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Urban education’s breadline problem

by thenotebook on Jan 29 2013 Posted in Commentary
Photo: Charlotte Pope

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at Next City.


by Patrick Kerkstra

Around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 18, a small clutch of parents wearing thick coats, scarves and gloves were milling around the entrance to West Philadelphia’s Penn Alexander School, eyeing each other warily.

They were obviously there for one reason, but they preferred not to admit it. “We’re just talking,” they told me as I dropped my children off at the neighboring daycare. “We’re not in the line.”

“The line.” In my neighborhood, it’s a phrase that needs no elaboration. It first formed in the early morning hours of a similarly cold January morning in 2010, the same day that registration applications were due for Penn Alexander, the highly regarded public Philadelphia elementary school that has benefited richly from the patronage of the nearby University of Pennsylvania.

The next year, the line began about 10 p.m. the day before registration opened. By 2012, parents had queued up 24 hours in advance, camping out on the sidewalk in order to secure one of a limited number of spots in the kindergarten classrooms.

But the parents I saw this year were scoping out the scene a full four days before registration would open. None of them wanted to be first in line. None of them wanted to be last, either.

Then, inevitably, someone queued up: A grandmother, no less, sent by her son to get in line as he worked. Those milling parents tried to convince her not to start the line (but then, they were not exactly heading home themselves). Eventually, she ignored their pleas, opened up her portable chair and sat down.

The line had formed.

By early afternoon, it was 70 people long. One family rolled up and parked an RV. Another built a makeshift shelter of PVC pipe and insulated wallboard to ward off the cold. Elaborate plans were set in motion. Phone trees were activated: “Have you heard? The line has started. Better get down here.” Friends and neighbors were called in to help. Some parents enlisted family members from out of state, flying them in so as to get some backup during the 96-hour ordeal.

The scene was, all at once, absurd, inspiring and enraging. On one level, the line was visual proof of the growing commitment of middle- and upper-middle-class parents to public education in big cities. But it was also a case study in the inequities that can quickly develop when a public school is deemed acceptable by a city’s professional class. As many local residents wondered: How was a single mom supposed to pull off 96 hours in line (presumably without an RV)?

That Friday evening, the School District of Philadelphia abruptly decided that the line had become untenable. District Superintendent William Hite announced that Penn Alexander admissions would be shifting to a lottery system, effective immediately. At a meeting with parents a few days later, Hite, who is new to the district, said, “Quite frankly, I saw a process that was not equitable.”

It’s hard to argue with that conclusion.

Those with resources — financial, familial and social — were the first to hear about the line, and the best equipped to weather the wait. Many of those without such resources (those, that is, that hadn’t been priced out of the neighborhood already) found themselves at the back of the line, or were simply not in a position where they could realistically camp out for 96 hours.

This dilemma — creating schools that appeal to the growing professional class, without entirely displacing students with lower incomes — is hardly limited to one section of West Philadelphia. Similar dramas, sans the line, are playing out in Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and in plenty of other cities with gentrifying neighborhoods.

In these communities, middle- and upper-class families with young children, families that in past decades would have fled to the suburbs en masse, are cramming into a small number of public schools that, for a variety of reasons, have been deemed acceptable.

The trouble is that demand for these schools increasingly exceeds the supply, a state of affairs that is testing the urban commitment of some parents who can’t enroll their kids in the public school they had targeted. For many of Penn Alexander’s prospective parents, Plan B is the suburbs.

“The question has been answered about whether young professionals want to live in the city. They do. The open question is if they will stay when they have children that reach school age,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of The Diverse Schools Dilemma.

Penn Alexander aside, Petrilli thinks the answer to that question could be yes. “I think we’re at a point now where there’s a critical mass of middle-class families that want to use public schools,” he said.

That critical mass could in time actually be a huge boon for urban school districts. It could lead to more economically and racially integrated schools that do better by their low-income students than they do today and that satisfy demanding middle- and upper-middle-class parents.

But that hasn’t happened in Philadelphia, at least not yet. Instead, that critical mass has tried to squeeze into a handful of already excellent public schools. As Penn Alexander’s line proves, something has got to give.

