Coalition presents detailed school plan

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers secretary Freda Sydnor-Joell at a rally in front of School District of Philadelphia headquarters. – PHOTO COURTESY THE NOTEBOOK.ORG

PCAPS – the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools – has released an in-depth plan to counter the school closing and reorganizing proposal put forth by School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite Jr.

PCAPS’ plan calls for a moratorium on the closing of the 37 schools included in Hite’s proposal; establishes a Student Bill of Rights and offers a 10-point school improvement plan.

“PCAPS released this comprehensive road map for improving Philadelphia public schools without shuttering schools, slashing jobs and subverting the communities these institutions are meant to serve,” said PCAPS steering committee member Andi Perez. “This plan gives a choice to those with a stake in the future of public education. We can implement proven strategies that can create a better future for our children, or we can go forward with the School Reform Commission – Boston Consulting Group plan and suffer the consequences.”

According to PCAPS, the 40-page counter proposal includes input from more than 1,600 educational surveys, dozens of smaller, student-led meetings and a series of larger, citywide conferences.

“Among the cornerstones of the plan is PCAPS’ call for a moratorium on school closings until a full community-impact analysis is completed and released to the public,” read a statement released by PCAPS. “That analysis should examine the costs associated with maintaining suddenly vacant school buildings, such as upkeep, cleaning or security fees, as well as the impact these empty buildings will have on surrounding property values, the cost of transporting thousands of students to new schools, and the effects of flooding new schools and neighborhoods with thousands of displaced students.”

PCAPS’ 10-point plan also speaks to several broad issues that have a direct correlation to the effects of the school closures. PCAPS’ “Philadelphia Community Education Plan” suggests: improving high-quality learning conditions; comprehensive student supports; enhanced curriculums; improved instruction; reformation of performance assessments; provide genuine accountability; providing more support for struggling schools; implementation of truly safe schools and safe school zones; the launch of the “Education Not Incarceration Commission” that will lead to better citywide collaborations and the restoration of Philadelphia’s local school board.

Officials with the School District of Philadelphia, long thought to have an acrimonious relationship with PCAPS, praised the release of the counter proposal, and look forward to having a continued dialogue with the group.

“We are encouraged by PCAPS’ plan, because it really has brought a great number of folks together to talk about how to improve the public education system in Philadelphia. We are also encouraged by [PCAPS’] willingness to provide feedback, which was welcomed,” said School District spokesman Fernando Gallard. “And Superintendent Hite has been very open to getting input from all members of the community, and this is very helpful.”

Gallard, however, did raise an issue with PCAPS’ perception of the relationship between the school district and Boston Consulting Group, noting that BGC was hired to do a specific and narrow job, and that there is no “BGC plan.”

“We are concerned that PCAPS’ plan talks about a ‘BCG plan,’ and indicates the school district has a BCG plan. Our position is there is no BGC plan,” Gallard said. “BGC was a consulting group hired by the school district to provide recommendations and guidelines, and Hite has been very specific in saying these are guidelines.

“So there is no ‘plan’ the school district is following; nonetheless, we are grateful for the work the group has put together.”

BCG plan or not, PCAPS’ counterproposal has garnered support form influential education organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania, whose president, Ted Kirsch, said PCAPS’ plan is worth adopting

“A coalition of community members – students, parents, educators and community leaders came together, listened to community voices and turned the school district's corporate reform model on its ear. In a report released today, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools redefined the central issues confronting public education in Philadelphia and produced a clear roadmap out of the educational wilderness,” Kirsch said via a statement released by AFT PA. “City and state leaders need to listen to PCAPS' recommendations. Public schools are a public asset. When the public stands together and demands officials stop school closings and restore adequate and equitable funding, it is incumbent upon elected and appointed officials to proceed in ways that reflect the wishes of their constituents. This is an opportunity for elected officials and school leaders to work with community members who are committed to making public education better for all students."

While PCAPS has its own set of community meetings, the school district is forging ahead with its slate of citywide meetings; the next eight meetings are scheduled to take place in net month and in February.

While those meetings are usually loud and emotional, the school district looks at that as a collective response from people personally invested in the public school system.

“There’s a lot of energy and emotion that has been shown at every meeting, and rightfully so, because this is a very emotional conversation we are having – one that we need to have – and we appreciate the energy and emotion that people bring, because it means they really care about saving public education,” Gallard said. “We are very much aware that folks are concerned that schools are closing, and at this point, we are trying to let people know that a lot of [that emotion] went into the process.

“We have had over three dozen meetings, and have had over 2,000 members of the public and community at large take part in those meetings, which has helped us inform them of what we have put together as a school district. We look forward to continuing those conversations.

“There was lots of energy in the [previous] meetings,” Gallard continued. “But I wouldn’t describe them as being out of control. People were very respectful and constructive.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or dwilliams@phillytrib.com.

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