What is the SRC thinking?
For the most part, the current Philadelphia School Reform Commission plays its cards close to the vest. Other than occasionally offering comments when voting on a resolution or listening to a staff presentation at an SRC meeting, Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Commissioners Johnny Irizarry, Joseph Dworetzky and Denise McGregor Armbrister rarely speak out.
But at a special meeting last week, parent Christine Carlson had an unusual request during the public comment portion. “I’d like to know what you’re thinking,” she asked Archie and Irizarry, the two commissioners left at the meeting. (A third, Denise McGregor Armbrister had voted earlier by phone.)
Carlson, whose children attend Greenfield Elementary in Center City, asked about what the school district is doing to keep middle class families in the city. She said it would be helpful to know what the SRC's philosophies were as they made decisions about the district.
There was a confused silence for a minute - this sort of back-and-forth responding to the public thing is not often done! - but Irizarry took a crack at it first.
“I try to look at what’s fair to all the children of the city,” he said. Irizarry went on to say that he personally believes the Philadelphia School District has historically failed poor and minority children, and that his number one priority is creating equity. (That’s been the single biggest driver of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman’s agenda, too, and it’s created some controversy in recent months, as the district copes with a massive budget shortfall.)
Irizarry said he understands that there are competing interests.
“I incredibly struggle with that every single day of my life,” he said.
Archie, who routinely declines media requests to offer comment, stating that he’s “a volunteer,” said that his two years on the SRC have shown him how much public education has changed since he was in school 60 years ago.
Many parents “want the school district to become surrogate parents,” he said. Years ago, there was no free transportation, no free meals, bigger classes, higher student-to-counselor ratios.
“Keeping people in the city and families in the city will only improve if more parents get involved,” Archie said.