The School District of Philadelphia, as it implements the recommendations included in the massive Facilities Master Plan, will probably be forced to close several public schools on its roster. But as it begins that phase, school officials want the public to be fully engaged along the way.
Toward that end, the district has established its schedule of upcoming public meetings focused on obtaining community feedback as it continues its transparency efforts.
The first two meetings will be held on Tuesday, September 25. The first of the two meetings will begin at 10 a.m. at district headquarters, 401 N Broad St., while the second one, at the Center in the Park, 5818 Germantown Avenue, will begin at 5:30 p.m.
The five remaining meetings will be held throughout the city. The third meeting will take place on Saturday, September 29 from 10 a.m. to noon at West Philadelphia High School, 4901 Chestnut St. That will be followed by the fourth meeting, taking place on Tuesday, October 2 at Kensington CAPA School, 1901 N. Front St. and begins at 5: 30 p.m.
The fifth meeting will be held at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th St., at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 4, to be followed by a student forum at district headquarters on Wednesday October 10 at 4 p.m.
The final meeting will take place Saturday, October 13 at 10 a.m. at CAPA High School, 901 S. Broad St. The district will also stream the meeting live online at www.philasd.org/stream; the district will also post updates on its Facebook page and Twitter feed.
“We have been working on long-range planning for two years, and in the spring, after the School Reform Commission voted on the schools we had proposed for closure, one thing we learned from our past experience [of engaging the community] is that the public felt it very important for them to have an opportunity to discuss the subject prior to any schools being named,” said School District of Philadelphia Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd. “So in the spring, the commissioners decided to be very upfront and committed to meeting that demand. And to underscore, this is a continuation of the community outreach we’ve done since the start of the process; we’ve convened 40 community meetings since 2010.”
Floyd referred to the string of community meetings the SRC hosted as it issued first the five-year organization transformation initiative, and then the five-year budget. Both documents — along with the recently publicized five-year financial plan — were authored by the district’s Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen.
Floyd said district and SRC officials are keenly aware of the public’s general cynicism toward the school district due to the slew of recent cuts to staff, programming and services; it didn’t help that many of the SRC officials appeared to be caught off-guard by the passion emanating from the community.
Floyd says the SRC was simply caught unaware and didn’t mean to come off as aloof.
“When the School Reform commissioners first started, they came into the process very late. They were new to the process as well,” Floyd said. “But now, with a new superintendent and a newly-formed SRC, this is their way of being able to own and guide the process.”
Floyd also explained that the SRC board consists of volunteers, and that at least one member will be at every community meeting will show that the SRC is genuine in its efforts to engage the community.
“We are struggling with this as much as anyone else. Although schools will close, no one has made a final decision about anything,” Floyd said. “We want this to be a fair and transparent process, and you cannot move forward without asking uncomfortable questions.
“The same types of strategies we’re considering internally are the same ones we’ll be discussing at the meetings.”
While the meetings will be spread out over the city, Floyd said the selection of locations weren’t related to the geography of the selected schools; rather, there were chosen with accessibility in mind.
“These are not geographic or school-specific conversations. We tried to find locations that were handicap accessible and could support the format, which will be round-table; we are not doing breakouts,” Floyd said. “Also, those locations were picked for people who don’t drive so they can get to the meetings very easily by public transportation. This is a community process, so we need to be where they are. We tried to be very diverse in finding places accessible.
“This is not just for parents, but for teachers and noontime aids,” Floyd continued. “If you are concerned about schools, then this is yet another opportunity for you to participate in constructive conversations.”