Mastery Charter Schools — the nonprofit charter school operator who has long partnered with the School District of Philadelphia and currently manages 12 schools in the region — celebrated on Monday the 450 high school students who have either applied to and been accepted to post high school institutions, or received partial and full scholarships to their targeted school.
In what had the feel of a homecoming or pep rally, the 450 students were led down the aisles of Temple University’s Liacouras Center, each holding placards with the name of their school emblazoned on it.
In all, those 450 students are going to attend roughly 90 institutions in the fall.
“I’m so proud of Mastery’s seniors. Today, we are demonstrating what we know to be true: Public school students, through hard work and high expectations, will rise to the challenge and succeed,” said Mastery Charter Schools CEO Scott Gordon, who also served as Mastery’s first principal. “Today our community celebrates seniors, not only for their hard work and accomplishments so far, but for the inspiration they are providing to the rest of Mastery’s students.
“Our seniors signed a pledge to attend and graduate with a degree in 2017,” Gordon continued, imploring the students to become the leaders and role models he knows they can be. “I look forward to celebrating with these same students four years from now.”
While all 450 students deserve congratulations, some in the graduating class have managed to separate themselves even further, by achieving rare academic heights. Master Charter School’s Thomas Campus senior Kevin Beaford became Mastery’s first Gates Millennium Scholar, and will use the attached scholarship to attend local Ivy League school University of Pennsylvania, while Keiya Rankin, a senior at Mastery’s Shoemaker Campus, becomes Mastery’s first Dell Scholar and will attend Drexel University.
Other graduating students have endearing stories that made Monday’s even that much more important. Aimee Chhorn, a senior at Mastery-Thomas, is from a family that escaped the sheer brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime during its bloody rule in Cambodia, while Mastery-Pickett senior O’Shay Knox’s parents have battled substance abuse issues for the majority of Knox’s life, forcing Knox to be raised by her grandparents since she was an infant.
Chhorn will attend Esperanza College, while Knox will go to Bloomsburg University.
The Mastery graduating class also has among its ranks a Keyholder Award recipient (Felicia Lewis, Mastery-Lenfest) and 12 Lenfest Scholars.
Mayor Michael Nutter joined a litany of elected officials in congratulating Mastery’s 450 graduates, while imploring them to continue their education.
“In today’s world, a high school diploma is not enough,” Nutter said, adding that he has been a staunch supporter of Mastery and was very excited when the charter management company appeared on the educational horizon. “To succeed in the 21st century economy, individuals need at least some level of post-secondary education. Mastery Charter Schools’ College Signing Day is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of this year’s graduating seniors, who are pursuing higher learning, to encourage these students to complete their studies and to give back to their communities later as successful adults.
“The most important people in this building are you, the graduates.”
While ignorance of the law has never been a successful defense, not knowing one’s legal rights has led to wide range of unintended abuses — along with fines and penalties — being levied against defendants who are unaware of their right to legal representation in civil matters.
That theme will be the undercurrent as Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille convenes the second of three Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee public hearings themed, “Civil Legal Representation of the Indigent: Have We Achieved Equal Access to Justice?” The hearing will begin on Thursday, May 29, at 9:30 a.m. at the Philadelphia Bar Association, 1101 Market St.
Castille is the honorary chairman of the Civil Legal Justice Coalition, which includes the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia as a member. Jennifer Clarke, the law center’s executive director, said ignorance of rights can, and has been, very costly.
“This is a timely hearing because people don’t know they have a right to a lawyer when they are facing basic, fundamental, human problems. That’s especially important here, because if you lose your house because of the mortgage or your landlord is trying to evict you, you have no right to a lawyer,” explained Clarke, who is also serving as co-chair of the coalition, noting the slight difference in the letter of the law regarding criminal and civil proceedings. “There’s situations were a woman’s safety is at issue and she needs protections from abuse, and there’s no legal right to a lawyer in these circumstances.
“We want to make people understand that taking on these basic fundamental problems without a lawyer causes great harm, not only to the person, but to society,” Clarke continued. “Especially for those threatened with eviction. They could be kicked out and left homeless.”
