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Countdown, Day 18: What are you doing to bring about a positive opening of schools?

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The District will open schools for the 2013-14 school year in a little over two weeks. Though Superintendent William Hite has been promised an infusion of $50 million to help open the doors on time, many schools will still be without critical components and staff such as guidance counselors, assistant principals, and other positions that would allow them to operate at an adequate level.   

Over the past several months, many advocacy organizations have taken to the streets to rally for the fair funding of Philadelphia public schools. Those protests continue at 3:30 p.m. today, when demonstrators will gather outside the Comcast building, march to City Hall, then to District headquarters to protest the state of the city’s schools. The School Reform Commission meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. today at District headquarters.

The Notebook asked 11 local education organizations to share what steps each is taking before the opening of schools on Sept. 9. Four of those organizations responded. Here is what they had to say.   

 

Education Voters PA
Susan Gobreski, executive director

Education Voters is advocating and mobilizing for more resources now, like the $45 million being withheld by Harrisburg and for Philly to add some additional dollars – not loans or advances. Longer term, we are working to get a state formula to help stop this madness. Our work is targeted civic action and supporting policy priorities – working with people to directly engage in the policy process.

Our elected officials need to start delivering for our students as if their jobs depend on it. People are mad, and I think our elected officials don’t fully comprehend the wave that is headed their way if they aren’t clearly taking big steps to change this. The consequences of not having a formula are horribly real right now.

It is also critical that people stop perpetuating the lie that money doesn’t matter to education. Money is critical – class size, planning time, science, language programs. Money buys us the chance to develop the practices that matter most – developing the strength and capacity of principals and leadership teams, treating teachers like the professionals they are and creating good learning environments. Call your Congress members and senators and ask them to help shake that $45 million loose for Philly.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Anthony Hopkins, communications director

PCCY sees three big challenges: First, we must get the opening of schools right; second, we need a new teachers’ contract that works for great teachers and students; and third, we need to continue the push for funding.

We are just a few weeks away from the start of the year and there are parents who still do not know where to enroll their kids. PCCY is identifying gaps in the enrollment process and sharing them with the District. 

We also want the best and brightest teachers and principals in our schools. To make this happen, PCCY is advocating for changes in the new contract that reward the District’s top teachers and give schools and parents the power to decide what’s best for their schools.

PCCY is also pushing Harrisburg to stop the political games and release the $45 million due to the District. If we do this, we are confident our schools will be ready to go on Sept. 9.

Parents United for Public Education
Helen Gym, co-founder

Our first and foremost goal is to let parents know what to expect in schools before the year starts: no guidance counselors for two-thirds of elementary schools and 60 percent of high schools; one nurse per 1,500 students; zero full-time librarians; potential for split grades and maximum class sizes, which we eliminated in the Paul Vallas years. Is this what parents believe is right and safe for children?

Our second goal is to ensure that the $180 million requested from the District by the city and state be delivered to the schools. We can't have a conversation about schools if the city and state refuse to provide basic resources and staffing needs.

Finally, we want to engage parents citywide in a long-term discussion on schools, funding, and political leadership. Political leadership this year was absolutely miserable and failed our children. It wasn't just Harrisburg and a so-called Philadelphia-hating Republican party. The Philadelphia schools were sunk by local politicians on both sides of the aisle, who have shamelessly neglected our schools even while employing the rhetoric of school reform. We are working to engage parents citywide on all these areas before Sept. 9.

Youth United for Change
Khyeanna Mallette, YUC member and rising junior at Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson

This summer, Youth United for Change, as a part of PCAPS, will continue door-knocking to let the community know what has been going on with public schools and to build our movement. On Aug. 22, at 3:30 p.m., YUC, as a member of PCAPS, will march from the Comcast building to City Hall to the School District to demand full and fair funding for our schools.

On Aug. 24, YUC and other organizations will join together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and to demand that the national government stop putting public education last on the list of priorities, not only in Philadelphia, but across the country. 

On Sept. 8, YUC and PCAPS will be going to Gov. Corbett’s office to hold a vigil for the death of public education and to tell the governor that we deserve our fair-funding formula back.


The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.

This feature, appearing each weekday, is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginning of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to countdown@thenotebook.org.

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Wendy Harris

@WendyHarrisUSA
Wendy is the managing editor at the Notebook. She has worked at Black Enterprise magazine as a staff editor and contributing writer, and is the author of two books.