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Language issues are central to school overhauls, parents say

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Immigrant parents in South Philadelphia have been vocal in advocating that their families’ needs be addressed as the District rolls out its plans to overhaul some of its lowest-performing schools.

Over the next three years, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools plan would shut these schools down and reopen them under the management of organizations with a proven record of turning schools around.

But immigrant families fear this process will exclude them, and they have been reaching out to the District by testifying first at a School Reform Commission meeting in October and more recently at a community feedback session at Audenried High School.

“The majority of the children from our community are in failing schools,” said Mirna Ramírez of JUNTOS/Casa de los Soles, a concerned parent whose two children attend Southwark Elementary. “That is why we want to involve ourselves in the decision-making and opening of these schools – more than anything in the programs that will be provided in those schools re-opened under the plan.”

In restructuring low-performing city schools since 2002, the District has consistently been criticized for not allowing public input.

However, School District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said the District welcomes parents’ input and is open to listen to their requests.

“I think it’s a decent process in which they’re allowing the parents to have a voice,” said Zac Steele, community organizer with JUNTOS. “What remains to be seen is how the District selects the service providers and if these providers will include bilingual programs.”

Parents from the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition have also spoken out for language issues to be addressed in the Renaissance plan.

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