Parent Roundtables are a Step in the Right Direction

by Christopher Paslay


I must give the Philadelphia School District credit: They have publicly acknowledged that parental and community involvement is an important part of improving education in the city of Philadelphia.  Last Thursday night (11/6), Dr. Arlene Ackerman hosted the first in a series of monthly parent roundtables at district headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.  The roundtables are a forum for parents to share ideas with Dr. Ackerman and to ask questions about the district and its inner workings. 


“One of the things we have to do is to help you know what questions to ask,” Dr. Ackerman told the 200 parents who attended the meeting.  “There should be no surprises.”


Although there are over 167,000 students in the Philadelphia school District, 200 parents getting actively involved in the schooling of their children is a good start. 


The parent roundtables are part of Dr. Ackerman’s strategic plan to achieve excellence in the Philadelphia School District.  Dr. Ackerman detailed this plan in a message she posted on the district website entitled Excellence, Equity and Accountability 2014: A Strategic Plan for the School District of Philadelphia.  In this message Dr. Ackerman hopes “to achieve excellence, equity and accountability for everyone within the District with the ultimate goal of providing every District student with a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


To her credit, Dr. Ackerman also acknowledges that “this effort of creating an agenda for excellence, equity, and accountability by 2014 cannot be done without the support of the entire District as well as the Philadelphia community.”


Dr. Ackerman’s plan has three stages.


“The first stage of this endeavor will be a series of community meetings conducted in multiple languages throughout Philadelphia. The goal of these community meetings is to not only to share what the District has learned from its previous work but also to gather the experiences and recommendations from parents, students, and community leaders concerned about the future of our students.


The second stage of creating this plan will be to host a series of working groups with specific focus areas. These working groups will be charged with the task of determining a set of strategies and priorities to support the District in achieving its goals of excellence, equity, and accountability. Each of these working groups will include District leaders at all levels (central office, regional offices, principals, teachers, and support staff), parents, students, and community partners. As a District, we serve a diverse student population; it is equally critical that our working groups represent this diversity.


The third stage of creating this plan will be to return the suggested strategies to the community to ensure that we have created an agenda to achieve excellence, equity, and accountability that will ensure that every student receives a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


I’d personally like to get involved with the working groups at stage two.  I have a strategy I’d like to discuss with district leaders that involves improving the district from the inside-out, or in other words, that starts with the community and neighborhoods and works its way up to the schools.  My idea is very similar to what Geoffrey Canada is doing with his Harlem Children’s Zone.  And because Barack Obama is the president elect, NOW is the time to take that model and expand it to Philadelphia; Obama has already stated that he’d like to turn HCZ into a national model, and Philadelphia should lobby to be first on the list for funding.  Maybe this could be the job of  Lori Shorr and Sharen Tucker, Mayor Nutter’s “dynamic duo” of education.   


And I’m sure Dr. Ackerman is plenty familiar with HCZ.  She taught at Columbia University before coming to Philadelphia, and I’d have to believe she studied its success first hand. 


But I’ll blog about the reasons why Shorr and Tucker (and the SRC and Mayor Nutter and Ed Rendell and Dr. Ackerman) should start lobbying to get federal funding to bring the HCZ model to Philadelphia at a later date. 


For now, kudos to Dr. Ackerman and the SRC for getting parents more involved in their children’s educations.  If we can rally the neighborhoods of Philadelphia to support the district and its teachers, I’m sure we can bring excellence and equity to all public schools.