SRC: Public engagement. We mean it.

New SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos at Wednesday's meeting.

I had a "where am I?" moment at the most recent School Reform Commission meeting.

There were commissioners sitting at a long table in the front of the Philadelphia School District's auditorium.  There was an agenda, presentations, resolutions, an award handed out to a star high school senior.

But it was a decidedly different vibe from the SRC meetings I'd become accustomed to sitting through over the past three-plus years. After presentations on Renaissance schools and a new compact with charter organizations, the SRC took questions from the audience.

That may seem like a little thing, but it wasn't. 

The message I'm hearing from the SRC is: we want meaningful public engagement.  We mean it.  We will take it seriously.  We want you to trust us.

In that vein, they sent out a letter to "parents, grandparents, guardians, students, and friends of students" urging people to make their voices heard on the district's proposed school closings and grade reconfigurations. That's significant - it's the first time I've ever seen a letter signed by every member of the SRC go out to parents.

"School closings provoke real and reasonable concern," they wrote.  "District planners and the members of the School Reform Commission [SRC] want to hear those concerns and learn from them to make this plan the best it can be.  Please know that although this plan comes on the heels of much unwanted change and churn in our educational community, these recommendations have been crafted with care for our children, teachers and staff.

"At one of last month's SRC meetings, a concerned citizen spoke peace and blessing and urged us to create processes that honestly invite the public in to each crucial decision about our children's learning.  The following schedule has been created to do just that.  From now until February, our community will discuss the proposals throughout the city.  Then in March, members of the School Reform Commission will vote for facilities changes that we believe will make a better match between district buildings and the important work that goes on inside them."

(An aside: the letter was beautifully written.  Read like the work of Lorene Cary, SRC member and novelist.)

Worth noting: the meetings will be streamed on the Internet or recorded so others can watch.  SRC members will attend "as many meetings as possible."

Of course, district watchers know that a lot of promises get made to parents and the community, and not all of them are kept.  But many think that for now, the SRC seems to be not just saying the right things, but doing them, too.