Philadelphia’s schools may have faced their greatest challenges this year, but those challenges were met by a powerful force of parent and civic activism that pushed back against a failing schools narrative and demanded the attention and action of the District, the media and our elected officials. Together parents have made public education the number one issue in our city and in the state of Pennsylvania. Click on any of the photos below for a gallery of some of Parents United’s actions this past year. We look forward to more important work in 2014!
Our year opened with the dramatic fallout from the filing of a lobbying complaint against the William Penn Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group. After a year-long investigation, the City Ethics Board would determine that, despite appearances, lobbying had not occurred but that there had been significant private interaction between the Foundation’s head and school district officials. The Foundation President resigned abruptly less than a week after we informed the Foundation of our intent to file a complaint with the Ethics Board. More importantly, the complaint raised consciousness about the expanding backdoor influence of deep-pocketed donors in the name of education “reform.” (Photo: Courtesy of PILCOP)
Jerry Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of NAACP, spoke at a press conference on the lobbying complaint: “We need to assure the public that monied interests are not using the turmoil in the District for their own interest.” (Photo: Courtesy of PILCOP)
A rally for Germantown High School, one of 24 public schools that closed in March 2013. Parents United opposed mass school closings that didn’t improve the academic and personal lives of students. Parents joined thousands who came out over months of hearings on the proposed closings. The opposition successfully knocked down the number of school closings from 37 to 24. The following year, Supt. William Hite would announce no school closings, citing in part that too many students went to schools worse off than the ones they had previously attended. (Photo: Inquirer)
Parents United’s Helen Gym and Rebecca Poyourow outside the Mayor’s office in March. Parents United, the NAACP, and clergy members met with the Mayor to register concerns about the failed impact of mass school closings.
On the day of the school closings vote, Parents United joined the hundreds of people who opposed the vote. (Photo: Bill Hangley with permission)
We joined the crowd with our own signs.
Students from our friends at BPSOS-Delaware Valley, a Vietnamese student leadership group, symbolized the silencing of community and youth voices.
Our reaction to the final school closing’s vote. (Photo: Philadelphia Public School Notebook)
Shortly after the school closings, the District proposed a ‘doomsday budget’ that stripped thousands of employees from schools, including every single guidance counselor, secretary, librarian, aide and support staff, along with hundreds of teachers.
Neighborhoods throughout the city began organizing to support their schools. (Photo: Matthew Hall Photography)
Parents United supported Dobson and Cook-Wissahickon parents who helped organize a funding summit bringing together neighborhood schools in the Roxborough area. (Photo: Matthew Hall Photography)
Parents United also kicked into gear supporting new revenue ideas such as City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez suggestion of increasing the Use & Occupancy tax on large businesses.
Parents United’s Robin Roberts supported a business tax increase to fund city schools.
Parents and others line up to testify in favor of increasing city funding for schools.
Despite an outpouring of parent effort, the Use & Occupancy tax never went to vote. Council instead voted to send two taxes to Harrisburg, neither of which to this date have made any movement. Though a disappointment, parents played a powerful force in City Hall activism.
Parents, teachers, staff and students joined together again at the May 30 budget vote at the SRC on the Doomsday Budget. Only one commissioner, Joseph Dworetzky, cast a no vote.
Parents United’s Helen Gym and Temwa Wright traveled to Harrisburg in June for a statewide rally for school funding.
Parents United co-founder Gerald Wright went on The Real News Network to talk about the devastating impact of the doomsday budget and the state’s investment in a $400 million prison near Philadelphia.
Parents United supported the Unite-HERE school workers fast over the summer. A number of aides were eventually restored to schools in August.
Parents United co-founder Helen Gym headed to Washington, DC in July to meet with parents across the country. It was the first annual meeting of Parents Across America, a national parent group supporting public schools.
Over the summer parents remained vigilant and engaged with the District. Nebinger parent Maureen Fratantoni speaks out against an effort to introduce a graded report card to rank Philadelphia public schools. Parents United and others succeeded in temporarily delaying the effort.
Parents United added to the national education dialogue with our commentary calling upon policymakers to heed public support of public education based on results from the PDK Gallup Poll. Gallup tracks public and parent attitudes toward public schools. This year’s poll showed a 20-year high in terms of public support for public education.
Over the summer, Parents United teamed up with Action United to do legislative walks through City Hall and urge Councilmembers to take action on school funding before school opened.
In August, Supt. William Hite announced schools would not open without an additional $50 million from the City. (Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Parents United stood by teachers during an August SRC meeting where commissioners voted to suspend the school code and unilaterally eliminate protections.
Parents United and our colleagues at the Philadelphia Home and School Council partnered on a host of issues from the opposition to school closings, an ethics complaint about lobbying, the filing of formal complaints against the state for failing to uphold the school code, and a new campaign to call upon the Parking Authority to designate the pending sale of new cab licenses to Philadelphia’s schools. Thanks PHSC!
