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262 school council members come aboard

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

In a reversal, the School District has announced that it is accepting all 262 individuals who applied by the March 9 deadline to serve on the School Advisory Councils at the 14 Renaissance Eligible schools.

The District is continuing to seek parent members for the councils at the eight schools where parents do not yet make up the requisite majority of the membership – Bluford, Daroff, Douglass, Smedley, Stetson, University City, Vaux, and West Philadelphia.

"We’re not going to accept any other applications other than parents – to get to 51 percent at each school," said Yvonne Soto, who coordinated recruitment of the councils for the School District.

In total, 40 percent of the 262 council members are parents. Representatives of community-based organizations make up 23 percent of the total, and other community members 18 percent. School staff represent 5 percent of the members and students 2 percent; student participation was allowed only at the three targeted high schools.

The incoming council members will gather Saturday, March 20 at William Penn High School for an all-day training session from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. District spokesperson Fernando Gallard said the District would soon be releasing the names of the council members by school.

The School Advisory Councils are being created to oversee a "turnaround" process at the 14 schools, which were targeted for transformation because of poor academic performance. Original guidelines said that the councils would have seven to 21 members, a majority of them parents.

The District is waiving the maximum council size rule, Soto said. Community-based organizations that have multiple members on any one council will be asked to reduce their numbers, Soto added.

Membership on the 14 councils currently ranges from a low of 10 to a high of 34 members at West Philadelphia High School.

District documents had originally said that applicants would be screened and had described the first major task of the councils as recommending the best available and approved provider to manage the school turnaround.

But according to Benjamin Rayer, who heads the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative, for some of the councils the primary task will be to "begin the work of implementing a Promise Academy design."

On March 26, the District will be identifying which of the 14 schools will be picking an outside provider as a Renaissance School and which will be Promise Academies, led by a team in Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s office.

Principals at the 14 schools have received a Promise Academy application, Rayer said, and have been asked to convene a community meeting at the school. The application asks whether or not the school is interested in being a Promise Academy and also invites input on what are the strengths and the challenges of the school.

It is up to the principal at each school to ensure community input into the decision about whether to request Promise Academy status, Rayer said. Those applications are due March 22.