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Early start to school year? Got it. New Board of Education? Not so much.

Parents were interviewed at the Back 2 School event, which offered school supplies and services.

Families line up at the District’s Back 2 School event to receive new backpacks. (Photo by Sam Haut)

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

Beyond the unusually early start – Aug. 27, a full week before Labor Day – this school year is different because, for the first time in 16 years, the District is under local control. On July 1, a nine-member Board of Education appointed by Mayor Kenney assumed governance of the District from the state-dominated School Reform Commission, which originally took power in 2001.

Parents interviewed last week at the District’s Back 2 School event at the School of the Future, where they could obtain information and supplies, seemed fine with the earlier start date – but were mostly unaware of the governance change.

Chris Corbine, a parent of two, for instance, said she thought Philadelphia’s schools, like others in the state, were always run by a local school board.

“It could be a good thing, but I’m not sure,” Corbine said of the governance change, adding that she doesn’t follow the issue at all but feels this is something “I need to know.”

As she thought about it, she said that “everything that sounds good isn’t always as good, and a lot of things people are accustomed to aren’t always so bad.”

Another parent, Jeanette Boxtan, who was keeping an eye on her three children, also said she was not familiar with the governance changes, but said she thought the earlier start to the year is not a bad thing. Hailing from Florida, she is used to starting the year earlier.

As for the switch from the SRC to the school board, she said, “I’m going to pay attention to this.”

Victoria Arnold, a parent of four – two homeschooled, one starting at Tech Freire Charter School and another a senior at Strawberry Mansion High School – thinks that having an earlier start time benefits students by reducing the chance that students will forget what they learned in the previous year, which is sometimes called “summer slide.”

“I think they benefit from it. … They’ll actually be able to retain more, because during the summer they actually lose something. … So I don’t particularly care for summer break,” she said.

Arnold was also unaware of the return to local control, but she thought it could help improve the situation for students. She hoped it would result in more money for music and art, a better bullying policy, and more skilled teachers.

Lamont Wells, who lives with his four grandchildren, three of whom go to city schools, also likes the early start. He also appreciates the Back 2 School event because of the services provided and the generosity of the donors.

At the event, tents were set up to showcase various sponsors of the event, as well as representatives of universities, banks, businesses, schools, politicians, community groups, and nonprofits. Complimentary snacks were provided, along with oral health check-ups and live music. Attendees could also line up to get free backpacks and other supplies.

“For the children to get book bags that can’t afford them,” he said, “I think it’s really beautiful that we have the help that’s given.”

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