Spring Garden parent Sheila Armstrong speaking at City Hall press conference
Today, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools announced their comprehesive community schools vision and platform , developed by over the last year by a group of public school parents, educators, service providers, university partners and community organizations working with or in public schools. This platform outlines clear, concrete next steps that will ensure real Community Schools are built across the City, providing transformational education and resources to our neediest neighborhoods.
“We reached out during the last election cycle to candidates, calling for them to embrace a Community Schools initiative. We are here today to share the fruit of that work,” said Ron Whitehorne, retired teacher and PCAPS coordinator. “First, we applaud Mayor Kenney and Council President Clarke for their commitment to a community schools initiative. We hope to work with them as well as the School District to fashion a community schools plan.”
As an initial step, the group called for the City to establish a funded planning process led by a city-wide task force that includes parents, students, teachers and other school staff, community organization leaders, and city agency leaders. The group asserted that the task force should be charged with developing Philadelphia’s inclusive and effective plan for community schools, including fleshing out the ongoing governance structure, long-term funding, program components, school selection criteria, performance metrics, and processes and templates for partnership contracts.
The PCAPS plan also calls for embracing a vision of community schools that goes beyond a lowest common denominator. “What has been emphasized to date is the development of partnerships housed in the school that provide support and services to students and families,” stated Ron Whitehorne. “That is critical, but we believe other things are essential as well, including a democratic culture and structure that draws on the energy and special knowledge of all elements of the school community… students, parents, teachers and neighborhood leaders.”
A series of speakers talked about why they saw community schools as a critical need. Sheila Armstrong, a parent leader from Spring Garden elementary and co-chair of the POWER Education Committee, talked bout the gains a community schools approach has brought at the school. “The leaders at Spring Garden School determined that one way we can see our students succeed is to find community resources to help our families with their issues that were not school related,” she explained, “The benefits we saw in the past three years were a reduction in missed days from school due to illness or medical appointments, the doctor’s visits to the school taught our children how to keep themselves healthy, we saw an increase in parent participation at the school which helped decrease the number of suspensions and behavioral problems we were having. And we have seen increase growth every year in our student’s academic success since we have bought community resources in the school.”
Christine Del Rossi, a teacher at Willard Elementary talked about the efforts underway at the Kensington school to build partnerships. Explaining her own involvement in this work, Del Rossi said, “I love the vision of having Community Schools in our city because they create the possibility of meeting the needs of all our children, but most importantly, the neediest children: a wonderful place where their academic, physical, social, and emotional needs will be met. I love the vision of Community Schools because they will aide in building the bridge for better partnerships between parents, the community, and teachers. I love the vision of Community Schools because public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. They are worth fighting for and transforming.”
Kia Philpot Hinton, parent and leader of Action United, underlined the need for community schools to give real power to historically disenfranchised communities. “Black and brown communities should have the same access to power and decsion making that middle class, white communities take for granted,” Hinton said. For PCAPS the fight for community schools is part of the unfinished legacy of the Brown decision and the struggle for racial equality in our schools and throughout our society.
Consistent with this, ending the school-to-prison pipeline and promoting restorative practices is part of the PCAPS platform. Parents United leader Kendra Brooks was scheduled to speak on this, but becuase of illness in her family was unable to make it.
The support of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been critical in pushing community schools towards the front of the city’s education agenda. PFT President Jerry Jordan talked about his visit to Cincinnati and how the approach taken there could work here.” “Community schools are a great way to make sure students and their families receive wraparound services that can include everything from social services to dental and vision care,” Jordan said. “Philly’s educators are excited about this great chance to strengthen student supports in our city’s neighborhood schools.”
Comegys school coordinator Daniel Merin talked about the achievements and remaining challenges as that school moves toward becoming a full blown community school. Andrea DiMola, Director of the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative, a non-profit that is building partnerships with neighborhood schools in South Philadelphia, expressed excitement at the prospects for a new and productive relationship between schools and the city’s non profit sector.
The last speaker was just inaugurated Councilwoman Helen Gym who praised the group for pressing to see that students,parents, educators, and community members are at the table when decisions get made. She graciously invited the whole assembled group to get out of the cold and come up to her fifth floor office to talk more, and most people took her up on it.
In closing Ron Whitehorne urged people to get involved in this work by joining the PCAPS community school task force, ably chaired by Evette Jones of the PFT and Rebekah Phillips from the Media Mobilizing Project. For our demands, a short version of our platform and many resources related to community schools go to the community schools task force page elsewhere on this site.