A premium-public model

If nothing else, the 11-year-old Penn Alexander experiment has proven conclusively that, under the right conditions, middle- and upper-middle-class parents will quite happily send their kids to public school. Indeed, they are willing to pay a big premium in real estate to do so.

In the years after the school opened, property values within its catchment soared. Between 1998 and 2011, property values in the blocks around Penn Alexander rose by 211 percent, according to the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Urban Research. The appreciation rate was three times the citywide average, and double the appreciation rate of Philadelphia’s highly desirable Center City. Realtors spoke of the “Penn Alexander premium.” Homes inside the catchment would cost as much as $100,000 more than an identical home just outside the zone.

Predictably, this rapid run-up in home values — and likely in rents as well — had a profound affect on neighborhood demographics. As reported earlier by PlanPhilly, the population of school-age African Americans within the catchment declined by 61 percent between 2000 and 2010, while the population of school-age white children grew by 101 percent over the same period.

The demographics of the entire University City section of West Philadelphia are changing, but the rate of change within Penn Alexander’s catchment has been extreme. And that’s made the school controversial. There’s an unpleasant catchment-vs.-everyone else dynamic that emerges on certain occasions, and it flared up again in recent days after the line was dispersed.

Some parents who secured early spots in the queue demanded that the line be honored (though it should be noted that many others with good spots were glad to see the line go). There were vague threats of lawsuits. These complaints were met, online and in local haunts, with charges of elitism. Those accusation were in turn met with incredulity: It’s a bad thing now that middle-class parents are committed to enrolling their kids in the local public school? And so on.

“Gentrifiers often feel like they’re making the city and schools better. There’s a very strong sense that they’re part of the solution, and there’s a certain frustration with being criticized,” said Maia Cucchiara, a Temple University urban education professor and author of the forthcoming Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities: Who Wins and Who Loses When Schools Become Urban Amenities.

Not that Cucchiara blames the parents of prospective Penn Alexander students for securing a good spot in line. They are doing what most parents would do.

Indeed, they are doing just as I had planned to do: Get in line as early as it took to ensure my kids got into a public school I feel I can trust. Of course, I would need to move into the catchment first (I’m a block outside of it now), but that was a price I was literally willing to pay.

“The problem is that there’s not enough good stuff,” Cucchiara said, referring to schools like Penn Alexander. “And whenever there’s just a little bit of the good stuff, the middle- and upper-middle-class people get it.”

The answer seems obvious enough: more good city schools. But Penn Alexander, excellent as it is, is likely not something that can be replicated on a wide scale. For one, it was built from scratch as a new school, an option that a cash-strapped district no longer has (indeed, the district is closing schools en masse, not opening new ones). Penn also pays the district a $1,300 subsidy for each student at the school, a resource that other district schools just don’t have.

A more organic answer lies in the economic and racial integration of existing public schools outside the tiny handful that middle- and upper-middle-class white Philadelphians have deemed acceptable. The trouble with that, Petrilli said, is that “very few parents want to be the early adopters and be the only parent with a middle-class kid or a white kid in the neighborhood school. It takes a critical mass all holding hands and doing it together.”

Just such an effort is underway at Lea Elementary, Penn Alexander’s neighbor just a few blocks west, as well as at a number of other city schools. If the experience of other cities is any guide, such efforts can work. (For more on efforts to integrate urban schools, read Sarah Carr’s recent Forefront article on the growing movement of educators who consider school integration a primary goal.)

“If middle- and upper-middle-class families are already living in these neighborhoods, it can all happen very quickly,” Petrilli said. “You can get real class and race integration, and it can be a win-win.”

Maybe so. But it is difficult to blame parents with other options who choose not to be early adopters, as Petrilli puts it. Certainly I’m in no position to blame them. A year later, and it would have been me in that line. And already I’m considering my Plan B.

 

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Comments (50)

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 13:30.

Petrilli is definitely correct about the "critical mass". There was enough at Cook Wissahickon. Warning to the wise: if you try to be an "early adopter" you will be torn "from limb to limb", so best to wait for the "critical mass".

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 13:52.

Ms. Cheng, surely you are smart enough to realize your experience is not universal? There are plenty of "early adopter" parents throughout the city who have had different, more positive experiences but they don't have time to write bitter comments all day. It is really sad what you have allowed yourself to become and I say that as someone who has enjoyed your commentary in the past.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 15:12.