Among those expected to testify are Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Project HOME co-founder Sister Mary Scullion, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Family Division Supervising Judge Margaret T. Murphy and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia Executive Director Catherine C. Carr.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart J. Greenleaf will chair the hearing, which is open to the public.
“Equal access to legal representation is one of the most critical justice issues we face today,” Greenleaf said. “I am pleased to see the Commonwealth’s legal community come together to offer their insights and recommendations to the Judiciary Committee on this important matter. In recent years, we have seen the number of individuals seeking assistance increase and funding disappear due to the economic downturn.”
According to Clarke, another thrust of the hearing will be to provide interested parties with a list of lawyers and legal organizations that will help those in civil courses who cannot afford representation. While the Public Interest Law Center isn’t one of those organizations — the law center handles cases with a different makeup — Clarke cited the 50-year-old landmark decision Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the right to counsel for the indigent in serious criminal matters, and says that sort of protection needs to be extended to the civil courts as well.
“The Supreme Court said that there isn’t a constitutional right [being abused] in these [civil] cases, and we want the Pennsylvania legislators to [subsidize these civil lawyers] like any other important thing in society. This right to a lawyer is so important to a great many people, and the Legislation should recognize that,” Clarke said, adding that the coalition is lobbying legislators on this issue. “People will come to this hearing and talk about what happened to them when they didn’t have a lawyer. They have either lost or risked losing their homes, or gotten sick due to it.”
What Tuesday's election lacks in sex appeal, it more than makes up for in substance, as many of these races — including the primaries for city controller and district attorney — will go a long way toward deciding which group of politicians will have a greater hand in shaping Philadelphia’s future.
The race for district attorney will pit first-time office holder Seth Williams, a Democrat, against Republican challenger Daniel Alvarez, who has experience as a former assistant district attorney. The race for city controller seems to be tightening, as sitting Controller Alan Butkovitz tries to fend off a furious rally by challengers Brett Mandel and Mark Zecca.
Tuesday will also decide on six judges for Court of Common Pleas, three judges for Traffic Court, three judges for Philadelphia Municipal Court, an inspector of elections and, finally, a judge of elections. On the state level, there is one seat open as judge of the Superior Court.
For this election, poll watchers don’t believe voters will encounter the sort of zeal — on both sides — that became a hallmark of the most recent presidential campaign. Part of the blame goes to the lack of a mayoral, councilmatic or gubernatorial race, but some of that also speaks to a general sense of voter apathy.
“I do feel the turnout will be low. It’s the nature of this particular election — where you don’t have a competitive situation in most races, or that people don’t understand what [the candidates’] positions are, and tend not to come out and vote,” said Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of nonpartisan political watchdog group Committee of Seventy. “So I think if turnout is in the 10-12 percent range — which is a horrifyingly low number — I wouldn’t be surprised.
“The only race getting much attention is the Democratic primary for city controller, as there’s some energy around that,” Stalberg continued. “But for the most part, most of these races will be decided on recommendations from party mechanics.”
Stalberg said his organization will be fully engaged on Tuesday, and that if anyone has any problems at the polls to call the committee’s hotline — 1-866-our-vote, and either a committee agent will show up in person at the spot of the problem or will provide assistance over the phone. Either way, Stalberg said the committee will be on watch.
One such issue voters won’t have to contend with is the controversial Voter ID law, which is currently working its way through the court system and therefore won’t be in play come Tuesday. To that end, Stalberg said the only time a person will be confronted with the issue of identification is if it is that person’s first time voting. And even in that case, that person will be allowed to vote, as long as that voter can produce some form of traceable identification, such as a utility bill.
But for all other problems, Stalberg encourages voters to reach out.
“There’s always a subtle little wrinkle in the election, and if it involves ‘you,’ then it’s a big deal and is important,” Stalberg said. “This isn’t like the Romney-Obama election with a lot of government officials policing the election; but we will have volunteers in the street and in the office, and someone will be in a position to help you.”
In what is shaping up to be a tight race between the four candidates vying for the two vacancies on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, Steven Tolliver, the sole African-American candidate, is looking to separate himself from his opponents.
