There is probably only one thing that aligns all education advocates. This ensures that the voices of parents and students are heard. It is essential for building and maintaining school communities that truly serve every student. But parent engagement that focuses on a single school, student, or policy can sometimes create messages that perpetuate evil.
Earlier this month, at the monthly Education Council meeting, many parents and students spoke out against changes to the school selection process. They continued on Wednesday in a city council hearing, called by Republican city councilor David Oh. Many speakers mentioned neighborhood schools. Sadly, none of the speakers discussed these pillars of their community with anything but rejection and ridicule. These schools – teeming with loving teachers and staff, convenient and bound to welcome all students without nominations, test scores or lotteries – were mentioned as the fate all speakers were trying to avoid.
At the same meeting, we also heard from student organizers that in their day-to-day experience in special admission schools, teachers and staff use the threat of sending students back to “their neighborhood school” to push them out. keep their notes. and attendance and as an incentive for good behavior.
We hope the speakers weren’t intending to disparage and harm the students, teachers, and staff who show up every day at schools in the Philly area, but they did. It stings to hear that people would be leaving town rather than going to the school our children attend every day.
READ MORE: Schools in Philly Changed Special Admission Process in the Name of Fairness, But Some Parents Say It Penalizes Children
There is much to blame for our state legislators and school district leaders for the conditions and condition of our neighborhood schools, but we cannot forget the role of parents, caregivers and students.
The majority of admissions-based schools have substantial parent groups who organize and fund many of the gaps left by dismal public funding and the lack of urgency to address issues of facilities and resources in schools by the government. school district. While these efforts are laudable, they have also increased inequalities between schools by giving heaps of money to some schools while leaving others without much needed support.
At the meeting, there was no recognition or advocacy for new facilities, equipment or equity for neighborhood schools by any of the speakers who disparaged them. If the number of people fighting against the changes in the special admissions policy came forward and asked these neighborhood schools what they needed and helped them get it, that would be a real start to changing the inequity that plagues our district.
Also, amid the outrage over the proposed change to the admissions process, many people miss other points in this discussion.
So far, we have not heard any meaningful conversation about how students from “under-represented” postcodes (also referred to as “systematically excluded and institutionally oppressed”) will be cared for upon admission to these schools in Canada. special admission. The school district has an appalling record in supporting students of color, who are often marginalized in special admission schools. Likewise, a school like Carver isn’t often recognized for its role as a historically black institution that has done a great job of providing a supportive space where black students thrive. There also doesn’t seem to be any effort to learn from neighborhood schools like Strawberry Mansion and Furness who have worked to create tight-knit communities that support the whole student.
As strong advocates for the voice of parents and students in every part of our school system, we believe the great chorus of outrage is stifling the real work that is needed to truly tackle inequality and transform our schools. Decreasing inequalities in our schools starts at the neighborhood level and that is where the focus should be, not a battle for admissions of a few students.
Zakia Royster-Morris is the mother of a neighborhood school student and a member of the Our City Our Schools coalition. Shakeda Gaines is the president of the Philadelphia Home & School Council.