School closings

Public ed heroes of the day: Unsung heroes against mass school closings

Photos via philly.com, Joseph Dworetzky, Research for Action, Media Mobilizing Project

Photos via philly.com, Joseph Dworetzky, Research for Action, Media Mobilizing Project

History is not made only by those with titles and power. It is defined and understood through the heroic actions of many. During the school closings process, PCAPS, the Notebook, and parents at schools like Taylor and McCloskey who successfully staved off their proposed closings, rallied to the cause with plenty of action. Here are a few other public ed heroes we wanted to celebrate:

Media Mobilizing Project and the public education testimonials of #phillyeducation #underattack

MMP3

School closings are dehumanizing. The rhetoric around them – “failing schools” “seat capacity” “facilities utilization” – strip any reference to the communities, children and loving adults who make education meaningful. Enter Media Mobilizing Project and a set of beautiful testimonials they began to post on Facebook in the days leading up to the SRC’s vote. The testimonials spanned a range of people from students to teachers to community members. The testimonials reminded us that education isn’t about test scores and data-metrics; they are about connections made and relationships formed, lessons learned and hope kindled for young people in their most vulnerable and formative years. Thanks to MMP for grounding us in the deep humanity and love for our communities and children reflected in our public schools.

MMPJoel Phame Nazario

At a time where I had lost everything and all I had to look foward to was the streets, the wonderful people of Kensington H.S and The School District Of Philadelphia never lost hope in me. They gave me the opportunity to further my education, despite all my misfortunes. They saw past my flaws and mishaps and appreciated my potential. They put me in the best position possible to succeed, and I will forever be indebited for their deeds. Growing into the man I have become, I now see why scholastically investing in the children of our inner cities is most certainly a risk worth taking, for even in a handful of failures you never know how you can change the life of one child! Weeks prior to my mother passing away she sarcastically said, “You’re going to graduate even if it’s the last thing you do before I die”. She was never able to see me graduate, but when I walked on stage to recieve my diploma, I know she was right by myside! SAVE OUR SCHOOLS!

Germantown rallies

Photo via philly.com

Photo via philly.com

There were countless communities who came out during the public process. Among them was Germantown which rallied behind Fulton Elementary, Roosevelt Middle and Germantown High School all placed on the chopping block. Pastorius Elementary was also scheduled to be turned over to charter.

Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, the city’s largest congregation, organized a comprehensive independent school by school analysis of the school closings. The Germantown Alumni Association, Germantown Clergy Initiative and others organized meetings and marches. Responding to the community outpouring, elected officials like State Rep. Stephen Kinsey and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass echoed the passionate and stalwart faith of the community in their neighborhood schools. Dozens of students from Germantown High came via bus to witness the proceedings but were blocked from the School Reform Commission meeting. The SRC voted to close Germantown and Fulton, though they agreed to keep open Roosevelt and pursue further conversations. No matter the vote, Germantown’s passionate rallying cry remained the conscience of the evening.

 

Research for Action

RFAIn the run-up to the school closings vote, champions of school closings touted data and “common sense” regarding underutilized buildings and failing schools. They labeled opponents of school closings as “emotional” and refusing to deal with “hard truths.”

Yet in a series of publications and public testimony, Research for Action brought plenty of data and some uncomfortable truths for the corporate ed reform crowd: School closings don’t save money and they don’t result in academic success. RFA conducted a data analysis of the school closings, showing how an overwhelming majority of students would end up in schools no better than the ones they currently attend. They reminded the public that research showed the only way school closings would benefit students academically would be if students went to a school that performed better. They also pointed out that nearly all the District’s higher performing schools were at or exceeded capacity.

RFA’s focused and meticulous research may have been conveniently ignored, but their dedicated work exposed the wobbly logic and straw man tendencies around the school closing rhetoric.

 

Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky

Joe DworetzkyWhile hundreds of Philadelphians protested outside 440, School Reform Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky did his own solemn work inside the building. With a binder full of studies and a set of statements that he had painstakingly written out ahead of time, he brought thoughtful independent reflection and a strategic analysis to the closings of 27 proposed schools which demanded – and deserved – his attention.

While the rest of the Commissioners said few, if any words, to explain their vote, Dworetzky made a compelling case for nine of the schools up for closure. With his legal acumen and a dispassionate sonorous tone, he exposed weaknesses with the District’s facilities planning team for failing to take into full consideration issues like safe corridors, academic progress and building operations. He chided the SRC for failing to live up to its promise to young people at Germantown High, Vaux and University City who met strenuous conditions of the District’s Promise Academy model. He pointed out how he learned about systems issues at Bok High School from a teacher at the school – not the District staff he should have relied upon. He asked for financial justification for the cost of moving students from District managed schools to charters.

Commissioner Dworetzky voted to close two-thirds of the schools  slated for closure. It was the fact that he brought deep consideration and an independent analysis to the other third of his vote that he shares space on this post. His actions on March 7th reminded us of the importance and painful lack of more publicly responsible voices on the SRC.

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