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.
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.
If the events of the last few years make anything clear, it's that teachers need a strong union.
The School Reform Commission -- backed by the governor, the mayor, and self-appointed civic elites -- has launched a full-scale attack on the living standards and professional status of teachers. The union, supported by significant community allies as well as other unions, is waging a campaign of resistance.
A big target of the corporate reform agenda is the principle of seniority. I think that eliminating seniority would be the first step toward the reduction of teaching from a lifelong profession to a Peace Corps model favored by the likes of Michelle Rhee, founder of StudentsFirst, and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America.
The Corbett rescue plan for Philadelphia's schools, forged by the likes of Comcast vice president David Cohen, Philadelphia School Partnership's Mark Gleason, and the Chamber of Commerce, sets the stage for a full-court press to wring concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The corporate education reformers will press their case for concessions and for implementing a business model of school management without the impediments of a union contract. The mantra will be: City Hall and Harrisburg stepped up; now it's time for the teachers' union to do its part.
The current crisis, in the minds of the corporate reformers, is an opportunity to advance their austerity and privatization agenda. Repeatedly, we are told that everybody must pitch in to make ends meet in these difficult times. The austerity argument begins with the plea for shared sacrifice.
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.