Community voices: some see room for improvement on equity issues

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Notebook asked parents and community activists of diverse backgrounds with connections to the School District’s predominantly nonwhite schools to talk about any differences in the level of support for those schools versus schools with more White students – and about what can be done to improve school equity districtwide. Here are some of the responses.

Lisette Agosto Cintrón
Education Campaign Director, ASPIRA

I see differences in schools with majority Latinos, African Americans and other bilingual kids. The District needs to increase parent and community involvement, and there’s been positive change in that direction, especially since [Chief Academic Officer] Dr. Thornton arrived. The District started a community roundtable for organizations representing different ethnic groups. I’ve raised the issue of finding publishers that sell textbooks geared to Puerto Rican history. The goal is to get action out of this. The most important thing? Fix the mess that is called bilingual education.

Carol Hemingway
President, Pennsylvania ACORN

ACORN did a bus tour two years ago that still has many people shaking their heads. We took Paul Vallas with us to Gillespie Middle School, [in North Philadelphia], and then to Baldi Middle School in the Northeast. The differences were startling. Gillespie had … an aging building, barred windows and locked doors. Even the library was locked…. Baldi was modern with a lot of resources. ACORN put that in front of Paul Vallas and demanded action.

But the challenge is not to get lost in the race issue. School equity means organizing parents to pressure the District to hire good, qualified teachers to come into low-performing schools and stay there. ACORN is pushing the District to develop teaching talent from within its own ranks … a Grow-Your-Own project. This would be about developing non-traditional-track teachers who have a vested interest in our communities and a willingness to learn. [Too many teachers] get in their cars and drive home.

Sue Ann Ramirez
Parent, two sixth graders, McKinley School

My children attend a school that’s half Latino, half African American. I feel comfortable with where my kids’ school is in terms of providing resources. I do not feel that kids who attend schools with a greater majority of White kids get more resources. I would like to see the District expand the kinds of books they offer to kids and get more material on Spanish-speaking culture.

Julio Lopez
Parent, seventh grade, Vaux Middle School

There is definitely a difference … the education is completely different. I can’t tell you about the [mostly] White schools. My kid and my friends, all their kids are in Latino and Black schools, but it looks like our kids aren’t getting the right things to motivate them – things like sports, extracurricular activities, clubs. Activities that make them want to learn. Suggestions to improve my son’s school would be more computers.

Foster parent, Webster Elementary

There’s a difference in schools with majority nonwhite versus white schools. Just look at a playground during lunch or dismissal. In schools with large numbers of Latinos and African Americans… the kids are running around screaming … and the attitude seems to be, “That’s expected of certain cultures.” Safety, security and developing discipline should begin with a strong show of authority – both on the teacher’s part – and by placing a police car outside every schoolyard each morning and afternoon. The District is not responding to foster kids, and many nonwhite schools have a large proportion of them.

Karin Bivins
Education Director, NAACP

To increase the quality of the school climate and environment, the District must demand all principals, in every community, write “serious incident reports” every time a student breaks a rule or makes a threat. This is not about trying to avoid looking bad. Too many of us tolerate nonsense.

[In terms of resources,] a District survey could determine how many books, computers, librarians, counselors, etc., are available in the whole District. Then we should give lower-performing schools additional supports.