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Will the District listen?

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

They said this time it would be different.

District leaders involved in planning for Renaissance Schools said that, unlike the state takeover in 2002, the turnaround process under Arlene Ackerman would be done with school communities and not done to them.

They said newly-created school advisory councils would have a major voice in decisions about what happens to schools that are targeted for transformation.

But in the Ackerman administration’s apparent desire to aggressively transform low-performing schools, the community is again getting trampled. The District is going full-speed ahead on plans to force-transfer whole staffs and start over at 14 schools in time for the fall.

Through a whirlwind effort, the District managed to recruit more than a quorum to serve on the councils at each of the 14 “Renaissance Eligible” schools. On short notice, about 100 council members turned out Saturday, March 20, for an all-day training session.

They learned that each brand-new council has only six weeks to make a recommendation about putting their school in the hands of one of a small list of outside providers … who haven’t even completed their applications yet.

They learned that the councils would play no role in deciding whether a school should opt out of the provider matching and instead take their chances with Superintendent Ackerman’s as-yet ill-defined Promise Academy model.

If the District wants the community on its side this time, it must start giving school councils and communities the time, information, support, and authority to decide what is the best way forward.

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