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POWER launch promises renewed focus on job readiness, education

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

by Avi Wolfman-Arent

Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER), a new community organizing initiative, held its opening convention Sunday, unveiling a platform that will focus on jobs and education.

The education piece of the platform is still in development, but POWER organizer David Koppisch said that vocational initiatives, those directly tethered to the changing job market, would guide the group’s interests.

The event, attended by local leaders such as Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Bill Green, and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, drew an estimated crowd of 2,000 to Tindley Temple United Methodist Church on Broad Street.

POWER is an interfaith advocacy coalition of faith groups representing 32 member congregations across the city.

Koppisch specifically mentioned improvements to the School District’s Career and Technical Education curriculum and the expansion of adult education programs targeted toward jobs in health care as “pillars” of the coalition’s education platform.

The Rev. Dwayne Royster, POWER’s executive director, sees job-readiness education as a vital component of their mission to prepare Philadelphians for the future economy.

“Factory jobs are gone. If you can’t read, you can’t do most jobs nowadays,” Royster said. “The jobs we’re looking at require some technical skills. You need to know math, geometry; you need to be able to read a blueprint.”

Royster believes an interfaith coalition is uniquely positioned to meet those rising demands.

“With so much vitriol on both sides of the political spectrum, the faith-based community can bring people together,” Royster said. “It’s a common link that’s bigger than our individual perspectives.”

The Rev. Cean James of the Grace Christian Fellowship in Southwest Philadelphia, a charter member of POWER, hopes the nascent group can fix Philadelphia’s education woes by bridging the “disconnect” between communities and their local schools.

“If one parent is saying there’s a problem isn’t enough, then maybe a congregation of parents saying there’s a problem is enough, or maybe a coalition of congregations is enough to help affect change,” James said.

James, a former teacher at Mastery Charter’s Shoemaker campus, also would like to see POWER curtail the rising rates of standardized testing in schools.

Those suggestions in mind, the scope of POWER’s education agenda remains unclear, with Royster saying the “specific K-12 platform goals are still emerging.”

In particular it remains to be seen where POWER will stand on the matter of school choice in light of the fact that many faith-based communities, notably the Catholic Archdiocese, play an active role in school operation.

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