Recap of Dec. 2 APS Meeting with PTA Presidents

On Dec. 2, I (PTA President Mary Kadera) attended a meeting organized by APS for PTA Presidents as well as leaders of CCPTA and SEPTA. Video of the meeting is archived on the Engage website, but my CliffsNotes version follows here:

HEADLINES

  1. Participants raised many concerns about the proposed school moves, and APS’s response to most of these was that these problems would all get fixed in the subsequent boundary change process. I addressed this squarely in the second question I got to ask APS (see below) and am still very troubled by what I perceive as unfounded optimism that everything will come out all right once we get to the boundary change phase.
  2. There was sharp criticism of APS that it was failing to factor in equity and diversity considerations as an important potential impact of school moves. Randolph, Campbell, CCPTA, and Key all spoke to this issue – more below.
  3. APS reported that it was possible they would issue additional proposals for the community to respond to, and their hope would be to do this by Dec 9 before the first of the “What We Heard” community meetings. They want to double-check any additional scenarios, however, before they get a public airing.

SPECIFICS 
Here are some of the questions that got asked and responses given (paraphrased):

  • Mary’s Question #1:
    One of the APS goals driving school moves is to free up neighborhood seats in areas of the county where they are projected to be needed and utilize excess capacity in the NW part of the county. Yet both APS proposals actually end up creating an even greater surplus of seats in the NW part of the county, according to the data you’ve published in “Analysis of Students Moving.” So it seems like both proposals don’t actually achieve this important goal. Can you help us understand this?

    • APS Response:
      APS’s response was that we need to be mindful of PreK and special education programs (I am assuming they are referring to things like MIPA) which aren’t currently included in “Analysis of Students Moving” and could consume some of this excess capacity.

      I countered with the statement, “But I am just talking about K-5 data for now. It would seem like school moves should get you at least *part way* to your goal of eliminating excess capacity in the NW part of the county. So, instead of 116 extra seats, school moves should help you get closer to zero. Instead, it pushes this number upwards of 300.”

      APS answered that we shouldn’t give too much weight to the numbers in the “Analysis of Students Moving” chart because things would get balanced out in the subsequent boundary change phase of the process.

  • Randolph’s Question:
    Goals for the school move process don’t consider diversity and equity. What steps are you taking to ensure that this part of the process won’t actually exacerbate racial and socio-economic divides in the schools?

    • APS Response:
      APS responded that the school move process is something separate from boundary changes and thus doesn’t have to factor in diversity or the other factors identified in the APS policy that governs boundary changes.  They also added that balancing student demographics would likely require more busing, and the ES principals had requested that APS not spend $$ on increased transportation, but instead allocate those funds towards more resources to support diverse students in their existing schools and classrooms.
  • Campbell’s Question:
    Campbell asked APS to share Planning Unit-level demographic data for students. APS reiterated that the school move process would not factor in student demographics, which will be taken up in the subsequent boundary change process, and thus APS will not be sharing demographic information related to either of its two proposals. Campbell responded, “Then how will you prevent negative impacts [to balanced demographics] caused by school moves?” and APS responded that this would all be worked out in the boundary change phase.
  • CCPTA Commentary:
    APS is in the process of hiring a leader for diversity and equity and finalizing an equity policy stipulating that equity considerations should be front-and-center in all decision making. However, the school move process “excludes it entirely.” CCPTA notes that proximity and efficiency, two of the six factors in APS’s boundary change policy, are very much a priority in the school move process, but balancing demographics is not. CCPTA views this as problematic because the school move decision “directly impacts what we’ll be able to do later…It needs to be a priority. It’s supposed to be a priority.”
  • SEPTA Questions:
    Our own Kathleen Clark, representing SEPTA, asked two good questions about the particular impact of school moves and boundary changes on special education students. APS responded that this was an “Instructional issue” that they want to build into the IPP and boundary change processes, in collaboration with the Department of Teaching and Learning and groups like ASEAC.

    It sounded very much like a work in progress with a pledge to “do things better” for special education populations. APS held out the possibility of administrative transfers that would allow some special education students to stay in their current schools, but Kathleen responded that this would be a difficult decision for families (following friends to a new school, or staying in the building you know…)

  • Mary’s Second Question:
    I’ve heard repeatedly tonight that various concerns raised–like schools being over or under capacity, like continued (and even worsened) excess capacity in some parts of the county, like the diversity issues raised by many here–are all going to get settled down the road in the boundary change process. I am getting confused about why we are doing school moves, then, if the school moves are not getting us at least incrementally closer to accomplishing the goals you set out for the process in the first place.  If all these issues are going to get resolved in the boundary change phase, how can APS be sure that those boundary changes are going to get us to a good result? What information is giving you that level of confidence, and can you share it with us so that we can feel confident, too?

    • APS Response:
      APS’s response–and I took detailed notes–was approximately this: “We need to know what sites will be neighborhood schools so that we can draw the boundaries. We need to finalize school moves so that we know what sites we’re actually working with. Then we’ll be able to draw the boundaries.” 

Friends, this really worries me. 

All along I’ve said that it’s the PTA’s job to ensure that 1) families have information about what’s coming and how to engage; 2) APS decisions are based on good data; and 3) APS is using a process that is fair and transparent. 

Based on everything we’ve seen over the past month, I believe it’s vital for our PTA, and all others, to raise the alarm about the data and process. We’ll talk more about this on Thursday night. 

– Mary

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