This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Mark McHugh
Hoping to get answers on a controversial new school report card, at least 15 parents left McMichael School in West Philadelphia on Wednesday with more questions than when they arrived.
The small crowd that showed up for a scheduled meeting, arranged by the District to help design a school report card to replace the School Performance Index and annual reports, was informed by an attending parent that District staff had sent out an email canceling the meeting and all four subsequent meetings that were scheduled throughout August.
According to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard, the issue of a new system of grading schools has not been taken off the table. Instead, the District committee created to oversee the project is apparently looking for new ways to structure the process for public input.
"An open-forum discussion on whether there should be a school report card or not was not providing us with the specific input we’re looking for,” Gallard said. “The input we’re looking for is what should be in the report card.” He said future meetings would occur in a more “structured forum.”
On Monday, the first of what were supposed to be six public meetings produced an outcry from parents who condemned the District for prioritizing the creation of a new measure of school accountability in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. Some argued that the report card grades would be used to punish schools that are struggling because of inadequate resources.
Gallard said the District is “moving past that conversation,” referring to the issue of whether a new report card should be created. But parents and community members are apparently not ready to take that step.
“What the District clearly did not hear [at Monday’s meeting] is that there is a tremendous lack of trust between the community and the direction the District is going in right now,” said Helen Gym, an activist with Parents United for Public Education.
“Why is this such a high priority for the District?" said Gym. "They should be talking to us about the beginning of school, about the resources we need. Instead, they want to have a narrow conversation about data inputs on the report card. … It’s really insulting, I think, to parents who deeply care about what will happen in September.”
Terrilyn McCormick, a mother of two District students, attended Monday’s meeting and took notes. Afterwards, she drafted a list of questions aimed at the District in an attempt to glean some details on how, exactly, this new report card will be implemented. She said that she had RSVP’d with her contact information, but that she was not notified about the meeting’s cancellation. McCormick showed up on Wednesday armed with about 20 comprehensive, in-depth questions, but had no platform on which to raise them.
“I was hoping [the cancellation] was more because they needed to regroup and change the timing, but clearly that was not the case," she said. "The fact that they’re still going forward with it is disappointing.”
“I think they were surprised by the level of energy that parents demonstrated in demanding answers to why they are doing this now,” said McCormick.
It is not yet known how the District will proceed with gathering community input for the report card. Gallard said it could be anything from parent surveys, to focus groups, to meetings with parent associations.
But it doesn’t look like the resistance to this matter will let up any time soon.
“Maybe we’ll get some answers if we continue to push,” said McCormick.
Mark McHugh is an intern at the Notebook.