Sure I understand my experience is not universal; neither is it isolated. My comment is to spare others. If there are "first adopters" out there willing to share their successes, I and (I'm sure) all the readers here would love to hear from them.

I have succeeded in volunteer work in making a difference, and it definitely takes more than one person working by themselves.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:10.

There is real race and class intergration at Penn Alexander. Before the lottery children enrolled in Early Head Start were accepted before the rest of the community. On average that is about 20 to 30% of the students depending on the year. I challenge the assumptions always made in the press that the majority of students come from afluent families that are homeowners. It is not true

Racial Breakdown

American Indian / Alaska Nativ 1%
Asian15%
Black / African American 28%
Hispanic / Latino 8%
Multi Racial / Other 9%
White 39%

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:20.

The lottery has not changed the Head Start policy.

The school may meet your criteria of racial and economic integration but it is undeniable that it is becoming steadily more affluent and white. If you care about integration, that is something recognize.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:28.

How can there be a neighborhood, school where enrollment is by lottery for some but not for all equally? is this fair and equitable? Is the legal?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 14:29.

I think it is racist to state " the school is becoming more affluent and white" as if it is a negative thing. All children should be considered equal under the law. Would you think I was a racist if I said the school is becoming more black and poor and implied that that was bad, or in equitable to the existing affluent whites?

Submitted by tom-104 on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 14:15.

It is good to see that parents are concerned about diversity and fairness in our education system. This is a good thing. We must be looking at what actions can be taken to encourage this in practice.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 15:02.

After the public meeting on Tuesday the 22nd PSD officials asked to meet with a group of parents that "represent a wide range of views at Penn Alexander...". Today a small group of parents met with PSD. However this group represented only one view, that of those who lined up on Friday. Does this duping of the PSD concern anyone else?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 23:48.

Hell yes. The PSD asked for a cross-section of concerned parties from the community to be present. At no point was there a public process for choosing those ppl. The meeting was kept quiet and even upon asking I was told it was none of my business -- when in fact it very much is not just my business, but the community's business and our right to know.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 17:23.

The comments about having a critical mass are especially interesting in this case. One would have to plan to have an old-style, extremely large family for the relatively modest annual per-student Penn operating subsidy to begin to offset the oft-cited $100,000 premium to live in the catchment. And demographics and biology tell us that the types of professional families with graduate degrees living in the catchment are not going to have families that large. So basically the premium is more about selecting into the community that was perceived as acceptable, as having the required critical mass of "the right" parents and children, and starting from a blank slate with clean new facilities and the Penn name attached. I'm not saying that any of that is wrong in any way, but the subsidy gets repeated often as a reason for the school's success without being compared to what parents pay in return. Alternatively one could view it as the cost to avoid paying for private school - but that assumes the family has to live in the city at all, which it does not.

Submitted by Annoy (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 17:44.

The same appears to happen in Queens Village / Center City for schools like Meredith, McCall , Masterman and Greenfield. Having two parents with a lot of formal education, who know how to navigate the school system and have "connections" through family / friends / work / college / etc. make a huge different in what happens in schools. Ideally, a mix of students based on income, ethnicity, educational background, etc. would provide students with a rich educational experience. Apparently Penn Alexander has attempted to keep some "diversity" by maintaining Head Start.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 14:12.

As you suggest at the end of your comment, the relevant figure to compare against the $100,000 premium is not the $1,300 per pupil subsidy, but the $20,000 per year cost of private school. There are many parents in Philadelphia that (1) are committed to living in the city for various reasons; and (2) either strongly prefer sending their children to public school for personal reasons, can't afford/don't want to spend $20k a year for private school, or both.

The line at Penn Alexander is a manifestation of the fact that this group of parents have few options in the city to guarantee a good public education. Now they have one less guaranteed option. The long-term solution is to increase the number of good elementary schools in the city, but it is not fair to expect individual parents to accomplish this by sending their five-year olds into crumbling buildings with bad test scores and then working to change them and hoping for the best.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 14:44.

"it is not fair to expect individual parents to accomplish this by sending their five-year olds into crumbling buildings with bad test scores and then working to change them and hoping for the best."

