Parent-teacher group to hold three public forums
Given the recent walk-away by two kindergarten students at M. Hall Stanton School and the School District of Philadelphia’s impending implementation of a latest round of school closures, community meetings such as the pair scheduled for this week have proven prescient.
PCAPS — the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools — is a nonprofit teacher and parent organization formed when the district took up the recommendations provided by the Boston Consulting Group.
PCAPS first meeting will be held Thursday at the MLK Jr. Recreation Center, 21st and Cecil B. Moore Ave., scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Subsequent meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 at New Gethsemane Baptist Church, 917 E. Chelten Ave., and at 9 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Meyers Recreation Center, 58th and Chester Ave.
“There was a press conference in the summer to announce that several organizations, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, had formed PCAPS in order to respond to the plan the Boston Consulting Group issued,” explained PFT President Jerry Jordan. “The BGC plan that was issued for the district and its students was one that no one in the community was asked about. It had no input from teachers or instructional support staff, and there were no inputs by any members of the community, such as clergy, elected officials and others who are in the city who have a real concern about public education.
“The BCG plan did a lot of talking and addressing ways to cut services from schools, but said nothing about student achievement and academic support.”
Many of the austerity measures suggested by the BCG have found their way into the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, the proposed five-year financial plan - and the FY 2012-2013 budget, all authored by School District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen.
In fact, Jordan points to stifling budget cuts already enacted by the district as the primary reason why the kindergarten students were able to just run out of Stanton last week.
“No matter what, children have to be supervised at all times; even if they weren’t in class – say they were at lunch or recess – they still have to be supervised,” Jordan said, noting that he was stunned by the situation. “This is hearsay on my behalf, but I heard [the exit was staffed by a parent volunteer]. That’s great, and we want parents involved, but we cannot depend on parents to be there every day, because they have their own lives and things to do. That is why cutting the number of non-instructional personnel is harmful.
“Thank God nothing happened to those babies, but this is what happens.”
Given the imbedded nature of BCG’s recommendations in several fiscal and management documents used by the district, groups such as PCAPS face an uphill struggle in getting the district to alter course. For his part, Jordan said at the conclusion of the three PCAPS-sponsored meetings the organization will then submit a written proposal to the School Reform Commission.
The district plans its own “Neighborhood Summit” meeting, scheduled to begin this evening at 5:30 at Roberts Vaux High School, 23rd and Master streets.
“This town hall approach is the most important part of PCAPS’ mission to improve Philadelphia schools and strengthen our city’s commitment to students. Everybody, from everyday citizens to SRC members, is encouraged to attend,” said Andi Perez, executive director of Youth United for Change, a PCAPS member organization. “We believe firsthand experiences and observations of students, parents, teachers and school employees are vital to any plan moving forward. These forums will give community members the chance to truly participate in the discussion of what kind of schools we want to build for our children.”
All told, there are 14 PCAPS member organizations, including Action United (which recently filed a discrimination suit against the district for its handling of the proposed school closings) and the Philadelphia Student Union.
“At its heart, PCAPS and the group’s supporters throughout the city are advocating for fairness, and that will be a central theme at these town halls. To us, fairness means involving students and teachers in decisions affecting the future of our schools,” said PFT Spokeswoman Evette Jones. It means that our high expectations for teachers and classrooms will be accompanied by appropriate resources to help them succeed.
“It means that we will not give up on schools that, with renewed attention and investment, could become anchors of healthy, thriving neighborhoods.”