This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School Reform Commission is working on a policy to strengthen School Advisory Councils (SACs) and expand their use across the District.
It held a special strategy, planning and policy meeting in early March, attended by more than 100 parents and community members, to start the process of defining the SACs’ composition and powers.
Collaborative leadership is important for schools, said SRC Chair Marjorie Neff, a former principal. “No one person has all the answers,” she said.
Commissioner Sylvia Simms, the driving force behind the move to codify and support the SACs, said giving parents and community members more power and influence is essential.
A lifelong North Philadelphia resident, Simms said her experience as a school bus aide helped her see “how important it was for parents to educate themselves about the system [and] advocate for themselves and have a voice in their children’s education.”
According to current District guidelines, most of SAC members are parents. They are described as “active and engaged” family and community advisory groups that hold regular meetings, support school programs, examine data, and give input into decisions about budgets and policies, including those regarding discipline. High school SACs are required to include student members.
Those guidelines were developed several years ago by a working group led by Karren Dunkley, then in the Office of Family and Community Engagement and now principal of Parkway Center City High School. Simms was part of the working group as a leader of Parent Power; other organizations involved included Youth United for Change, Philadelphia Student Union, the Education Law Center, and the Home and School Association.
But the existence of SACs has been spotty around the District, despite several years of effort to establish them. The point of Simms’ initiative now is for the SRC to formalize the councils’ duties, authority, and membership requirements.