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.
Like a broken record, for over two years the School Reform Commission has sounded the call for "shared sacrifice." The phrase provided the frame for its decision to break the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' contract and impose what amounts to a huge wage cut. Their message has been: Everyone else has stepped up, and now teachers must do so.
But not everyone else has stepped up. Banks, corporations, and the mega-nonprofits in this city have not made sacrifices, nor has this body asked them to.
Let me be specific.
Last month, Superintendent William Hite said he would consider opening the schools fully staffed and run them until the money runs out rather than institute a new round of layoffs. The School Reform Commission, in a rare display of independence and political courage, signaled it would support him.
After the budget debacle in Harrisburg, in which the governor and his supporters failed to raise substantial new revenue, it’s time for Hite, the SRC, and public education advocates to take that step.
For years, the mantra from those who think charter schools are the answer to what ails Philadelphia's schools has been “people are voting with their feet,” citing the mushrooming numbers of families who have transferred out of traditional public schools in favor of charters.
But over recent weeks, the people voted with ballots and they voted decisively against turning over their schools, Steel Elementary in Nicetown and Muñoz-Marín Elementary in Kensington, to charter school management companies.
In the wake of Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts in 2011 and the release of the Boston Consulting Group’s school transformation blueprint in 2012, which promoted school closings and expanded private management, many in Philadelphia have aggressively challenged the School Reform Commission’s leadership of city schools.
Using the tactics available to social movements, hundreds of activists have worked to educate the public about the issues facing our schools. Protests have demanded full and equitable funding, opposed mass school closings and charter expansion, and decried attacks on the District’s unionized workforce.
With the nomination of Bill Green to head up the School Reform Commission, it’s time to get serious about getting rid of this dysfunctional form of governance and returning our schools to local control.
For the last two years, the SRC has pursued a policy of “rightsizing” the District, which has called for closing schools, reducing staff, and cutting instructional programs. The SRC has also championed turning over schools with chronically low test scores to charters and, with some caveats, has favored the expansion of the charter school sector, despite the fact that these actions have only worsened the District’s fiscal problems.
The selection of Bill Green to chair the commission signals a continuation of this direction. Indeed, Green, based on his past statements and record in City Council, may prove to be a more aggressive advocate of these policies than his predecessor, leading even SRC supporter Mayor Nutter to express reservations about his appointment.