This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Thursday night’s School Reform Commission meeting was full of drama and surprise. In the end, three more District schools were put on track to be converted to neighborhood-based charters.
For one of the schools, the SRC went against the superintendent’s wishes.
Superintendent William Hite had recommended charter conversion for Jay Cooke Elementary in Logan and Samuel Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia, matching them with charter operators: Cooke with Great Oaks and Huey with Global Leadership Academy.
Hite originally had also recommended conversion for John Wister Elementary in Germantown, but changed his mind after the District found evidence of progress at the school.
"We have seen some growth at Wister, and the acknowledgement of that growth then means that the school moves out of a tier that then would normally require our most drastic intervention," Hite testified Thursday night.
Even with that progress, only 3 percent of Wister’s students score proficient on state math tests — a point that infuriated many Wister parents who had become attached to the idea of conversion.
"My child deserves better. My child is in a failing school. The school’s been failing. This ain’t just start. This ain’t nothing new," said David Childs, parent of a 1st grader at Wister.
Childs sparred with the traditional public school advocates in the crowd who were happy that Hite had chosen against turning Wister over to Mastery Charter Schools.
"Ya’ll don’t even live in my community. Ya’ll don’t know what goes down with my kids, so don’t talk about something ya’ll don’t know," he said.
Many other parents in the Wister community had sided with the school’s existing staff — expressing a hope that the elementary could instead become one of Mayor Kenney’s proposed community schools.
"I love the family that we built at Wister," testified Novilette Jones, mother of a pre-K student at the school. "I want to thank you for making that decision because you have took a lot of weight off our back … but we are now going to fight for our school."
Ultimately, though, the pro-conversion outcry was enough to push some of the SRC members to break from Hite’s recommendation.
At the end of the nearly five-hour meeting, Commissioner Sylvia Simms introduced a surprise resolution that put conversion back on the table.