This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Dismayed about budget cuts that have reduced the level of multilingual staff and services districtwide, immigrant parents from South Philadelphia presented ideas for offsetting those cuts at a December meeting with principals and District administrators.
The parents’ committee of JUNTOS, an immigrant organizing group, called the meeting, which included 13 South Philadelphia school principals and District staff. Parents’ recommendations included hiring more bilingual teachers when positions open up, better defining the roles of bilingual counseling assistants (BCAs) and school improvement support liaisons (SISLs), and increasing parent representation in schools through the creation of School Advisory Councils (SACs).
"We want to have more of a voice in the schools, more control over what goes on," said Angelica Victoriano, one of seven parents who represented the JUNTOS committee at the meeting.
The District will expand SACs into more South Philadelphia schools starting in September, said Karren Dunkley, deputy chief of the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith-Based Partnerships. Recruiting multilingual parents for those councils will be a priority, she said.
The District offers ongoing staff trainings around multilingual support services and outreach efforts to inform parents about services. But Dunkley agreed that the District needs to recruit and retain more bilingual staff at all levels.
Rosa Mercado, a JUNTOS parent, left the meeting feeling optimistic.
"I don’t know if everything we proposed will happen, but I’m happy that they supported us," she said.
Ralph Burnley, principal at Nebinger School, said, "One thing I pulled from this meeting is that I need to hear more from parents on a regular basis."
Moving forward, JUNTOS parents want to include other ethnic groups in South Philadelphia in conversations with the District.
On February 14, they will join activists in Harrisburg to lobby for increased funding for public education.
"We want more money for schools instead of jails," Victoriano said.