This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Frustrated and bitter, several members of the West Philadelphia High School School Advisory Council (SAC) personally demanded that the School Reform Commission (SRC) vote Wednesday to match West with Johns Hopkins/Diplomas Now as a Renaissance School for next year.
The SRC, however, did not respond to those demands during its public meeting.
Afterwards, SRC chair Robert Archie said that because the District is still looking into an alleged conflict of interest on the West council, no match could be made.
“Obviously, we’re not going to ratify the resolution until we complete our investigation,” explained Archie, adding that there is currently no timetable for doing so.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman also said later that it is “too late” for the District to move on the resolution. Instead, West will get extra supports from the District as an Empowerment School next year and will join the Renaissance program in 2011-12
“We’re moving on, putting in place the supports and the resources that will be needed to ensure that West Philly can move on and not lose any ground next year,” said Ackerman.
The superintendent also downplayed the District’s response to the complaint, saying that it “is not that kind of investigation.”
“We’re not blaming the parents,” Ackerman said. “We just want to know what happened. There was a complaint made, so we had to investigate it.”
The source of the complaint has not been revealed, and Archie has said he “doesn’t remember” who brought the situation to his attention.
After learning that the District would not be acting on the SAC’s demands, Mia King, the group’s secretary, expressed frustration with what she described as the District’s diversionary tactics.
“The supposed investigation is not moving forward. The District is just using it to disrupt the decision that the SAC made while participating in the District’s own process,” said King. “SRC and District officials are sitting idly by while parents’ character is dragged through the mud. These are some of the most dedicated parents West has. The question is, who is profiting from this situation?”
The West SAC held a press conference in the rain and then went inside where some members addressed the SRC during the public portion of its meeting. Among them were the parents on the PEF-supported parent outreach team.
“I started this process with hope and excitement,” said Joy Herbert, co-chair of the council and parent of a 10th grader. “I am insulted by the allegations made by my unidentified accuser.”
While she voted for Hopkins, Herbert emphasized that “I was not paid, bullied or coerced into making my choice…. I voted for what I thought was the right program for my son and for his school. I made it of my own free will. If my accuser believes otherwise, he or she should publicly come forward and make the charges to my face.”
Jennifer Funderburg, the parent of a 12th grader at West, said she was “appalled that my character has been called into question. “The unnecessary delay of this process has harmed the entire school community.”
Neither Funderburg nor Herbert received any response from the commissioners or from Ackerman.
Carla Jackson, who is on retainer with PEF to drum up parent interest and activity in the school, said that she and her husband Keith both intended to resign from the West SAC as a result of the turmoil. Jackson added that the whole episode had even strained their marriage.
“I didn’t know at time of employment with PEF in Jan. 2010 that West was going to be a Renaissance school, with Johns Hopkins being one of the models and PEF being a sponsor,” she said. She lamented how hard it was to get parents involved in the school, on the SAC or otherwise, and said PEF “graciously” offered some funding “to help the cause.” She herself voted to make West a Promise Academy, slated for turnaround under Ackerman’s supervision.
Ackerman was conciliatory to Jackson and urged her to reconsider her resignation. “Don’t read the papers, and don’t let other people get in the way of what we know is in the best interests of children,” she said.
Ackerman also responded to the public remarks made by Paula McKinney-Rainey, who is the president of the West Philadelphia High School Alumni Association. Although a voting member of the West SAC, McKinney-Rainey did not join her colleagues in demanding immediate ratification of the May 26 resolution.
Instead, she told Ackerman and the SRC that “given all the circumstances that have brought us here today to this point in the process, [the alumni association] supports the School District in its decision to delay [a Renaissance decision on] West. But that support is conditional. West needs to receive all of the supports it would have received if a turnaround team was selected.”
Ackerman assured her that West “will not be left without additional resources” next year. “Don’t read the newspapers, don’t listen to the gossip – we’re going to make this happen.”
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ackerman tried to soften the tone of the discussion around the swirling controversy.
“[The situation] has been exaggerated without us having the opportunity to bring people together,” said the superintendent. “I believe in the folks on that advisory council. I believe that they can all come together, and I believe that they will. My job is to make sure that happens. What we need now is a viable pathway for this community to move forward for the sake of these children.”