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The longest SRC meeting

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The SRC meeting Thursday, April 24 at 5:30 had high security and it was standing room only. There was overflow seating downstairs with a live feed to accommodate additional attendees. The meeting opened up with the usual fanfare of honoring the teacher of the month, Jenifer Holmes from Bryant Promise Academy, and the Office Depot Seniors of the Month, Asauntae Gordon (Parkway Northwest) and Faheem Williams (Overbrook High School). Several students from Academy at Palumbo, George Washington High School, and John Bartram High School were 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winners of the 2013 Accounting Services Design Cover Contest.

This was followed by a review of the AQI, Authorizing Quality Initiative, that is intended to improve charter school accountability, preserve charter school autonomy, and protect student and public equity. A review of charter school recommendations included a view of test scores and reasons that the SRC should say yes or no. It was also revealed that the Philadelphia Charter School Office currently has no leadership and that they have been holding interviews for nearly a year without any successful candidates.

Next, the meeting took a decidedly turn for the worst by embarking on a conversation about the recommended closure of Walter D Palmer Charter School and the speakers who were originally listed were allowed to speak in response to the SRC decision. This became a very heated debate because the leadership of the school attempted to explain the reasons they should be given another chance. The data points were difficult to read because the actual test scores in question were blocked out in red. If you looked closely, one could see that some of the scores were similar to previous data that had led to the approval or extension of other charters that were discussed earlier.

“This dissonance between charter and traditional schools has been created because all the money comes from the same pot,” stated Councilman Curtis Jones. Both he and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell spoke in support of Walter Dallas Charter School remaining open. Jimenez challenged Walter Dallas the CEO and founder with the following question: “What is the elevated expectation? How do you measure progress?” The response was not definitive but the founder of the school did let the SRC know that Mastery had been sending letters to their parents with information about available charter school options. The school is not scheduled to close until July 1, 2014, yet aggressive recruitment efforts are already underway.

Green promised Councilman Curtis Jones an open process when it came to the final decision regarding Walter Dallas Charter School, but once Jones left it just turned into a one-sided, disorganized, and unfocused situation.

After waiting and listening for nearly two hours, members of the audience began to stand and reprimand the SRC for their disrespectful treatment of those speakers waiting to speak. There were several students waiting to speak on a variety of topics ranging from Meatless Mondays, Standardized testing, and why Munoz-Marin and Steele would not be converted to charters. Yet, the first student did not get the opportunity to speak until 9 pm.

Katherine McDowell recited a powerful poem about how testing takes away creativity. Members of Youth United for Change reminded us that 600 students are still missing and unaccounted for and they requested a meeting with Superintendent Hite to discuss the strategies in place to locate and provide effective pathways for those who have been misplaced or have simply dropped out.

One student gave a very grim and emotional portrayal of Mastery Charter School in defense of Steel not being converted to a Renaissance Charter.The parents at Steel and Marin-Munoz have been given 30 days to vote on the future of their prospective schools. The decision does not appear very democratic since each was only given one charter school provider option or nothing. There has been no mention that if the parents do not vote to approve the charter that more money or additional services will be provided to increase achievement and the overall school environment. This business model does not promote in-house repair, it simply provides a dumping method.

Each person who spoke about the pending Renaissance conversion for either school was very adamant about detailing the feeling of community that exists and that may be broken if a charter provider comes in. Marin-Munoz expressed growing concerns about the ongoing legal issues of Aspira regarding personnel and anti-union sentiment for a staff that pursued union representation last year. As the students gave passionate testimony some of the children and siblings were holding signs in support of leaving organizations like Aspira and Mastery out. Parents at both locations also mentioned aggressive recruiting measures occurring as if the decision had already been made.

SAC (School Advisory Council) membership discrepancies left parents unclear of who is actually making the final vote. One single parent did express her support of moving to a Renaissance model because of her concerns for her child who is Kindergarten. One veteran teacher stated, “I want to teach them in this community.” Chants followed saying, “Steel Strong!”

The question that was never quite answered is what is the option if the Renaissance conversion is voted down.

Maureen Fratantoni, a parent and President of Nebinger Home and School Association brought in documents supporting her complaints of the High School Selection process for her Special needs child. She is one of the few speakers who received immediate assistance by being connected with an individual to answer her questions and concerns.

Many speakers spoke about additional topics not limited to Standardized testing, Education Reform, Transparency and Equity. Members of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Opt-Out Philly, and Parents United for Public Schools were among the many testimonies given. The meeting went long after 10 pm and despite the exhaustion most of speakers stayed to make sure that their voices were heard. The surprising and welcome points came from a speaker representing Penn Charter, the first independent school located in the East Falls neighborhood. He emphatically spoke in solidarity with those who question the validity of tests and the unequal state funding that is starving public education into extinction and corporate control.

Last year, many of these advocates sided with the School District of Philadelphia in order to secure fair and complete funding for Philadelphia Public Schools, and now those same relationships are at odds because of the continuation of poor transparency when it comes to decision making. Helen Gym, president and founder Parents United made this point very clear in her testimony.

Review the available minutes on the SRC page here. Always attend and participate in as many future meetings as possible in order to engage, question, and discover all that is connected and related to public education in Philadelphia.

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