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Parents at Cooke Elementary push back against charter conversion

Photo: Kevin McCorry/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

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It began with a whimper, and ended with a bang.

On Tuesday evening, the Philadelphia School District hosted its first parent engagement meeting on its plan to convert Jay Cooke Elementary School in Logan into a neighborhood-based charter.

On Thursday, the District announced a set of sweeping proposals that would affect 15 schools and 5,000 students — moves that include new school openings, closings and District-led and charter conversions.

Cooke is one of three District elementary schools that Superintendent William Hite has tapped to become a neighborhood-based charter.

The meeting for Cooke was to start at 6 p.m., but with the room empty save for District officials and journalists, leaders opted to wait a bit.

When new Assistant Superintendent Randi Davila commenced the District’s presentation 15 minutes later, only one Cooke parent was in attendance.

An hour into the gathering, attendance peaked at a little more than a dozen parents. The school serves more than 400 students.

Many of the parents in attendance attributed the small showing to the District’s convoluted method for informing the community of the details of the meeting.

It purposely omitted the meeting’s address from the letter it mailed to parents that alerted them of the District’s plan.

To find out the details, parents were supposed to call a special hotline, leave a message, and then wait for a call back from a District staffer.

Parent Renita Brown, who has a 7th grader at Cooke, called this process "nonsense."

She said many parents assumed the meeting would be held in the school’s auditorium. Instead, it was held at the nearby Beloved St. John Evangelist Church — where no signs or banners were hung to help people find the meeting’s location.

Brown, a breast cancer survivor who suffers from a sometimes-debilitating case of fibromyalgia, took it upon herself to alert the community of the details that the District withheld.

"There’s no address on there. So therefore, I, out of my own pocket money, got fluorescent color poster boards, taped it around poles and trees, and posted it all around the gates of the school so parents could know to come to this location," she explained.

First-year Cooke principal Michael Reid also complained about the protocol. He heard from parents who were confused by the automated phone message.

"I think that [call] should go right to a person," he told Evelyn Sample-Oates, the District chief of family and community engagement, before Tuesday night’s meeting.

District staffers say they opted to hold the meeting at the nearby church and withhold the address from the letter in order to ensure a small gathering of parents.

They specifically hoped to limit the number of teachers and outside advocates from the meeting.

They said no one would be turned away, but stressed the need for intimate dialogue among family stakeholders.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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