Technical High School (being run by GRAD), there were 203 students in the class. Four years later, and under Harris’ leadership, only 63 students remained at the high school and graduated. Harris left his position at GRAD this past June and was then immediately hired by the School District of Philadelphia.
In total, there are ten new positions that are being added to the School District of Philadelphia. The addition of these new individuals will change the landscape of the School District of Philadelphia forever. Though few charter accountability measures have been put into place and public schools still struggle for the resources they need, the overall plan for the school district has been set from the beginning: the Boston Consulting Group’s plan, announced in 2012. The BCG plan has been to close schools, open charters, decentralize the school district, to eventually turn over networks to charter operators, be they for-profit or not. This is the same plan that has been advised by BCG to other cities, such as Memphis, Cleveland, Seattle, Arizona, and New Orleans. Meanwhile, Dr. Hite uses his Broad Academy training to make diplomatic and strategic gestures to the public, while considering none of their input.
In the wake of this ground-breaking announcement, the hire of ten new staff members to manage the School District of Philadelphia, there has been hardly any media coverage, investigation, or mention of the roles that these individuals by members of media outlets, be they big or small. The system of public education in Philadelphia will be forever changed as we know it and now is a time for serious investigation into why, who and where else this has happened. The School District of Philadelphia need not hold all the cards, journalists, reporters, concerned citizens: all should be asking questions of the politics that are playing games with the futures of thousands of young people in the poorest big city in the United States. There are politics in the world of education, like it or not. However, the lack of any public input, community discussion or involvement, is what is particularly troubling about this recent round of hires.
There is profit, power, and prestige that many hope to gain from the dismantling of public education. Let’s hope the public at large can identify who those power players are before it’s too late.
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