Camelot Schools CEO responds to GHS-proposal criticism

 At a public meeting in July, Camelot President and CEO Todd Bock told the Germantown community that his schools cater to

At a public meeting in July, Camelot President and CEO Todd Bock told the Germantown community that his schools cater to "kids that have fallen through the cracks." (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

After reading Dave Lewandowski’s recent opinion piece in NewsWorks, I was immediately reminded of the oft-repeated quip by the late Daniel Patrick Monahan, in which he opined “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

As the President and CEO of Camelot, I take strong exception to much of what Mr. Lewandowski said and offer this rebuttal to set the record straight.

Common ground

First, let’s stipulate to that which we can agree.

I know and appreciate the wounds and pain that the Germantown community has sustained as a result of the SRC’s decision last April to close Germantown High School. I wish it hadn’t happened.

I also wish the school district wasn’t suffering at the time from a $304 million deficit.

The district’s fiscal woes are unfortunate and the sadness, disappointment and anger that Germantown residents feel is understandable.

But those decisions were made, and they were made independent of Camelot.

Taking exception

In his article, Mr. Lewandowski speaks of his “passion for education in Philadelphia and the Germantown community.” Yet, nowhere in his piece does he demonstrate a modicum of knowledge regarding Camelot’s well-documented contributions to Philadelphia school children, Philadelphia citizens and to our partner, the School District of Philadelphia.

Nor does he demonstrate any concern or understanding about the students we serve, which are largely but not exclusively African American children, predominantly male, who did not achieve success in their regular education program and are in need of a second chance to graduate.

Instead he provides mischaracterizations, innuendo and, in some cases, cheap shots that are directed toward Camelot, school-district officials and elected political officials representing the Germantown area.

And the source he cites for this (mis)information? Graduate courses he took with some (unnamed) Camelot teachers. Hardly an empirical standard.

He did not mention in his piece that he has never visited or toured Camelot’s programs, talked with our students and parents, talked with district officials who oversee our program or otherwise possess any knowledge of what we do, how we do it and whether our students, parents and the district are pleased with our services.

Nor did he offer any evidence that he’d actually researched Camelot for any empirically-based studies that might speak to the quality of our services and the outcomes that we have achieved.

This would have taken a simple Google search.

Let me help him out

Camelot has been the subject, since 2009, of three third-party empirical studies.

During the course of these studies, Camelot was unaware that it was the subject of research inquiry. In other words, they were blind studies. A summary of each study appears below:

1. “From Remediation to Acceleration: Early Lessons from Two Philadelphia Back on Track Schools” (Jobs for the Future, Oct. 2011). Summary: Of the 13 accelerated graduation programs examined, including two managed by Camelot, only Camelot was able to demonstrate student academic gains of two or more years (reading and math) among two-thirds of its students.

2. “The Impacts of Philadelphia’s Accelerated Schools on Academic Progress and Graduation — Final Report.” (Mathematica Policy Institute, Nov. 2010). Summary: Of four accelerated high school providers evaluated, Mathematica researchers concluded the following: “One provider, Camelot, has uniformly positive and statistically significant impacts on it enrollees.”

3. “Year One Report on Philadelphia’s Accelerated High Schools.” Research for Action, Aug. 2012). Summary: This study reviewed Camelot and two other providers that had provided continuous accelerated graduation programs for at least five years to the district. The five-year graduation analysis concluded that Camelot was almost twice as likely to graduate its students when compared to its two competitors.

In addition to these studies, it is a matter of public record that Camelot, since the beginning of its partnership with the district, has graduated approximately 1,900 at-risk students, each of whom was previously enrolled in a comprehensive district high school (like GHS) and who would have likely dropped out of school in lieu of graduating but for Camelot’s programs.

So much for Mr. Lewandowski’s cheap shot that “having students seated for the duration of a class is a good day for Camelot.” It’s clear his assertions are simply not credible.

Defending Bass and Kinsey

Finally, I found one statement in Mr. Lewandowski’s piece particularly egregious and reprehensible.

In describing a meeting between elected representatives, school district officials, Camelot and Germantown community leaders, he opined, “Some comments linked this case to politicians’ votes being purchased or backroom deals between Camelot, the district and elected officials that crushed the Germantown community.”

I presume this comment was directed at City Councilwoman Cindy Bass and state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, who attempted in good faith to broker an agreement with the community.

As CEO, I’ve had the opportunity to know and work with a good many elected officials — some good; some not so good.

With respect to these two public servants, Germantown should feel fortunate. Their desire to support their district, their constituents and their community was sincere and commendable. They were honest brokers. To imply that their motivation was based on money or political contributions, absent a scintilla of evidence, is simply beyond the pale and shameful.

Best wishes

In the final analysis, the school district was not able to verify that the building was safe, so were unable to move in.

As much as we would like to have brought our programs to Germantown, we’ve made the adjustments necessary and are ready to begin our 10th year of service to the School District of Philadelphia elsewhere.

We wish the Germantown community well as it grapples with the building that was once GHS.

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