Plan for 3 more charters draws protests, counterprotests

A long line of students, teachers, parents and school administrators wait to enter the Board of Education building on Broad Street to attend the School Reform Commission meeting.

Before the School Reform Commission could start its scheduled meeting Thursday, the School District's plan to hand over several struggling schools to charter operators drew demonstrators and counter-demonstrators to the steps of district headquarters on North Broad Street.

On one side, about 150 parents, teachers, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, State Rep. Curtis Thomas, and Philadelphia NAACP president Minister Rodney Muhammad were cheered as they spoke passionately in opposition to turning public schools into charters.

"This is a dangerous arrangement for our children, it's a dangerous arrangement for public education," Muhammad said. "The NAACP is here to shut the SRC down. They're nothing but an advertising agency for privatizing education in Philadelphia."

On the other side: About 150 people, including many parents. One of them, Jathiya Singleton, could not comprehend the depth of emotion.

Her three children, ages 7 to 10, attend Wister Elementary in Germantown, one of three schools the district has targeted for charter management.

Student altercations, crowded classrooms, lackluster instruction, and her children begging to go to another school convinced Singleton, 29, that Wister should be turned over to Mastery Charter Schools, just as Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recommended in January.

"I don't know what they're fighting for. I literally don't see what they're fighting for," Singleton said.

"Everything that I have seen and know about Mastery and what they're offering is everything that I want for my children," she said after testifying in support of Mastery. "Wister is not hitting any mark that I have set for my children. I just want better, my children just want better."

In an interview during the dueling rallies, Mastery CEO Scott Gordon made a case for taking over struggling schools.

"We have been lucky enough to get federal grants, we've been lucky enough to get other supporters, and we invest in our teachers and our families, and that's why Mastery has been successful," Gordon said.

Mastery educates about 10,000 students in 12 charters in the city, he said.

Although the five-member SRC is not expected to vote until next month on whether to turn over Wister, Cooke Elementary in Logan, and Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia to charter companies, the protesters said opposition must stay on the front burner.

They said schools should not be turned over to outside organizations looking to profit off public schools.

Kenya Nation-Holmes, 38, the mother of two Wister students, said lack of parental involvement was the root of the school's problems.

"I don't hate charter schools or Mastery, I hate the way the School District didn't ask us," she said.

Others said some schools given to charter operators perform no better than similar schools under district management.

"I'd like to put emphasis on the word company, because that's all these charter schools are, businesses under the guise of nonprofits and our children are nothing more than inventory," said Danielle Campbell, mother of a Cooke student. 215-854-4172 @mensahdean