This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The four sitting School Reform Commission members have sent a letter to parents and other interested community members encouraging them to attend the upcoming community meetings on the facilities master plan.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that he considers this a major step forward for the commission, whose new members have stated repeatedly that they hope to be more open, inviting, and transparent.
"It is unusual to see a letter to parents signed by all commissioners," Gallard said. "The letter will be distributed to all schools affected by the recommendations and it will be made available on our website, Facebook, and Twitter. We will also email it to our network of parents. It details the commitment from the SRC to listen and take into consideration the input from the community."
The full text of the letter:
Dear Parents, Grandparents, Guardians, Students, and Friends of Students,
In November, the School District announced its proposal to begin to bring our facilities in line with the number of children in District schools and to get children out of inadequate and hard-to-maintain older buildings that will continue to drain resources that we need for instruction. Planners have been working since 2010. Over that time, they have met with more than 1,400 of you in order to create a proposal that not only saves resources, but also makes moving among elementary, middle, and high schools better for students and families. The Facilities Master Plan, as it’s called, recommends that the School District move one school, close nine others, and make grades changes in 17 more.
School closings provoke real and reasonable concern. District planners and the members of the School Reform Commission [SRC] want to hear those concerns and learn from them to make this plan the best it can be. Please know that although this plan comes on the heels of much unwanted change and churn in our educational community, these recommendations have been crafted with care for our children, teachers, and staff.
You may check the School District website for the schedule of public meetings or see the attached list. Planners will come out to each of six Philadelphia areas to talk about why these recommendations have been made, and to listen to families’ concerns, thoughts, and suggestions about their own neighborhoods. Where possible, these meetings will be streamed and/or videotaped so that others can watch. School Reform Commissioners will attend as many meetings as possible.
At one of last month’s SRC meetings, a concerned citizen spoke peace and blessings and urged us to create processes that honestly invite the public in to each crucial decision about our children’s learning. The following schedule has been created to do just that. From now until February our community will discuss the proposals throughout the city. Then in March, members of the School Reform Commission will vote for facilities changes that we believe will make a better match between District buildings and the important work that goes on inside them.
With thanks for your concern,
The School Reform Commission: Pedro A. Ramos, Chair; Lorene Cary; Joseph Dworetzky; Wendell Pritchett