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In memoriam: Myrtle Naylor, helped create Notebook

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

Myrtle Naylor, a key player in the founding of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and a volunteer leader of the organization for 14 years, died in February. She was 72.

Naylor, who had a long history of parent activism in the city, wore many hats at the Notebook. In 1993, she participated in the earliest planning meetings for the publication. She was a member of the volunteer working group that coordinated the Notebook in its early years. She later served on the editorial advisory board and on the leadership board until she stepped down in 2007.

In addition to those leadership roles, she worked hard behind the scenes: handing out the print edition to parents in schoolyards and delivering it to school offices, raising money through events and meetings, and volunteering in the office to support the organization’s small staff (for most of its first eight years, the Notebook had a paid staff of one).

One of her co-founders, Eric Joselyn, a teacher, longtime Notebook board member, and cartoonist, summed up her efforts this way: “She fought for kids and schools; she fought against fools and – well – nonsense. But she was also a teacher. She taught me that one had best respect the views of those one seeks to work alongside of.”

Naylor contributed a number of noteworthy articles to the publication, including co-writing an eye-opening 1998 interview with then-State Rep. Dwight Evans, a Democrat. Evans came out against a School District lawsuit that charged that the state’s education aid was racially discriminatory and he downplayed concerns about wide disparities in funding levels between Philadelphia and suburban school districts.

He asked, “What does the disparity have to do with the quality of education? Does the disparity necessarily prohibit quality education?”

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Naylor was the daughter of a maintenance worker for Cornell University. A brother, Kenneth Naylor, went to Cornell and became a professor of linguistics, specializing in Slavic languages.

Myrtle Naylor came to Philadelphia to attend Temple University, where she studied sociology, graduating in 1967. She spent most of her career working for the City of Philadelphia in the Probation Department.

She was also deeply involved in her daughter Khia’s public school education. Through that experience, she saw how resistant the school system was to parental involvement and became an articulate advocate for every parent’s right to be respected and to have a real voice in his or her child’s school.

She connected with citywide parent and community organizing efforts that were emerging in the 1990s to build parent power and address educational inequity, such as E-Quality and the Alliance Organizing Project. She also participated in efforts such as the National SEED Project – Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity – that brought educators and parents together to work to address racism and other forms of bias in schools.

She remained involved in supporting parent-organizing efforts long after her daughter graduated from high school in 1993 – including the many hours she dedicated to launching and sustaining the Notebook.

Longtime education advocate Rochelle Nichols- Solomon recalled that, when Naylor’s daughter was in high school, the Philadelphia Schools Collaborative was working to transform secondary education in this city.

“Breaking down Philadelphia’s large comprehensive high schools into small schools and schools within schools, obtaining school-based decision-making, and engaging families were a few key strategies,” she said. “Myrtle was deeply involved in that work and went on to join other parent, teacher, and community leaders to make a difference, not only for her daughter, but all students.”

In the inaugural edition of the Notebook in 1994, Naylor wrote about her experience as a parent representative on the school governance council at her daughter’s school, Roxborough High. The council ran afoul of the principal, and its operations were abruptly suspended after a large group of parents organized themselves to raise concerns independent of the handpicked Home & School Association. Naylor’s article questioned the District’s readiness to deal with resistance to shared governance and to providing appropriate training and support for staff and parents.

The Notebook was grounded upon a commitment to honestly address the school system’s troubles and to be a newspaper for “grassroots experts” — parents, community members, staff, and students. Naylor saw it as a means to shift the balance of power in the school system.

Her former colleagues at the Notebook remarked on her vision, as well as her steadfast commitment, good humor, and kindness.

City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who was the Notebook’s first editor, remembers Naylor as “a friend, adviser, and loving mentor.”

“She imparted so much wisdom in her no-nonsense, Myrtle way — especially when it came to parent organizing,” Gym said. “She was not about to have any silliness or whining about how hard things were; she had been through and seen a lot and still remained committed to struggle and joy in that journey. She expected you to do the same.”

In a presentation honoring her service to the Notebook at the annual “Turning the Page for Change” event in 2010, the organization credited her for ensuring “that the Notebook always stayed focused on educational equity — while also making sure that the hard-working Notebook crew maintained their sense of humor and sense of caring for one another. The Notebook’s absolute commitment to telling it like it is in the Philadelphia schools reflects the influence Myrtle has had on its development.”

After retiring, she became a travel and cruise agent, running a travel group for African American men and women over 40. Naylor continued to support the Notebook as a donor even after health issues limited her activity.

She is survived by her sister Constance Naylor, her daughter Khia Naylor, and son-in-law Joshua Overton.

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