Steel parents win decisive vote to keep school public


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On May 1, 176 parents at Steel Elementary School – the last public school in Nicetown – voted on whether to remain a District public school or be turned over to the city’s largest charter operator, Mastery Charter Network. More than 70 percent of parents – 121 vs. 55 – voted to keep the school public and District-managed. Mastery Charter Network did not even muster one-third of the popular parent vote, despite an aggressive year-long effort to claim Steel for itself.  A botched School Advisory Council vote resulted in a split 9-8 vote in favor of the charter. At least two grievances have been filed against this vote. The School Reform Commission will make a final determination on the school May 29. Many thanks to photographer Harvey Finkle for photo gallery above. See our video about Steel School with Media Mobilizing Project below! 

Parents United for Public Education Statement on Decisive Parent Victory Vote at Steel School

Today the parent community of Steel School rejected a message of fear, failure and disinvestment and stood up for their school, their community and for public education. In a decisive parent victory, 70% of parents voted to keep Steel – the last public school in Nicetown – a District-managed public school. A disgraced 9-8 SAC vote in favor of Mastery – in which more than 80 percent of SAC applicants were disqualified on the day of the vote – underscores even more how suspect the process was and how decisively the parents voted. Mastery could not even muster one third of the votes despite campaigning for more than a year.

The power of parent voice in this decision cannot be underscored. Parents went up against a District – and in particular the efforts of Deputy Supt. Paul Kihn – who had been operating less than honestly around the establishment of achievement networks run by third-party providers. Parents refused Paul Kihn’s punishing message of shame and failure. He used test scores and lack of resources as a battering ram to divest the District of its central responsibility to educate the children in its care. In doing so, parents did not just expose the hollow promises of rapidly expanding charter operators. They demanded a new vision from school leaders who are altogether wholly lacking in any District public school vision.

They also exposed the fallacy of the bizarre narrative that massive charter expansion is fueled by parents “voting with their feet.” Twenty of the District’s 86 charter schools are Renaissance charter takeovers. They are the major reason behind the 50% growth in charter expansion in the past two years alone. Parents are not “voting with their feet.” They are standing up and resisting a massive shift in charter policy in the third largest charter District in the nation. More people should be listening to our parent voices.

Parents United for Public Education has had a long-standing relationship with the community surrounding Steel School. Steel School is amazing for so many reasons, not the least of which is the strength of the community, their parents and staff, and the stability of their leadership. But even beyond that, the parents there today embody the very ideals of what makes parent activism so powerful. Under unimaginable circumstances, ordinary parents reaffirmed what it means to be a public school, to talk about public resources and public institutions not just as failed or archaic efforts to be discarded but as central places of engagement and transformation.

We are honored to stand beside them and to be reminded once again, what it means to be #SteelStrong.


Photo: Parents United
Photo: Parents United

Statement by Kendra Brooks, Steel School Advisory Council President on parent vote

Steel parents sent a clear message to the School District of Philadelphia: Steel Elementary will remain a public school. We ask the District and SRC to act immediately to honor this decision by the parents so that parents and our Steel community can get back to educating and supporting our children.

This process has been hard, but we as parents spoke with a clear voice. I want to thank every parent who participated in the general election whether or not you voted for Steel; your voices were heard.  I want to encourage every parent to continue to support and get involved with our school and its team – the success of our children is not only dependent on the teachers but on you, the parent.

In the weeks ahead, we intend to meet with Dr. Hite and his leadership team to discuss adequate funding for our school. Steel will not remain underfunded another year. The District currently funds Steel at just $3.9 million a year. Mastery would have won a $6 million contract for this school. That $2 million difference must be made available to Steel school. If the District was willing to spend it on a charter operator, it must also invest it when parents reject that charter and demand a fully funded public school. We believe that with fair funding, adequate resources, strategic partnerships, and community support, we will move Steel toward a successful high achieving neighborhood public school where all students are accepted.

As a community, we showed that despite an attempt to divide our school, we came together as a unified community. Our relationships became stronger. We valued our teachers and staff more and found incredible community partners. Parents rallied around Steel because we believe in our school, we believe in our staff, and we believe that the future of this community depends on having a quality public school in our neighborhood. Once again, despite all the odds, we prove we are truly Steel Strong.

Thank you.

Kendra Brooks, SAC president
May 2, 2014


May 2, 2014
Statement by Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown
Charisma Presley, founder and president
Although this conversation was packaged as “School Choice,” in reality it was Mastery Choice. Yesterday the parents made a choice, and they choose Steel School Leadership Team. Even when the district established a process and repeatedly broke its own rules and made up new ones that accommodated their errors, benefited Mastery and silenced the voice of the community – the parents remained vigilant and their voices now echo throughout the halls of Steel and the streets of Nicetown – WE ARE STILL STEEL STRONG. Can you hear it?!
We ask that the district honor the Steel SAC request for an investigation into the disqualification of 80% of the SAC votes but we ask that they move immediately to honor the recommendations of the Steel Parents to keep the school under Steel Leadership. We are also asking for the $6 million promised to Mastery as a contract to be reinstated to Steel School. If you were willing to give Mastery $6 million to operate the school with the same number of students, you cannot give any less to a school run by your own team.
This need for a turnaround for Steel, manufactured simply to offer another feeder school for Mastery, has been mismanaged and botched from the beginning. Enough already. Now our community can get back to the work at hand which is educating our children and supporting our schools. It is time for us to heal. It is time for every community member to offer time, resources, ideas, and commitment to the future generation of Nicetown.
We thank every one of our community members and parents who joined regardless of sides. Your engagement was vital in bringing awareness to this major issue and supporting our most precious resource – our children and our public schools.
We are Steel Strong!

7 thoughts on “Steel parents win decisive vote to keep school public

  1. This is great news. I applaud all the outstanding families who fought for this and won!!

  2. Kudos to all of the Steele Parents and Parents United for standing up against our corrupt SDP. This shows that justice can overcome all… Great News Helen and ALL PARENTS….

  3. After a district is saturated with charters “choice” disappears. It leaves too many parents of ELL students and special ed students with no where to send their children to school. That also goes for many low income families that have had their neighborhood schools closed. So what is left are warehouses for those children unable to get into a charter school. The whole charter “reform” movement is a lie and people who buy into it end up finding out the truth too late after their Public Schools have been closed. People think before you do away with a system that has served this country (not perfectly by any means) for 200 hundred years. What Public Education is a system that belongs to the people and it is how people support and value that education determines whether it is good or bad. Privatized schools do not belong to the people or the community they belong to the corporation and its investors and they decide what education will be offered. If you are dissatisfied go somewhere else because you have no say.

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