Steel parents want school under district management

Edward T. Steel Elementary School, 4301 Wayne Ave., serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.— PHOTO COURTESY OF PHILLY GREAT SCHOOLS

Parents of Edward T. Steel Elementary School students are asking school leaders to honor their vote in favor of remaining under district management.

A spokesperson for Mastery Charter School on Monday issued a response in support of the School Advisory Council members who voted for the proposed takeover under the Renaissance initiative.

“We are thankful and humbled that the school’s leaders, who visited Mastery schools and had the opportunity to carefully consider all options, decided that Mastery is the best choice for the Steel community,” said Sheila Ballen, spokesperson for the Mastery Charter Schools, which runs a network of 15 Philadelphia charter schools.

“The Renaissance process was not perfect and we recognize that parents faced a great deal of adult noise and distractions in making their decision,” the statement continued. “This process revealed the passionate desire of Steel parents for a better education for their children. It is our hope that in the coming weeks, the school community can come back together, dedicated to that goal.”

Last Thursday, all 17 members of the School Advisory Council voted 9 to 8, in favor of becoming a Renaissance charter school operated by Mastery Charter School, according to the School District of Philadelphia.

Parents and guardians of Steel students voted overwhelmingly in supported of the status quo. There were 121 votes in support of a recommendation to continue operating Steel as a traditional district school and 55 votes in favor of recommending converting to a charter school.

About 800 parents and guardians were eligible to vote, but 176 ballots were cast in the May 1 election, according to the school district.

The League of Women Voters of Philadelphia, a nonpartisan political organization, monitored the election but complaints about voting process have been raised after 80 percent of parent applicants were disqualified by the district’s Office of Charter Schools on the day of the vote, according to Parents United for Public Education.

Fernando Gallard, the district’s chief of communications, did not immediately return requests for comment left in voicemail and e-mail messages Monday afternoon. But in a news release from the school district, Gallard stated the matter is under review and responses would be forwarded to the parties that filed the complaints.

Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown is backing Steel’s School Advisory Council in calling for an investigation into the grounds for disqualification for some residents who wanted to vote.

Charisma Presley, president of the organization, sided with parents.

“This need for a turnaround for Steel, manufactured simply to offer another feeder school for Mastery, has been mismanaged and botched from the beginning,” Presley said in prepared remarks. “Enough already.”

School leaders will use the May 1 voting results, which are nonbinding, in deciding on a recommendation to the SRC, which oversees public schools. The five member panel could act on the recommendation at its May 29 meeting, Gallard said.

A statement released by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) was directed toward parents of Steel students.

“Congratulations to the parents at Steel Elementary School for overwhelmingly uniting behind the idea that our neighborhood schools deserve to be supported, not written off and given away to the highest bidder,” said PFT President Jerry Jordan added, saying school leaders needed to honor the referendum.

“The parents at Steel have chosen a collaborative transformation plan for the school, and are sending a clear message to the SRC, the school district and the city: we believe in the promise of neighborhood public schools in Philadelphia,” Jordan stated.

On the school’s website, Principal Mary Bonner said the school’s leadership is working on creating professional learning communities that is results-oriented and focused on helping students reach their potential. An effort is under way to improve the school attendance rate and overall reading skills, reduce episodes of disruptive behavior, increase parental involvement and provide students with more meaningful feedback.

 

Contact Staff Writer Wilford Shamlin III at (215) 893-5742 or wshamlin@phillytrib.com.

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