Students, teachers developing alternative to Philly school plan

Many students, teachers and community members have made it clear - they don't like the Boston Consulting Group's recommendations for overhauling the troubled Philadelphia School District.  They think the $4.4 million in private donations paid to the group was too much, and that the plan bypasses the on-the-ground wisdom of people who actually work in and attend city schools.

On Thursday, a group led by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change and Action United said they would work to develop an alternative - a grassroots plan for the district.

"As a youth leader, I come here today to tell you there are other options," said Kiara Garcia, a sophomore at Kensington CAPA High School.  "After years of being ignored, we are here to say: We will develop a plan that works for our district."

The plan - which has yet to be developed - was announced at a news conference outside Spring Garden Elementary.

Teachers' union chief Jerry Jordan said the plan would encompass the wisdom not just of the community, but of retired teachers, principals and superintendents - he did not say whom - would volunteer their expertise to help inform the process.

"Fixing education is not something you do by closing schools and shuffling children from one failing experiment to another," Jordan said.

In order to avoid insolvency, boost student achievement and overhaul operations, BCG officials recommended closing dozens of district schools and organizing the remaining ones into "achievement networks" - groups of 20-25 schools run either by district staff or by outside, nonprofit groups, such as charter organizations or universities.  

The achievement network concept in particular has drawn criticism, with some labeling it "privatization" of public education.

The global management firm also recommended massive changes to union contracts. 

BCG staff studied the district for six months before arriving at their recommendations, but the community groups objected to the lack of student, teacher and community voice in the plan.

District mother Kia Hinton, whose children attend Longstreth Elementary and Bartram High School as well as Richard Allen Prep Charter, said her children have suffered for years and deserve better.

"For years, my children have done the best they can in schools that have not have the resources to provide them with even the bare minimum of a quality education, and in the last year we have seen these resources further depleted," said Hinton, a member of Action United.

Hinton took particular exception to the district's plan to close schools - about 40 by 2013, then roughly five more every year through 2017.

"My children will not benefit from the closure of their schools or neighboring schools, will not benefit from the lack of oversight and accountability that is synonymous with privatization, and will not benefit from the attacks on unions that threaten to make their teachers' and support staffs' already challenging jobs even harder," Hinton said.

Organizers said they will present their plan to the SRC and the public by the end of the school year, and said they will begin to gather input at a community engagement session on September 22.