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Sen. Anthony Williams steps in at West, but still no clear resolution

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

With no end in sight for the District’s ongoing investigation into an alleged conflict of interest among parents on the School Advisory Council (SAC) at West Philadelphia High, State Senator Anthony H. Williams stepped into the breach last week to help mediate the lingering tensions between factions of the West community and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

"I think people of good intentions were trying to help move the process forward, and I have high regard for Dr. Ackerman," said Williams, who hosted a meeting aimed at bringing the sides together after receiving complaints about the District’s handling of the process from civic and neighborhood associations in the surrounding community.

"As someone who wants to make sure a good high school returns to West, I wanted to make sure that all parties with good intentions are at the table and feel comfortable with one another," said Williams in an interview. "Hopefully, [the meeting] derived some level of trust on both sides."

West SAC co-chairs Shirley Randleman and Joy Herbert were present at the meeting. Both expressed readiness to put this year’s tumultuous Renaissance process behind them and focus on supporting West in the coming school year, when the school will continue to receive extra District supports as an Empowerment School and will, apparently, make a second attempt at finding a Renaissance match.

Joy Herbert, co-chair of the SAC and one of the parents at the center of the complaint, is conciliatory but frustrated. "I don’t want to make it sound like it’s us against the District," said Herbert. "We need to move on, but the only thing that is moving on right now is time."

West’s SAC voted to partner the school next year with Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now. But on the verge of a vote to ratify the match, the School Reform Commission pulled the resolution, with Chair Robert Archie citing an unspecified last-minute complaint. District officials subsequently pointed to a potential "conflict of interest " on the part of four of the eight parent members of the SAC. The four received payments to do parent outreach from the Philadelphia Education Fund, a likely subcontractor for the Hopkins team.

Ackerman has since said that the parents did nothing wrong, but the "investigation" by the District inspector general continues for a fourth week. West was pulled off the Renaissance list for a year, further dividing and frustrating the community.

There is still no timeline for its conclusion, said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard on Monday. "There is definitely going to be a report at the end of the investigation, but I have no update on when it will be closed."

Gallard also could not provide any updates on the supports planned for West next school year.

For his part, Williams hopes that parents and District administrators are in a better position now to work out the details of West’s future together.

"Whatever happens, the core group of parents who are truly engaged need to have their voices heard," said Williams. "[Moving forward], I’m hoping that Dr. Ackerman can be fully engaged at a closer level so the same missteps don’t occur again."

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