Parents United partnered with P.O.W.E.R. – an alliance of hundreds of faith-based congregations – to demand full funding for Philadelphia schools and the institution of a statewide funding formula. (Photo: Philadelphia Tribune)
Parents United’s Helen Gym speaks at the P.O.W.E.R. rally and vows that “the eyes of the nation should be on Philadelphia” and the shameful state of Philadelphia’s public schools.
Philadelphia’s school situation makes the front page of the New York Times with quotes from our leadership parents: Mark and Leslie Tyler, Helen Gym, and Tomika Anglin. The online accompaniment to the story included a full photo gallery and named Helen Gym as the Times quote of the day: “Nobody is talking about what it takes to get a child educated. It’s just about what the lowest number is needed to get the bare minimum. That’s what we’re talking about here: the deliberate starvation of one of the nation’s biggest school districts.”
The day before school opened, Parents United joined PCAPs and 100s of others in a march to support our schools.
School safety became a top concern as schools began to coordinate routes from closing schools to receiving schools. Parents United members like Lea Elementary Home & School President Maurice Jones became important voices in this work.
Parents United worked to draw attention to the impact of mass school closings on student safety. We helped bring American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten to Philadelphia. Randi, along with City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and State Rep. James Roebuck, walked with parents on a dangerous mile-plus walk crossing multiple unmonitored intersections. Parents United continued to support Lea/Wilson parents through months of organizing. The parents eventually won a bus for their children.
With the opening of school, Parents United launched a campaign to hold the state responsible for the shameful situation of Philadelphia’s schools. Working with more than 90 schools across the city, Parents United members attended open houses and Back to School Nights to gather more than 800 formal complaints against the state for violations of the state code guaranteeing a “thorough and efficient education.” This remains the largest filing of complaints ever in the state of Pennsylvania. Our focus was $45 million held by the state and due to Philadelphia schools. Within a month of filing the first several hundred complaints, the state restored the $45 million, returning nursing, counseling and special education services and personnel back to schools. Our complaints process however continues.
Parent Tonayia Coffer speaks at a September City Hall press conference on the school complaints process. Behind her stands parents Helen Gym, Kimberly Moore, and Tomika Anglin. Parents United partnered with elected officials City Councilman Bill Green and Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, who loaned their support to the complaints effort.
The complaints process activated school communities all across the city – like Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences where hundreds of complaints from families flowed in.
School counselors, teachers and parents worked together to inform parents about their rights and to get the complaints filed with the state.
An October rally in Feltonville focused on the complaints process and the school’s lack of a counselor and nurse and shortage of staff to address multiple needs and emergencies for the Feltonville school population.
In October, Parents United’s Helen Gym wrote an expose on a controversial effort by the Philadelphia School Partnership to push through a universal enrollment process that sought to privatize and control the enrollment of all students into District, parochial and charter schools. Outrage following the expose indefinitely postponed a planned rollout of UE in November 2013 and led to changes in PSP’s leadership and role in the Great Schools Compact.
AS Jenks parents kicked into high gear in November when they heard their school might lose another teacher. Parents United worked to support the Jenks community, which organized rallies and reached out directly to District officials. They saved their teacher and added to the number of voices calling out for parental, elected and civic involvement in schools.
Over a hundred parents, teachers, students and staff braved freezing temperatures at the Roosevelt Mall in December to rally the Northeast community around full and fair funding for schools. (Photos by Harvey Finkle)
Parents United leader and Fox Chase parent Tonayia Coffer helped organize the rally focusing on state funding of schools. (Photos by Harvey Finkle)
Parents United spoke out against the imposition of additional high stakes testing in schools. We testified at a state hearing opposing mandatory graduation exams known as the Keystones and are working with state legislators to allow for an opt-out process for parents. (Signe Wilkinson for the Philadelphia Daily News, 3/14/2012)
Public safety remains a key aspect of our work. Parents United met with Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey to address school safety issues and emphasize the need for responsible discipline and student engagement practices by school safety officers.
We went into the last part of the year on a high note. Philadelphia icon Fergus Carey and his wife Christine Chisholm hosted a legendary concert by dozens of Philadelphia musicians who recreated the final show of the 1970s group The Band. All proceeds went to support Philadelphia public education groups including Parents United for Public Education. Thank you Fergie and Christine!
We exited the year the way we started – standing side by side with our partners demanding full and fair funding of our schools and building a better Philadelphia as a result. In December we worked with a coalition of business, civic and disability rights groups to demand that a pending sale of $75 million in new taxicab licenses go toward expanding wheelchair -accessible cabs, a taxi drivers relief fund, and the Philadelphia schools. It is currently designated solely for the coffers of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Here we hold a December press conference with Ron Blount of the Philadelphia Taxiworkers Association (in photo), parent Susan Gobreski of Education Voters PA, Thomas Earle of Liberty Resources Inc. and Jerry Mondesire of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP. This campaign will continue into 2014. (Photo: WHYY Newsworks)
Thanks Philadelphia for a great year of parent activism. Parents Amara Rockar, Robin Roberts, Helen Gym and Tomika Anglin celebrate a Philebrity award honoring us as Non-Profit Organization of the Year. We promise to keep living up to that award!