This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Charlotte Pope
Now that the School Reform Commission has voted to close 23 schools, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools — a major voice in the school-closings debate — is regrouping and laying out its next steps.
About 200 people came together Wednesday evening during the group’s general assembly to hear about a new three-part campaign focusing on school funding, community schools, and charter school accountability.
Attendees participated in small breakout sessions and were encouraged to sign up for one of the three task forces and to volunteer as leaders-in-training to carry out work in the groups.
“In these more focused task groups, our activists will get organizing training, will learn from people who have been organizing other schools, and will learn how to build the network of people focused on that issue,” said Anne Gemmell, political director of Fight for Philly, an organization independent of the coalition that works on city and state budget issues.
The school-funding platform will focus on efforts to ensure that large corporate property owners and big nonprofit institutions pay their share at the city level, as well as support charter accountability legislation at the state level.
The community schools group has set a mission to be the guiding force behind full citywide development of a research-based model for school improvement.
Rose Lentz, an executive board member of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, is a leader within the community schools task force. Her role is to bring people in and educate them. Lentz recruited three people to the assembly.
“The community schools task force is asking questions of cities that already have many schools established, and we are recruiting speakers. We all have more learning to do,” she said.
The final task force covered a charter accountability campaign to limit the growth of charter schools and create a level playing field between charter and traditional public schools.
Ron Whitehorne, a member of the coalition’s steering committee who is also a retired teacher and frequent Notebook blogger, said, “Success would look like winning some of these campaigns. If we could limit the number of charter school seats, even if the city is going to expand some of the better charter schools, we want to see the closing of some of the bad ones so that the total number of seats stays the same.”
Each task force will hold individual meetings, and leaders will bring information back to their communities and different networks to gain support and attract involvement.
Whitehorne said he is looking toward the future of the coalition and hopes the organization will build alliances across Pennsylvania.
“We need to begin to link up with like-minded forces statewide, because a lot of this struggle is bigger than Philadelphia,” Whitehorne said. “We need to build enough power to be able to win some of these fights.”
Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.