Muñoz-Marín parents vote decisively to keep school within the District

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

Updated | 3:50 p.m.: Superintendent William Hite announced that Muñoz-Marín will remain a traditional District school, saying, “Parents and guardians have chosen a path for their school and we are going to support their choice and quickly move forward with the very important work of improving outcomes for students at Muñoz Marín.”

A long, lively day of voting at Muñoz-Marín School in North Philadelphia ended with a decisive victory for the school’s current administration, with parents rejecting a proposed match with a charter provider, ASPIRA, and electing to remain under District management.

“It’s 223 for traditional public school and 70 for ASPIRA,” spokesperson Fernando Gallard announced at 7:45 Thursday night to a roar of delight from the school’s jubilant supporters and staff.

In a separate vote Thursday, parents on Muñoz-Marín’s School Advisory Council also voted to reject ASPIRA, 11-0.

“We were right. And we won,” shouted Vivian Rodriguez, a retired teacher and vocal supporter of the school, as Muñoz-Marín supporters danced and chanted around her. “You know what 11-0 means? That means, ‘in your face!’”

Principal Ximena Carreño was likewise exhilarated.

“It’s a big thing,” she said, beaming. “For me, it’s like, I don’t know, a miracle. The community was with us, all the time. I’m very tired – but I’m so happy. So happy.”

ASPIRA officials left quickly after the vote was counted. The provider had not been optimistic going in, but CEO Alfredo Calderon said he felt they had done the best they could. “We’re OK,” Calderon said before the vote. “We’re comfortable with the job we did.”

Heidi Gold of the League of Women Voters, which oversaw the vote, said that the balloting went off without a hitch. “A perfect day,” she said, with only a few minor issues, such as the occasional ineligible voter or missing ID.

The League also oversaw the SAC vote, which was equally trouble-free — unlike last month’s SAC vote at Steel Elementary. At Steel, District officials didn’t report the number of eligible SAC voters until the last minute, resulting in some SAC members being turned away. District officials also monitored the vote themselves without outside observers, and their alleged mishandling of the votes triggered grievances from Steel supporters.

In contrast, at Muñoz-Marín, District officials determined SAC voting eligibility days ago, allowing SAC president Maria Cruz to make sure that all the eligible voters were present. Gold said the SAC vote went thoroughly by the book: “You could have heard a pin drop in there,” she said.

About one-third of 1,000 eligible voters cast ballots – “better than most Philadelphia elections,” said one teacher with a smile.

The scene was a lively one, with supporters for both sides bustling about and chatting with voters, passing cars honking horns, and parents sporting “I Voted” stickers as they headed home.

The school’s support included union organizers and volunteers from the Philadelphia Coalition for Public Schools (PCAPS). ASPIRA had staff and supporters of its own on hand.

And unlike the scene at Steel, election day at Muñoz-Marín featured an active showing of local politicians, all supporting the school’s current administration.

A sound truck provided by Leslie Acosta, the District’s Democratic nominee for the General Assembly (virtually assured of victory in November), drove through the neighborhood all day, urging residents to “get out and vote! Let’s keep this school public!” She and her father, Ralph, a longtime activist and former state senator, were on hand to press the pro-public message, as was local ward leader Carlos Matos.

The polls closed at 7 p.m., and the ballot-counting began.

It wasn’t long before a burst of cheers came from the building, where word of the SAC vote had just leaked out. Inside, Muñoz-Marín supporters began to dance and chant while waiting for Gallard to provide the final tally. At 7:45 p.m. he made the official announcement, triggering a fresh round of cheers and delight from the parents, staff, and school supporters crowded in Muñoz-Marín’s front hall.

None was happier than Cruz, the SAC president, who had been accused by ASPIRA of personally blocking its efforts to get SAC members eligible to vote. ASPIRA filed a written complaint about Cruz just days before the election.

That complaint did not result in any response from the District, and in the end, it appears that almost all SAC members became eligible and voted. “I fought for the parents!” she shouted, hugging friends and supporters in delight.

The two-month campaign, which grew increasingly contentious as election day neared, was not without its cost for the winning side.

Principal Carreño thinks she’ll probably lose some teachers next year, because site-selection deadlines required them to start looking for new jobs before knowing Muñoz-Marín’s fate. Her already-overworked staff was stressed by the process, she said. And her plans for school improvements will take money that’s yet to be found.

But for now, Carreño said, she’ll get some rest, and then get started on the next chapter. “The Marín family,” she promised, “will be working together to get better and better and better.”