Philadelphia school leaders got an earful Thursday night.
Much of the four-and-a-half-hour School Reform Commission meeting was filled with contentious testimony.
Teachers, parents, and advocates decried the shortage of school nurses and took leaders to task for the so-far exceedingly underwhelming results of their decision to outsource substitute teaching placement services — leading some in the crowd to call for ousting Superintendent William Hite.
The topic, though, of most discussion was Hite's recent proposal to convert three chronically underperforming elementary schools to neighborhood-based charters: Samuel Huey in West Philadelphia, John Wister in Germantown and Jay Cooke in Logan.
"We're a great community," testified Wister parent Kenya Nation Holmes. "The teachers, they're not disconnected from the children. They really, really care."
Cooke Elementary School parent Renita Brown, who also has a child at Mastery Simon Gratz Renaissance charter, brought the night's testimony to a fever pitch as she railed against the proposed conversion, fearing it will cause needless upheaval in her community.
"This is personal for me. Our children are not cattle," Brown screamed into the microphone.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan led the call to scrap the charter conversion plan and instead create community schools — a model that co-locates other social services in neighborhood schools while retaining a unionized staff.
In Cincinnati, where the model is most heralded, the city funded the initiative through a $1 billion public bond.
"It's time to try something different. It's time to strengthen public education in Philadelphia through community schools, as has been done in Baltimore, Chicago, St. Paul, and Cincinnati," said Jordan.
Some parents testified to their positive experiences with charter conversion. Grandparent Elizabeth Moffitt praised Mastery's Mann Elementary, a Renaissance charter.
"No one expected a magic wand to be waved and suddenly all the students would be performing on grade level. But real evidence of gains in social and academic performance were achieved. Incidences of violence were reduced to practically nothing," said Moffitt. "Parents in the neighborhood who saw these improvements brought their children who were attending schools outside the neighborhood back to our neighborhood school."
After the public comment ended, Hite responded to the critics.