This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Expect a lively Thursday evening on North Broad Street.
Philadelphia parents, students, educators, and advocates will have their first chance to testify on the sweeping proposals unveiled by the Philadelphia School District two weeks ago.
Superintendent William Hite has recommended a slate of moves that would affect 15 schools and 5,000 students – proposed changes that include new school openings, closings and District-led and charter conversions.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission – which would have final say on the plans – will meet at 5:30 p.m., its first meeting since the District’s Sept. 30 announcement.
Forty-three speakers have signed up to testify – many of whom will address the District’s plan to convert three of its chronically low-performing elementary schools into neighborhood-based charter schools through the Renaissance initiative.
Hite has recommended charter conversion for Jay Cooke Elementary in Logan, Samuel Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia and John Wister Elementary in Germantown.
The District has invited parents at these schools to weekly meetings to discuss the proposed changes.
At the two meetings held in each respective community thus far, District leaders have argued that the schools warrant charter conversion based on chronically low and declining standardized test scores and grade-level reading ability.
Officials have cited other factors as well, including high teacher-turnover rates and the fact that many parents already decide against sending their children to their neighborhood school.
The District has been criticized for creating hurdles for parents hoping to attend the weekly meetings. Leaders decided not to hold the meetings at the schools themselves, which caused confusion because they did not disclose the addresses of the respective meeting locations in letters sent to parents.
Most of the parents who have attended the meetings have objected passionately to the proposed conversion, and they’ve shown a deep distrust of School District management and the charter sector itself.
"They’re about money. The children are numbers. Public school people care. I don’t know about charter schools," said Kenya Nation, a mother of two sons at Wister.
Like many parents, Nation has been especially critical of the District’s decision that precludes parents from voting on charter conversion.