Despite leaving the Philadelphia School District for a charter school in 2010 (a direct result of the Renaissance School Initiative), I have been watching the developments and news in the District very closely. I have read harsh, aggressive comments about charter schools, neighborhood schools, parents and teachers along with name-calling and exaggerations in comment areas that stretch on for pages on both Philly.com and on The Notebook’s website.
If you’ve been paying attention at all you’re probably enraged, confused and feeling a little hopeless about the state of Philadelphia’s schools. Between budget woes, investigations and massive layoffs, it’s been a rough 6 months. Just within the past month or so we’ve seen a controversial and tremendous payout to Arlene Ackerman, former Superintendent. Earlier in the summer we saw a surprising last minute decision to keep Foundations as the manager for Martin Luther King High School. Later, we learned about back door dealings between Robert Archie, the Chairman of the School Reform Commission and Representative Dwight Evans along with Arlene Ackerman that led to the decision. When I read the stories surrounding the investigation it reminds me of a schoolyard argument, with each party pointing their fingers at the other.
For those of you not familiar with the history of the Philadelphia School District, a quick lesson. In 2001 the State took over the Philadelphia schools and created the School Reform Commission, a governing board of members appointed by the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of Pennsylvania, who appoints 3 of the 5 members. With the recent controversies, this group has dwindled to two members, one of whom commutes from California for meetings. Today, Mayor Nutter appointed Wendell Pritchett to the Commission to ensure that the SRC had quorum for its meetings.
In addition, with the recent departure of Superintendent Ackerman, the District has decided to do another national search for a new Superintendent.
Enough is enough already.
It is obvious to me (and many others) that the SRC experiment has failed.
You know what’s missing from these headlines?
Families and children, citizens and community members.
It’s time for their voices, along with those of Philadelphians all over the City to be heard. I haven’t spoken to anyone here in Philadelphia who sees the SRC as a well-functioning entity. In fact, I am always amazed at the amount of jaw-dropping I’ve seen when I casually mention that Philadelphia doesn’t have an elected School Board.
It’s time for Philadelphia to take back control of its schools. Sure, Philly is not short on cronyism and corruption, but at least, with an elected entity, we have only ourselves to blame. Why, I wonder, after stints by both Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman who have left the District broke and with more of a bureaucratic mess than when they came in, would the District continue to look for these hot shot, swoop-in-and-save-the-day celebrities?
The time of State-appointed, non-local officials running our schools needs to come to an end. I know that this extreme of a change cannot come all at once, but it needs to be a goal. What if the structure of the School Board were reinstated, with 3 of the members elected by the Philadelphia citizens and one appointee each for the Mayor and the Governor? Eventually, with term limits, those appointed positions could be replaced by elected officials. What if the Superintendent came from our city? What if s/he already knew the game and the players?
The City’s schools belong to the people, they are our responsibility.
Philadelphians need to speak up. Give us back our voices.