This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Just 14 days after being sworn in as the School Reform Commission’s newest member, Sylvia Simms faced a daunting task.
She and fellow commissioners voted on Superintendent William Hite’s school closings plan, deciding to shutter 23 District schools. The vote capped off an intense period of work for Simms, founder of community group Parent Power and a former District bus aide.
Mayor Michael Nutter appointed Simms, 52, to the panel after asking her last October to replace commissioner Lorene Cary. Simms said, though the decision wasn’t easy, she was honored to accept.
“I really felt as though I could bring a voice [to the SRC] that hadn’t existed,” she said.
To fulfill her first official duty – the school closings vote – Simms said she looked online for information about each school.
“Even though they gave us books and binders about the individual schools … what bothered me was that we can’t always go on data,” she said.
Although she considered the school performance results, Simms also visited many of the schools to look at the facilities and talk to parents in the community.
Simms also took Hite on a walk through the community surrounding her granddaughter’s school, T.M. Peirce Elementary, to show him the “long route” students would have to take if Peirce was closed.
Peirce, along with three other schools, was spared during the closings vote. Simms said she believes she convinced Hite on that walk that it needed to stay open, and that “the media convinced” the rest of the commissioners.
Overall, Simms voted with her colleagues for 21 closings but was outvoted in opposing two others.
Moving forward, Simms said she hopes to serve as a liaison between the community and the SRC. She said being a grandparent of a child in a lower-performing school gives her a unique perspective.
“I come from the other side, and I do disagree with some of the things that the District does, so hopefully, as one of the commissioners, now I can make those things known.”