This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The recent arrest of Home and School Council President Greg Wade for allegedly embezzling from the group is a red flag bringing attention to troubles with the city’s parent organizing efforts. It follows another setback – the demise of the Parent Leadership Academy just months earlier.
It’s time for parent leaders across the city to come together and lay the foundation for a stronger network of organizations giving voice to their concerns.
Philadelphia has no shortage of examples of successful parent organizations. Home and School Associations have been with us for a century, giving parents at countless schools a vehicle to get involved and have their views heard. Groups like Parents Union and the Alliance Organizing Project have come and gone but had many successes in organizing parents into a powerful force for school improvement. ACORN and the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project (EPOP) have done important work on issues like teacher quality and school safety.
Emerging more recently, Parents United for Public Education has been an influential voice for parents concerned about budget issues. JUNTOS, a community group led by mothers who are newcomers from Latin America, organized hundreds for a meeting that won a District commitment to put more bilingual staff in schools.
At their best, these groups are developing new leaders and activists, helping parents deepen their understanding of issues, and challenging District leaders to make improvements.
To revitalize the Home and School Council in that mold will be a major undertaking. It is worth examining other parent organizing efforts, including the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) model, which might provide a level of training and support that is not now available to school-based parent groups.
For its part, the School District needs to start creating real opportunities both at the school and District level for parents to exercise power. Parents have a strong interest in better schools. If provided with some fertile ground, parent organizing may once again flourish.