Why not? How do you think every other excellent neighborhood school became an excellent neighborhood school? The parents, neighbors and the school administration got together and worked to support the schools. It was a small group of parents at Meredith in the 1980s and the same in the late 1990s/early aughts for McCall. No other neighborhood school has been designed great from on high by a major location institution. Memories in this town, particularly among PAS parents, are so short.

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 15:12.

That's how "every other excellent neighborhood school became an excellent neighborhood school?" I don't think so. When provided with the appropriate resources and when those resources are used in appropriate and effective ways, neighborhood schools can become excellent schools. I am sure there are some examples in Philadelphia right now. And I know there were a lot more out there before Dr. Ackerman was superintendent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 15:19.

Oh geez, don't jump down my throat. "Many" instead "every" then. I think we can agree that the above poster has not been in many neighborhood schools in Philadelphia.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 15:32.

I've been in dozens of them.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 18:47.

And I've been to the moon.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 15:31.

For the record, I'm not a Penn Alexander School parent. Here are a few answers to your question "Why not?"

*For the same reason that the Penn Alexander line was inequitable. Just as it's not fair that only parents who can devote four days of their lives to waiting in a line can get their kids into a good school, it's not fair that only parents who can devote years of their lives to coordinating with neighbors, teachers, and administrators to improve a school. There are a lot of folks whose lives do not permit them to essentially take on a second job to create a good school, and such folks can be found at all rungs of the economic ladder. My hat is certainly off to the folks that can and do effect these types of changes, but the point stands that it is not fair to expect every parent in Philadelphia to do the same. Which leads to the second answer...

*Because a decent, safe school is a basic service that it is incumbent on the government to provide, and our government isn't coming anywhere close to meeting this obligation in Philadelphia. Universal, free public schooling is part of the bedrock on which this country was built. Belief in this ideal is one of the reasons parents are willing to shell out the massive premium to live in Penn Alexander or one of the other desirable catchments. It is also one of the reasons that other parents band together and work tirelessly to improve their neighborhood schools. The people who are not able to join the latter group - for whom your comment drips with such disdain - include both the caricature of PAS parents you apparently envision AND people on the middle and bottom rungs of society who do not have the time/money/skills/wherewithal to remake a failing school for their children. If your socioeconomic position permits you to put forth such efforts on behalf of your children, that's wonderful. But your willingness to put the onus solely on individual parents to be heroes for their children and neighborhoods is misguided. We certainly need more heroes, but as I said in my original comment, it is not fair to expect every parent of a kindergartner in Philadelphia to put on a cape. Some are better equipped, financially or otherwise, to scrap and save (or sell and rent) their way to a decent, public education for their children.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 19:50.

Anonymous, I totally agree with your comments.

I believe that there is a sense among some middle-class parents that their involvement is something low-income parents won't do or cannot do. There needs to a recognition that having stable employment with reasonable hours is a privilege. Some parents have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet. Maybe these parents cannot come to every school meeting, but these parents can still be involved in their child's education.

Parental involvement takes many forms. The most fundamental aspect of parental involvement is VALUING EDUCATION. Not every parent can come an volunteer at school or come to every meeting. However a parent who checks a child's homework, communicates with school staff, sends in the school supplies on the school supply list, makes sure a child is at school on time, and makes sure that there are arrangements for picking up or caring for a child after school is an INVOLVED parent because this parent is doing what is reasonable to expect of a parent with a child in school. A parent who does these basic things communicates to his/her child that he/she values education. For a parent who is working 2 jobs, there should be recognition that putting the time and energy into this kind of basic parent involvement that I just mentioned is just as important as a middle-class parent with a stable job who can come to meetings or a stay-at-home parent who volunteers.

If every parent at every school performed these basic aspects of school involvement, then schools would be much better. However, during my student teaching, I saw that there were parents who could not even do these basic things such as making arrangements for a child after school, sending a child to school on time, checking homework, or returning phone calls. It is the LACK OF INVOLVEMENT, the lack of value that some parents place on education that creates problems. A lack of involvement communicates to the child that school isn't important. When a child comes to school and neither he/she nor his/her parents value education, that is very detrimental to the environment in any school.

