This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Paul Jablow
About 250 parents, community members, principals, teachers, and District officials braved an unusual fall snowstorm on Saturday to attend the first citywide summit on School Advisory Councils.
The "SAC Summit" at Benjamin Franklin High School was a key step in District plans to put functioning SACs in an increasing number of schools, perhaps close to half of those in the city.
In her opening remarks, Karren Dunkley, deputy of the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith-Based Partnerships, described the summit as "a day of learning, a day of collaboration."
Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery recognized that the work around this effort “seems to be hard and unforgiving…[but] there are certain schools where community interest is off the charts. We have some schools where it is not as high. We have to lift them."
Workshops were offered on:
- School budgets
- Using data to be a parent activist
- Understanding school data, accountability, and action plans
- Teamwork and conflict resolution
- Recruitment and communication
- Student voice on the SAC
- Making your SACs official, on developing bylaws and holding elections
- Running effective meetings
- Best practices for school leadership: Principals and parents working together
Iliyaas Muhammad, a Philadelphia Student Union organizer, taught the workshop about teamwork and conflict resolution, saying that conflict is part of the group dynamic and that if handled properly, it can be turned into a positive outcome.
In the accountability and data session, participants learned the intricacies of how schools are rated and received information about the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and the School Performance Index (SPI).
Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement at the Philadelphia Education Fund, warned that while a school may be making adequate progress according to these benchmarks, student achievement may still not be at the point where parents or the District should be satisfied.
While the importance of data was highlighted, equal emphasis was given to building collaboration within SACs and between SACs, principals, and the District.
Though to a small group of principals gathered in her workshop, Dunkley noted that "you can’t legislate collaboration."
Following the summit, Dunkley said that she was "encouraged and optimistic" about the turnout, particularly considering the weather. She said that the District leadership team would follow up on the summit with a meeting with principals and SAC chairs throughout the city in December.
By that time, she said, a SAC working group that has been meeting since the summer should have a draft plan for Nunery for putting SACs in some 115 schools.
And, on an optimistic note, Dunkley was careful to describe the summit not just as the first, but as "the first annual."