Transparency — or the lack of it — along with pleas to keep open several public schools, were the themes during Thursday’s School Reform Commission’s monthly action meeting at district headquarters.
While the SRC has trumpeted its degree of transparency during its search for a new superintendent, the powerful Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity believes the SRC could do much more by making the search team more inclusive.
“We want to ensure that a clergy person is on the search committee, and involved in the fair process of developing the criteria for the new superintendent,” said Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity president Reverend Terrance Griffith. “It’s not a balanced search committee and is not an esoteric group, and the community forums are really controlled sessions.”
Griffith, pastor of the First African Baptist Church, along with Bright Hope Senior Pastor Kevin R. Johnson, asked the SRC to put aside special interests that may not necessarily coincide with the best interests of the students, or the cash-strapped district itself.
One of the points of contention was the pay of Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen and the revelation that the school district will spend roughly $1.5 million on a special review of the district beginning next year.
“Clearly, the SRC has an agenda on who it wants [to be the next superintendent],” Johnson said. “The SRC will spend $1.5 million, beginning in February of 2012 and ending in March 2012 for a consultant which we feel will emphasize deregulation. The Chief Recovery Officer has no background in education, who is making $300,000 for six months, so the SRC is spending $1.8 million, but to whose benefit?”
Both Griffith and Johnson said the Black Clergy has historically supported the mayor and school district, but would not do so blindly.
“I told the mayor that we were going to operate on principle …we’re going to represent the interests of the children in the city,” Griffith said. “I told him we wouldn’t act up if the children receive a just and fair education.”
School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos and board member Wendell E. Pritchett were unavailable for comment as of Tribune press time.
There were other contentious issues aired during Thursday’s meeting. State Representative W. Curtis Thomas made an impassioned plea for the survival of William Harrison Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
The school, located at 1012 Thompson Street, has been listed in the School District Facilities Master Plan’s list of recommendations as one of the schools to be closed, Thomas said in his address. Thomas also said it was his understanding that former Harrison students will be fed to the Dunbar Promise Academy, James R. Ludlow Elementary and Spring Garden Elementary.
“I, and the parents of Harrison students, want to know why you are closing schools in North Philadelphia and moving children to schools no better than Harrison?” Thomas asked. “Also, why are you closing public schools in North Philadelphia while approving more charter schools? North Philadelphia seems to be bearing the brunt of the schools scheduled for closing.”
Thomas said it’s hard for North Philadelphia-based schools Harrison, William Penn and Wanamaker to compete when those schools and others were denied equal access as described by law, and the representative noted a study by Pew Charitable Trusts which cites educational adequacy, academic performance, declining enrollment and academic program equity as just a few of the reasons to close a school.
“These schools are faced with the same problems that have been allowed to exist for decades, either willfully or by accident,” Thomas said. “These schools have been struggling without good teachers, security, equipment, books and parental engagement.
“The SRC should be concerned with providing safe, secure schools with competent teachers…. If you can’t provide these things for schools like Harrison, then don’t provide it to any school.”