Tolliver is an accomplished barrister, with more than 30 years of experience trying cases in both state and federal courts. Tolliver is past regional director of the National Bar Association and a member of the Hearing Review Committee of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Tolliver currently serves as corporate litigation counsel for Aetna Life Insurance Company while concurrently serving his first three-year term as a Hearing Committee member.
Tolliver, one of two Democratic entrants, is recommended by the Montgomery County Bar Association Judiciary Committee.
While Tolliver’s opponents also bring a similar wealth of expertise, it’s Tolliver’s dedication to both community and craft that Tolliver hopes gives him the edge come Tuesday. Tolliver’s community work is extensive, as he is the founder of the nonprofit Cheltenham Achievers Network, serves as a current member of Central Montgomery Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center’s board and is a current member of the NAACP. Aside from his vast accomplishments, Tolliver has also received numerous community awards and accolades, chief among them the NAACP Cheltenham Area Branch’s Community Service Award and the prestigious Education Advocacy Award by the Montgomery County Advisory Council to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Tolliver is also active in numerous professional organizations. He is a member of the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association; Tolliver has also previously served stints as a member of the State Civil Committee, former region III director of the National Bar Association and as former second vice-chair of the Commercial Law Section of the National Bar Association.
Tolliver holds a B.A. in philosophy and government from Oberlin College in Ohio and a J.D. from Villanova University’s Garey School of Law.
According to Tolliver’s official campaign biography, Tolliver began his legal career in private practice and served as a judicial clerk to the Honorable Robert W. Williams Jr. formerly of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and also served as a chief assistant city solicitor for Philadelphia.
Tolliver and his wife, Tee, have lived in Cheltenham Township for 21 years, and have three sons.
State Senator Vincent Hughes is taking the politically bold move of filing a discharge petition in order to get movement on Senate Bill 12.
The bill would expand Medicaid and infuse much-needed dollars into the coffers of struggling and distressed school districts statewide.
Hughes has long been a proponent of finding adequate school funding, while simultaneously criticizing Gov. Tom Corbett and his administration for a string of education funding cuts.
According to Hughes, SB 12 would provide health coverage to 500,000 additional Pennsylvanians through $4 million in funding from the federal government. The tax revenue recouped from such an endeavor could reach as high as $180 million, while creating upward of 35,000 new jobs in the health-related sector.
Hughes’ bill has languished in the senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee since its March 26 introduction, and Hughes wants action before the end of the current session.
A committee can be discharged from consideration of a bill within 10 legislative days of its referral with the unanimous consent of the full senate. After 10 legislative days have passed, the bill can be discharged by a majority vote of Senate members.
“Last week, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said the ‘practical deadline’ for expanding Medicaid has almost arrived,” Hughes said. “I agree completely. That is why I’ve decided to file a discharge petition to seek a vote on Senate Bill 12 in the full Senate. We are rapidly running out of time to take advantage of the savings generated by Medicaid expansion in the state budget.”
Medicaid expansion is something that Pennsylvania needs to do, according to Hughes.
“If Gov. Corbett is unwilling to do the right thing, my colleagues in the Senate must send a clear message that this is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s time for a vote on Medicaid expansion.”
Hughes has the support of City Council members, most notably that of Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Marian Tasco, who have co-introduced a resolution calling for the state senate to adopt Hughes’ discharge resolution.
“With funding crises popping up on a seemingly weekly basis, Pennsylvania — and the City of Philadelphia — cannot afford for Governor Corbett and Senate Republicans to pass up an opportunity to receive a $4 billion infusion of federal funds,” Bass said via a statement released by her office. “Therefore, the State Senate must cease its delay and call Senate Bill 12 for a fair up or down vote on the floor and I commend Senator Hughes for filing this discharge resolution.
“While Philadelphia public schools and elected officials are desperately trying to bridge a drastic budget gap, Governor Corbett and Senate Republicans are refusing to participate in a program that would, according to an April 19, 2013, economic impact report released by the Pennsylvania Economy League, create over 10,000 jobs in Southeast Pennsylvania and generate nearly $2 billion in economic activity,” she added. “That’s money that could be freed up to go to our schools and to our social safety net.”