Ron Whitehorne has been a political activist in Philadelphia for four and a half decades with roots in the civil rights, anti-war and labor movements. His involvement with education dates back to the sixties when he helped organize an alternative high school, a high school student union and liberation schools that sought to bring an anti-racist perspective to suburban white students. Later as a community activist in the Kensington area he was involved in education organizing, including an attempt to build a community-union coalition. Becoming a teacher in the 1980s, he was a long time building rep, helped forge an partnership with parents, school staff and the community to build a new Julia de Burgos school, and co chaired the PFT's Community Outreach Committee. In this role he participated in effots to further dialogue and create common ground between the unions and the community
As a classroom teacher Whitehorne was selected as Teacher of the Year for the Edison Cluster in 1998. As a founding Board member of Youth United for Change a member of the Notebook's editorial and leadership board, abd a supporter of the Teacher Action Group, remains active since retiring from teaching.
Whitehorne is married to Patty Eakin, a long time leader in nursing unionism.
One of the more stressful jobs I've had over my two decades of teaching middle school was running a lunch room with upwards of 300 rambunctious adolescents. They were determined to make the most of the one time during the school day that they were out of the classroom.
It was a challenge to keep peace and good order. I had to make sure students got their food, could visit the bathroom, and didn’t escape into the halls or the uninhabited regions of our old building. I depended on a group of noontime aides (who now call themselves student safety staff) to help police the perimeters, identify problems, and mediate conflicts.
The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools will hold a general assembly on Wednesday, April 17, to launch new campaigns around school funding, charter school accountability, and community schools.
The coalition, formed a year ago, has grown to include 15 labor and community-based organizations, embracing school staff, parents, students, and neighborhood activists.
Over the last year, PCAPS developed an alternative to the School Reform Commission's blueprint inspired by the Boston Consulting Group. Called “Excellent Schools for All Children,” the 40-page document drew on surveys of community stakeholders as well as research-based best practices. The plan rejected the SRC’s austerity-focused argument and called for a fight to base funding on a reordering of priorities, closing tax loopholes for corporations and using an equitable formula for allocating state revenue.
Education reform's dominant narrative, in both the nation and Philadelphia, assumes that the traditional protections that unions provide for teachers need to be sacrificed in the interest of improving children's education.
While the well-compensated CEOs and hedge fund managers who feed regularly at the public trough are portrayed as disinterested champions of poor children, unionized teachers are characterized as being motivated by narrow self-interest. It really rankles me.
Let me say at the outset, I don’t think unions have always acted to the benefit of children. There is room for debate about the wisdom of specific policies, particularly in an earlier period, when unions made little effort to build real partnerships with the community. But in the current environment, treating teachers with some degree of fairness and heeding their concerns over job security, compensation, and due process just isn't part of the conversation.
The Philadelphia School District has made a package of teacher contract proposals that are extreme, far-reaching, and downright mean-spirited.
This would essentially take teachers and school employees back almost 50 years, to 1965, before there was a union contract. The gains that Philadelphia Federation of Teachers members worked so hard to get would be wiped out.
Across the country and here in Philadelphia, schools are being closed, schools that are disproportionally concentrated in poor communities of color and that serve urban students with the greatest needs.
Chicago is the most dramatic example. African American students make up 42 percent of the school population but nearly all of the enrollment at schools that are being closed or phased out.
In Philadelphia, both last year’s school closings and the current planned closures reflect this pattern. While 55 percent of the overall student population is African American, 79 percent of the students in schools projected to close are African American.