In sum, there needs to be a recognition that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all standard for parental involvement. A parent working 2 jobs and checks a child's homework, communicates with school staff, sends in the school supplies on the school supply list, makes sure a child is at school on time, and makes sure that there are arrangements for picking up or caring for a child after school is an involved parent who values education. If a parent has more time or money, it's reasonable to expect more involvement, e.g. attending meetings, volunteering, donating. Different people from different backgrounds can be involved in their child(ren)'s education in various forms and at various levels.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Sat, 02/02/2013 - 14:02.

I believe the person to whom you were responding meant only that parents working together (and with community and administration) can lift up a school, not that they should solely be responsible for doing so. I read the comment as one of possibilities, not reprimand.

You might have missed the conversation on what makes a "decent safe" school - Is it the school or the pre-selection of the kids/their families? In Philadelphia, where families are under the duress of poverty/unmet needs and unsafe neighborhoods, even with teachers providing proper instruction, the children are often unable to focus and learn. The schools that they attend are then called "bad schools". I agree with EGS's comment that many families not valuing education contributes to this problem. This leads to a different, but relevant, conversation about class values (concrete vs. abstract, power structures, etc.).

The "critical mass" is critical both in terms of who is going to the school, and how involved the parents will be. The neighborhoods where parents were able to make a difference at their neighborhood school had attracted enough middle class parents enrolling their children before they were able to make a difference with their involvement. This difference, predominantly through enrichment activities it would appear, did not require a shouldering/"taking on" of fundamental school responsibilities. I know this is true of Cook Wissahickon, and likely of Meredith, McCall, Greenfield, and now Lea. The role of the administration at these schools was crucial too. At a school, the principal "rules". We saw a demonstration of good community involvement at Stanton and Sheppard, located in neighborhoods with less middle class residents, but good administrations/principals.

Parents that "put on capes" would be the last to ask that other parents do the same. All they ask for is minimal support, often even just verbal approval. Interestingly, if you were to look at these parents closely, you might find that they really don't have the resources or time either. Instead they make sacrifices, that they understand is their choice. Instead of minimal support (in schools where there is not the "critical mass" or just uninterested administration), they are treated to misunderstanding, judgement, and resentment, even vilified; Not a good experience. I hear familiar overtones of resentment in your comment. We all make choices, and they are not always because of privilege or being given things.

Ultimately, no school can be expected to provide everything needed for a good education for a child. Even PAS. A public education is only there to guarantee a minimum level of instruction. Even in the well funded suburbs, parents are asked for their support outside of what is provided by the government. As muchthenotebook.orgto see the middle class under assault, the enrollment of more children from the middle class in public vs. private schools does have the potential to improve the lot of the underprivileged. It is an opportunity that benefits all.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on Sat, 02/02/2013 - 14:25.

Not sure what's happening with the type substitution, but where you see "notebook.org" it should say, "as it is disturbing".

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 19:54.

The example of a $20,000/year private school is extreme. Many private schools in the city don't cost that much and there are plenty of good private schools that don't cost $20,000/year, but something more modest, like $5,000/year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 14:14.

As you suggest at the end of your comment, the relevant figure to compare against the $100,000 premium is not the $1,300 per pupil subsidy, but the $20,000 per year cost of private school. There are many parents in Philadelphia that (1) are committed to living in the city for various reasons; and (2) either strongly prefer sending their children to public school for personal reasons, can't afford/don't want to spend $20k a year for private school, or both.

The line at Penn Alexander is a manifestation of the fact that this group of parents have few options in the city to guarantee a good public education. Now they have one less guaranteed option. The long-term solution is to increase the number of good elementary schools in the city, but it is not fair to expect individual parents to accomplish this by sending their five-year olds into crumbling buildings with bad test scores and then working to change them and hoping for the best.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 10:42.

Hite cited equity as a major reason for ending the line and moving to a lottery. I respect that. However, I find the way the PSD and some parents have acted since that decision to be very inequitable. For example, I found out last night that earlier yesterday, PSD officials held a closed-door meeting with a group of parents comprised mostly of those who were in "the line." i've heard that they discussed what to do about the people jilted by the last minute switch, and also about the future of Penn Alexander.  Furthermore, the minutes from that meeting are being circulated among a private email list of connected community members. Shouldn't the entire community be kept in the loop regarding what happens with our neighborhood school? Is it even legal to bar taxpayers from attending meetings with school officials? Isn't that what sunshine laws are for?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 16:07.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more of an uproar about this. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors, and I appreciate that the PSD is trying to address the PAS situation, but it is flat out self-serving of parents and inappropriate for the school district to have a hush-hush closed door meeting during which policy decisions about the future of admissions at PAS is discussed.

