This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The School Reform Commission’s August action meeting was shorter than most, but not without tension: Community members once again urged the five members to vote the SRC out of existence and complained that they can’t find crucial information on its redesigned website.
Advocates argued that the SRC needed to begin the process of dissolving itself this month so the District could be back under local control before the 2018 gubernatorial election, when a Republican could recapture the governorship.
The SRC failed to oblige.
Parent Aileen Callaghan and two other speakers asked Commissioner Farah Jimenez directly whether they would propose a resolution that day to abolish the SRC, but got no answer each time.
During the awkward silence, Callaghan said, “This is our future. I need this. You guys cannot protect us. You guys are controlled by the state. The state is not here for Philadelphia. We deserve local control. We demand local control.”
The SRC, with a majority of commissioners appointed by the governor, has run the District since 2001.
Though Jimenez and the other commissioners didn’t respond to the request, she said after the meeting was adjourned that although it is good for people to speak up and express their opinions, “there’s a process by which this needs to happen.”
“There has to be some conversation about what the design would be, what would happen after,” she said. “I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts on what would be the actual structure process that would be put in place. What you don’t want to do is cast a vote and not have clarity as to what the end result will be.
“I don’t think any of us sitting at that table think this is a body that should continue in perpetuity. That’s where there’s agreement.”
Members of the Our City, Our School coalition held a rally on Aug. 9 and urged officials to take swift action, but Mayor Kenney demurred and several commissioners said they didn’t agree with the coalition’s interpretation of the timetable set by the takeover law.
Community members also spoke against the District’s recent redesign of its website. According to local advocates, much of the information that was available on the old site now is not easily accessible – if there at all – because the website is still under construction.
This raised concerns of transparency among local education advocates such as Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools members Lisa Haver, Karel Kilimnik, and Lynda Rubin. The group members criticized the District for not leaving the old website up, with all of its information, until the new website is complete.
“The District apparently has used the construction of a new website as a way to give less information to the public, not more,” said Haver.
In other action, the SRC approved funding for $2,015,000 in grants from Community Behavioral Health and Drexel University to fund the first stage of the city’s pilot plan to put one social worker in each of 22 schools in the District.
The Philadelphia Support Team for Education partnership is a strategy designed to provide support to students with behavioral issues by connecting them and their families to appropriate resources, such as behavioral health screenings and assessments.
Twenty-one of the 22 schools chosen are traditional public schools, with eight of them being community schools and seven in West Philadelphia’s Promise Zone. Drexel’s portion of the funding, $800,000, will pay for the Promise Zone schools. Belmont Charter School is the one charter that will get the service.
Each of these schools will receive one full-time, city-paid social worker to assist students and faculty with school climate and social-emotional wellness, at-risk youth, and youth with diagnosed behavioral health issues requiring intensive treatment.
The traditional public schools, prioritized by need, will be: Cassidy Elementary, Cramp Elementary, F.S. Edmonds Elementary, Elkin Elementary, Frankford High School, Gideon Elementary School, Locke Elementary, Logan Elementary, McMichael Elementary, Meade Elementary, Penrose Elementary, Powel Elementary, Science Leadership Academy Middle School, Sheridan Elementary, South Philadelphia High School, Southwark Elementary, Stearne Elementary, Steel Elementary, Tilden Middle School, Martha Washington Elementary, and West Philadelphia High.
The first stage of the strategy is set to begin Aug. 18 and it will run until Aug. 30, 2018.
The SRC also voted on three resolutions relating to charter schools, including action to amend a revocation action regarding Khepera Charter School. In June, the SRC voted to begin the process of revoking the charter, saying that the school had lagging academic performance and “evident financial instability.” For instance, it was behind in rent payments for its building at 926 W. Sedgely Ave., shut its doors a few days before the end of the school year, and couldn’t make payroll. There were about 425 students at the K-8 school.
Following the requirements of the charter law, the SRC held several days of hearings this month on Khepera, where the charter made its case for continuing to operate.
Its charter was last renewed in 2014 and would not be up again until 2019. The process of closing a charter is lengthy and can be appealed.
KIPP West Philadelphia Charter School was approved for relocation from its original planned location at the former Turner Middle School building, 5900 Baltimore Ave., to Morton Elementary School Annex, at 2412 S. 62nd St. The District owns and operates both buildings, which are two miles apart, and didn’t renew KIPP’s lease for 2017-18 due to capacity limitations. In June, the SRC approved a one-year lease for KIPP at the Morton Annex.
Also, Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter School was approved for renewal.