Helen Gym

School Destruction Video: "If we fail, we will have to console more families who have lost their children to crime and despair."

Last night, as reported by the Notebook, the Inquirer and others, I attended the first (I think) of what will be many mass meetings about the Nutter/Knudsen plan to radically alter public education in the city.

From the Notebook:

Several hundred people gathered at historic Mother Bethel AME Church on Lombard Street Sunday night to decry plans put forward by District staff and consultants to close dozens of schools, expand charters, and reorganize the School District into “achievement networks” primarily run by private entities.

A succession of preachers roused the gathering and put public officials on notice that their voices would be heard before any such radical restructuring would be allowed to take place.

“This system is being designed to fail, and fail our children,” said the Rev. Kevin Johnson of Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The meeting was organized by POWER Philadelphia, a faith-based organizing group doing work around several issues including education. Many of the speakers invoked the language of civil rights and called the plan the new Jim Crow, destined to consign Black and Latino children to permanent second-class educations.

“The most important civil rights issue of our time, that is public education,” said Johnson.

We will have plenty on the substance of this plan, but, for now, watch two preachers lead the crowd at Mother Bethel (video from Techbook Online). The first, Dr. Kevin Johnson, leads one of the more historic churches in our city, Bright Hope Baptist Church.

The second speaker is not, in fact, ordained, but, she is our preacher, and she should look pretty familiar:

Well said.

Hearings, and not hearing

The state Human Relations Commission has voted to investigate whether there was actionable discrimination involved in the situation at South Philadelphia High, and held a preliminary meeting yesterday. Reports from the meeting (including here) show the district superintendent still not willing to hear what some communities are saying about their experiences at the school.

Instead Ackerman seems to be actively trying to create narratives about what the problems are and aren't, and which are the "real faces" of the school:

Ackerman had booked a bus and brought along a number of South Philadelphia High "student ambassadors" - predominantly African American students not involved in the Dec. 3 fights - to talk about their efforts to promote harmony at the school.

Absent were any Asian students who had been victims of the attacks or who had boycotted the school last month.

"We don't know" why Ackerman enlisted no Asian students who were involved in the strife or its aftermath, Glassman said.

Her spokesperson explained the display, weirdly:

"They were hearing from the community, but the community is just one side of the story," she said. "She wanted to make sure that the commissioners heard the students' side - that's one voice that has been silent."

Though I think I live just within the South Philadelphia High School's boundaries, I'm not directly part of any community affected by the conflicts at the school. So I am not invested or accountable in the same way others are, including Ackerman. But from this outside perspective, I am not sure what valid motivation there is for her continued intervention in this manner. (She seems unhappy about it as well, with comments like "this is taking up a lot of my time.")

The Ackerman approach reminds me somewhat of when people absurdly talk about "reverse racism," a fiction. Racism does not work symmetrically in two directions. Systemic power imbalances exist, and matter. Likewise, while all students matter and should be valued and heard ("I'm the superintendent of almost 200,000 kids, and I care about them all"), it is not somehow unfair that students and communities suffering violence and marginalization seized a temporary platform to voice their experiences and ask for redress. It's not unfair that they are organized. All people are not the same, all experiences are not the same, and things do not need to work the same way for everyone all the time. Systemic power imbalances exist, and matter.

While this has become a profoundly complex object lesson in racism, power, and inter-/intra-community violence for all involved and observing, it is sad that district administrators are such major players in that.

Council Budget Testimony: all should show up if they can

The Henry George Foundation signed up yesterday and submitted testimony. Our plan is to help bridge the gap between the Mayor and the council's competing proposals. With less than two weeks to go, many ideas are floating, but no common ground has been achieved. We proposed combing the sales tax increase with LVT using the current BRT assessments, thereby changing - albeit modestly - the sales tax increase into a "tax on foreigners living abroad". We got a lot of questions, and had the data broken out by District and then city-wide.

Council was disappointed at the lack of attendance, but at least we had the luxury of being asked in-depth questions and a request to the chair by Councilman Green for a fuller study was accepted by CP Verna.

Helen Gym gave a sharp and persuasive presentation on BRT employees skulking in School District corridors. Helen's command of the subject impressed many.

YOU decide who Philly For Change endorses for District Attorney

You have an opinion about the District Attorney's race, no?

You want a chance to express it?

Philly For Change gives you an opportunity Wednesday night at 7:00 at Tritone, 1508 South Street, as we vote on our important endorsement for District Attorney. If you've attended two meetups between April 2008 and March 2009, you're an eligible voter.

All of the Democrats, except Michael Turner who is not seeking endorsements, will be on the ballot.

Congratulations to Helen Gym, The Inquirer's 2007 Citizen of the Year!

Congratulations to Helen Gym, The Inquirer's 2007 Citizen of the Year!
From today's Inquirer:

Editorial | Helen Gym
This inclusionary leader has tirelessly fought to improve city schools.

Mayor-elect Michael Nutter could've just taken a bow last week after the announcement that the city and schools would get an extra $2.71 million this year from the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
Instead, the man who wants citizens to stand up and help him to make the city better shared the limelight with people who are doing just that: Parents United for Public Education.

"The parents deserve a tremendous amount of credit," Nutter said. "They came upon this issue, focused on this issue, and drew some serious attention to it, and they are the true champions here."

Parents United has spent the last two years speaking out at School Reform Commission meetings, poring over budgets, pushing City Council to commit more resources to education, and insisting that the Parking Authority live up to its promise to help fund city schools.

While this is undeniably a team effort, the voice of one Parents United member stands out:

Helen Gym, The Inquirer's 2007 Citizen of the Year.

Here's a bit of that voice:

"It's crazy to think in this day and age that asking for music in a child's life is radical. That it is radical and revolutionary to demand a qualified teacher, or science labs and decent bathroom facilities, or healthy fresh food in lunchrooms. . . .

"If these things are radical, then all of us need to become militant to our core."

Read more at http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20071223_Editorial___Helen_Gym.ht..., photo property of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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