The only reason I found out is because I know someone whose husband is friends with someone 'in the know' about the fact that the meeting was taking place. That is disturbing.

I did not stand on line this year. I do have two young children who will go to public school in the future. I don't feel entitled to send my children to PAS. I don't feel like Lea is too far away to be a neighborhood school. I do feel like all of my children should be able to go to the same school. I'd like to be able to talk about why. To whom should I talk? Why are my views being ignored? I feel strongly about sibling preference. I wish I new what's going on and why it's a secret. And, if it's not a secret, why doesn't someone who was the the meeting publicly discuss what is going on?

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 17:30.

I agree! I want to know why all the privacy with what should be a community meeting? There should be a list of who was present so people can have a say on whether it is a true representation of the community or just a few parents from the front of the "Line". I know there where minutes kept. They should be posted so that the community has a voice in what is happening behind close doors. I understand parents of rising kindergarteners think this is only their issue when this is a neighborhood issue in which we should all have a voice.

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 17:31.

I agree! I want to know why all the privacy with what should be a community meeting? There should be a list of who was present so people can have a say on whether it is a true representation of the community or just a few parents from the front of the "Line". I know there where minutes kept. They should be posted so that the community has a voice in what is happening behind close doors. I understand parents of rising kindergarteners think this is only their issue when this is a neighborhood issue in which we should all have a voice.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 19:58.

I totally agree. I thought that there was only supposed to be the one community meeting. The problem is that some parents think that Penn Alexander should be a private school for their children. If you want a closed door meeting, then pay for your child to go to a private school. Because of this meeting, it is only fair that parents from each of the 37 schools has an individual meeting with the superintendent. There is no equity in having a closed-door meeting only for parents who are rich and powerful. The same set of rules has to apply for everyone.

Submitted by Long-time resident (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 18:16.

HUSH-HUSH and closed door indeed! I was at the first meeting, I emailed my interest to the school district as I was instructed to do, and I also signed up to be included in follow-up meeting to no end.

I have lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, am an immediate neighbor and have a school-age, kindergarten-eligible child.

Why was I, like others, excluded from this meeting? Yes, the majority of the people lining up were white, and no, they do not represent "the community." Furthermore, "the community" existed before Penn Alexander was built and the newbies flocked to the catchment. The community will continue to exist despite any lottery system.

Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2013 - 23:25.

The group that the "line parents" nominated included people with many different opinions and did include some who were not actually in line, but all had 2013 kindergarteners.

The school district did send the message to everyone who signed up at the meeting last week and several of those other parents did attend as well. No one was excluded from the meeting.

The parents caught in the middle of this year's abrupt and unexpected change are very concerned about getting this situation resolved quickly. They have not and do not pretend to represent the whole community and have advocated for a larger more inclusive process that involves affected members of the community in developing a long-term solution. I don't understand why neighbors are so negative about this.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 20:02.

But there shouldn't be a closed door meeting just for parents who were in line. Why did this meeting have to take place so discretely? Why wasn't there more transparency?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 10:48.

"Everyone who signed up at the meeting last week...did attend." If we weren't at the meeting last week because we didn't know about it then how could we sign up? I didn't find out about the second meeting until a day after it took place. If there is no way to learn when a meeting is taking place then it is de facto exclusionary.

I respect the fact that the "line parents" are a top priority. It's completely understandable that they want to clear this up quickly. However, the bits and pieces of information that I've heard through my tiny network is that the meetings have in fact gone beyond that discussion. Maybe that's not true--how would I know?

It's because I don't know what's going on that I am negative about this.

Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on Thu, 01/31/2013 - 18:38.

Sorry Anonymous. The School District didn't advertise the meeting, Some of the parents forwarded the information to the West Philly Local who posted it. I am not sure how else parents could do this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 10:50.

