UrbEd Advocates, Philadelphia student-led education advocacy group, to name new executive directors

Organization advocated for voting rights for the two student representatives sitting on the city’s Board of Education and filed lawsuit challenging the board’s speaker policy

Brandon Archer and Tamir Harper
Brandon Archer, left, will be named co-executive director of UrbEd Advocates. Tamir Harper, right, co-founder of the group, is stepping down as its executive director. (UrbEd Advocates)

Brandon Archer, a recent graduate of Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration High School, is going to be one of the new co-executive directors of UrbEd Advocates, a student-led education advocacy group in Philadelphia.

Archer also will be attending Swarthmore College as a McCabe Scholar in the fall. The nonprofit organization plans to launch a public search for the other co-executive director, who will be in charge of advocacy and programs. That position will be held by a Philadelphia high school student. 

UrbEd plans to formally announce its new leadership Friday. Tamir Harper, who co-founded the nonprofit organization in 2016, is stepping down as executive director. A student at American University in Washington D.C. and a 2018 graduate of Science Leadership Academy, Harper will transition into a leadership role as an advisor for the organization and will support other youth organizations across the country.

“Being Co-Ed brings my commitment to ensuring our team and programming is truly representative of the city,” Archer told Chalkbeat Thursday. “We are making sure our team consists of students from all schools, especially neighborhood schools. To be in advocacy is often a privilege and to be able to give the opportunity to students to do it and be compensated for their work is crucial. I am excited to bring my background in community leadership and racial organizing, to increase our funding opportunities and have UrbEd programs change how we think about youth-led movements.”

Under Harper’s leadership, the organization advocated for more power for the two student representatives sitting on Philadelphia’s Board of Education, arguing the student reps should be voting members. They argued students are denied a voice in the decision-making process despite being the ones most affected by the board’s decisions.

The students also wanted to create a 15-member student committee from diverse schools across the district to support and inform the two student representatives. They also expressed concern about getting information about action items in advance of board meetings and ensuring a smooth transition when student representatives change each school year.

Getting the vote for student reps on the board would require a ballot initiative to change the city charter, which states students are non-voting representatives. Such a move also would require a change to the state school code, which currently requires board members to be at least 18 years old. That would require legislative approval. 

Though the students received a groundswell of support from teachers, community organizers, and local politicians, the demands fell flat with the two outgoing student representatives.

Keylisha Diaz, a junior at Philadelphia Military Academy, and Toluwanimi Olaleye, a junior at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, said they would prefer to focus on their goal of getting resources for mental health services for students during the pandemic.

Thursday the school board installed two new student representatives Rebecca Allen and Armando Ortez for the 2021-2022 school year. Allen, is a rising junior at Central High School and Ortez, is a rising senior at Northeast High School.

In March, UrbEd joined the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools in a suit against the school board, arguing its speaker policy limiting public comments at meetings, violates Pennsylvania law. Local ACLU lawyers filed the suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of the two groups. Members of the organization were also critical of the district’s reopening plans.

Prior to joining UrbEd, Archer served as a founding chair member of the Philly Black Students Alliance. In his new role as co-executive director he will oversee administration and strategy. 

“We are excited for the energy and experience Brandon will bring to the lead role and look forward to supporting him as UrbEd expands its impact in urban schools,” said Sterling Grimes, board chair.

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