On April 1, the School District of Philadelphia announced that its Renaissance-chosen charter operators Mastery Charter Network and ASPIRA, Inc. would be matched with Steel and Munoz-Marin Elementary schools located within these charter provider’s feeder pattern. Parents had less than one month before a school-wide vote on this process. The charter process has not been particularly welcoming to parents. The District charter office re-organized the parent-led School Advisory Council, directly accepting applicants outside its own rules. In a parent presentation last week, District officials painted a punishing portrait of Steel, calling it one of the worst schools in the city based on test data. But a comparison of test data with other struggling schools shows that not only is Steel far from the worst of Philly public schools; it has significant advantages in test scores even over Mastery schools, especially those that are nearby.
The parent vote will be held this Thursday, May 1st. Steel Elementary parent Kendra Brooks agreed to allow us to re-print her testimony before the School Reform Commission last Thursday.
“I am speaking today as the president of the Steel school SAC because I want what I’ve always wanted – whatever is best for my children and the children at Steel school. I have been a parent and volunteer and booster for Steel School for almost 20 years. Steel’s children are the reason I became part of the SAC, and that is the reason I have been working diligently as the SAC president.
When the district suddenly announced that they may be turning Steel into a Renaissance Charter that is controlled by Mastery, I continued to stay engaged and focused on making sure parents had a voice in doing what is best for our children. However I am very concerned about the efforts of the district and the charter office that seem like you want to make sure that Steel School is given to Mastery Charter.
I have been president of the Steel SAC for a year now. The charter office, however, does not respect our role. First of all, it required us all to re-apply for a new SAC process, with one of the requirements being that new members must visit a Mastery school during the two weeks before the vote or they will be ineligible to vote. In fact, long-time contributing SAC members who are unable to visit a Mastery school will now be eliminated from voting in favor of brand new members who may have done little for years. This push for new SAC members seems to want us to only infuse Mastery voters and not to actually increase parental involvement.
Undaunted by these unfair stipulations, we parents continued with the district’s guidelines and applied for membership in the school’s SAC according to the instructions on appendix B of the district’s voting policies and procedures manual. There it states that all applications must be submitted to the main office at Steel School by April 17th. After collecting approximately 60 applications from Steel school to deliver to the district, I discovered that 30 applications had already been received and accepted by the charter office, which disregarded its own clearly stated instructions on the application procedure. Moreover, the office did not even share the names of the other 30 SAC members until two days ago. Is the district working for our children or for the Mastery Corporation?
Mastery charter has sent paid staff and students from Mastery Gratz and Mastery Pickett schools into the Nicetown neighborhood to actively and aggressively contact eligible voters, community leaders, children and immediate family members of eligible voters regarding Mastery by going door-to-door, disseminating their literature, and making comments that our vote doesn’t count because you Mr. Kiln has already made a decision.
Last night, we had our first presentation at Steel School, 8 days before parents are to vote. Mr. Kihn, the message of save the poor failing children and families dooms day message that you projected was insulting to many families there who have done their best despite the fact that YOU do not live up to your responsibility to give us enough teachers, a librarian, a nurse, and a school police officer. We had 13 classroom assistants before you came to the district and now we have one. We have lost almost 20 staff members while adding a middle school parents did not want.
As annoying as you were, Mr. Scott Gordon’s message further disturbed me especially the comment about him wanting to help “poor people.” This is about Education; let’s keep it about that.
I agree that changes need to be made at Steel and no matter what happens on May 1, I expect and will hold the School District of Philadelphia to its educational responsibility to uphold and support the method of change selected by the parents of Steel. If parents vote to convert to Mastery so be it. But if we parents vote down this Mastery deal, we WILL be back here. Steel School will not accept the paltry handouts that have hurt schools all across this city. Instead of trying to create a “savior,” stop robbing us of our resources and restore our schools. Instead of bringing more division to a healing community, why don’t you try to fund the broken institution you have created. We are tired of your “save the poor” crusaders. WE are our own turnaround and transformation.
The district may think that giving this school to Mastery is a “done deal.” They may feel that by creating the illusion of a fair choice they can satisfy what they believe are uninformed parents and add to Mastery’s increasing takeover of our schools.
But we parents will have the final say. And no matter what this mistreatment of our students and deception of our families should not stand.”
We ARE Steel Strong!