Thanks line parent. It's not any one person's fault, of course, it's the system. Regarding the first meeting, after the fact I saw this post on WPL from the day before the meeting "A public meeting to discuss kindergarten registration at the Penn Alexander School will be held tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan. 22) beginning at 11 a.m. in the school’s gym." I missed WPL that day. Even if I had seen it, it would have been too late for me to take off from work.

I'm more concerned about the second meeting. There wasn't any announcement about that. From what I'm told, some parents who weren't on line and asked about a follow up meeting were told that it wasn't any of their business. The whole issue of minutes that are circulated only among parents who were there is bizarre.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 12:39.

My suggestion if you want more information is that you email the district spokesman Francisco Gallard. He was at that first meeting and gave out his email address for anyone with questions. I didn't take it down, but he said it's on the district website.

These parents are not politicians or media professionals, and they're dealing with a situation that was dumped into their laps from the clear blue sky. It's not clear who they're supposed to be representing or how they're supposed to communicate with these people. (Take this email list that is supposedly only for "connected" people, for example. The guy maintaining it hung a sign on the school fence inviting people to join, and the sign was publicized on West Philly Blog. And then again at that first meeting he invited everyone present to join. It's not ideal, but what more could he have done?) The whole thing is complete chaos, and taking place under a bit of media scrutiny too.

Francisco Gallard on the other hand is a professional at this stuff, and he works for you. I would email him and ask for a progress report.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 12:42.

West Philly Local blurred out the email address in the picture.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 14:11.

Does anyone know Francisco Gallard's email address? It's not on the district website.

This is the list stating “Families on the list will continue to advocate for enrollment based on the ‘first come, first served’ policy,” right?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 15:39.

Philadelphia Mag posted a photo of the email address here:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2013/01/20/penn-alexander-par...

To be added to the list please email
vlm@jhu.edu

Submitted by Line Parent (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 19:12.

Yes, that is what the sign said. However, I would say that the heat of the moment has passed and the group is now working constructively toward a solution that accommodates all kindergarten-eligible kids. Some still feel that the list should be honored for this year. Others do not. The group has a lot of different and conflicting opinions -- it is pretty representative of the neighborhood at large.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 11:36.

It's Fernando Gallard. his email address is fagallard@philasd.org other info here: http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/c/communications2
It IS up to the SD to make these proceedings as transparent as possible. This cannot continue as it has been.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 11:43.

It's Fernando Gallard - fagallard@philasd.org More info here http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/c/communications2

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2013 - 17:46.

For what it's worth, I've emailed Fernando twice asking for info about the meeting and have not gotten a response.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/06/2013 - 16:05.

I just got an email from Fernando Gallard. Tomorrow's meeting (Feb 7th) is open to the public and will take place at 9:30 am in the Penn Alexander cafeteria.

Submitted by vlm (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 21:33.

Anyone interested can sign on to a googlegroup called: Penn Alexander Neighborhood Info.

If you don't know how to find or sign on to a googlegroup, instructions are here:
http://support.google.com/groups/answer/1067205?hl=en

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/01/2013 - 23:10.

What a wonderful thing to do! Thank you for this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 02/02/2013 - 00:14.

Thanks VLM. I just signed up to the group. I wanted to catch up with what's been discussed, however I can't seem to find the archived messages. I admit I am a bit of a luddite. I'm particularly interested in the minutes from the follow-up meeting with Lynch. Can you point me to those? Thanks again for facilitating this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 15:59.

@Anonymous, you won't find the minutes no matter how hard you look. 

This new Google group was started by the woman who created the original email list as a way to make "outsiders" feel like they are part of the PAS conversation without actually including them in the conversation.

The truth is that the original email list is comprised mostly of those who lined up on the sidewalk on Friday and that's the way they want to keep it. They have even scheduled another meeting with the PSD where they plan to push their agenda. But you won't find out about that meeting until it's over. And you won't read the minutes unless you were lucky enough to be included in the original email list. 

How's that for fair and inclusive?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 17:31.

Bad show if it's true. It's interesting that they think they have more leverage talking to PSD by themselves then by trying to get the whole community involved.

I bet that much of what they have to say is persuasive and makes sense, but I'll be damned if I'll step forward to support whatever comes out of this--if it's true.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 17:46.

Do sunshine laws apply to the school district?

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