PCAPS Community Schools Task Force Celebrates the Announcement of The First Cohort of Philadelphia Community Schools


photo credit: Craig Robbins.  Then candidate Jim Kenney at an ACTION United, PCAPS rally at Comegys Elementary in April last year announcing his committment to 25 community schools in his first term.


As the outgrowth of a coalition that has advocated for community schools for over four years, we are gratified to see that idea now becoming a reality in our city with the Mayor announcing the first cohort of nine community schools. We congratulate the Mayor’s office for it’s work over the last six months that has brought us to this point.

There has been an ambitious program of community engagement in which the community school strategy, its implementation, and criteria for selecting schools, have been widely shared and discussed. The fruit of that process is reflected in the plan announced today.

We are excited that the selection process emphasized schools that have developed a collaborative leadership and culture, thus maximizing the likelihood that these schools will implement this strategy successfully.

We also think the first cohort of schools gets high marks for balancing the need for geographic diversity, with a focus on communities of high need.

City Council deserves recognition as well, both for providing the funding in the form of the sugary drink tax, and for supporting a selection process in which political calculation was subordinate to getting the right mix of schools.

We plan to continue to work with school communities to advocate, from the ground up, transformative community schools strategy that includes democratic governance, engaging curriculum, and restorative practices. We will also continue to keep the broader public informed about the implementation of this strategy in order to further develop and sustain these efforts. Finally we hope to continue our constructive relationship with the Mayor’s office, helping with providing training for parents, students, educators and community partners, both in the schools that have been selected and those that will seek to be included in the future rounds.

We are proud that our coalition hosted then candidate Jim Kenney when he made his commitment to create 25 community schools in his first term, a campaign promise that is definitely on the way to being kept.

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Serious Questions About Great Oaks


Good reasons why we should reject the Great Oaks takeover of Cooke Elementary School.   We also need to see the plans for Huey and Wister!

Read the report from Helen Gym’s office here




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The Wister Community Schools Plan – An Alternative To Charter Takeover


Everyone recognizes Wister needs to improve in order to better serve our students and families. Not everyone agrees the only alternative is turning it over to a charter operator.

Experience shows schools improve when the commitment, energies and skills of teachers, parents and the entire community are brought together. Working together a group of parents and teachers have helped develop a plan to do just that.

The heart of this plan is the creation of a planning committee of parents, teachers and community members who would work with the administration over a year’s time to figure out what the school needs and identify the partnerships, policies and supports necessary to get it there. You can read the whole plan on the community schools task force page.

WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT A COMMUNITY SCHOOL? Community schools provide services and supports to help children and their families like health clinics, GED programs, and after school activities based on the needs of the community. Community schools emphasize community involvement and a voice for members in the governing of the school. Community schools recognize that children that are hungry, sick or traumatized will have problems learning.

WHO COMES UP WITH THE PLAN? Parents and teachers select representatives to serve on the planning committee. Parents and community members will be the majority. The committee will have a budget to do the necessary research. A full time coordinator is hired to carry out the plan.

WHO PAYS FOR COMMUNITY SCHOOLS? Other than the costs of the coordinator position there are no new costs to the school. There is new federal funding available for community schools. The costs of services are paid for by public and private partners that locate in the school.

WHAT ABOUT BETTER STAFFING AND MORE RESOURCES? Community schools are not a substitute for fully funded neighborhood schools with full time nurses, counselors, librarians, and enough teachers to lower class size. The fight to gain the funding from the state, city and federal government must continue.

This plan, along with similar ones for Cooke and Huey, have been submitted to the SRC by Wister parents. If you support this alternative please sign our open letter to the SRC

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Walk In at Wister – February 17th


photo credit: WHYY Newworks, Parents United

On February 17th people will stage “walk-ins” at hundreds of schools in over thirty cities demanding the schools our children deserve and an end to state takeovers, privatization and budget cutbacks. These policies have been promoted by Wall Street to enrich themselves. Rather than realize the promise of equal education for all, our country has moved backward as working class, black and brown communities have seen their schools closed or privatized and services cut. The national action is being sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), a broad coalition of labor and community based organizations.

Here in Philadelphia an unelected, unaccountable, state imposed School Reform Commission has slashed staffing, closed schools, and turned others over to charter operators . This year three elementary schools, Cooke, Huey and Wister, have been targeted. Parents and the community have been shut out from the decision making and at Huey and Cooke, charters with questionable records have been selected. At Wister the District cancelled the plan to give the school to Mastery Charter after their data showed the school had made significant improvements and no longer warranted drastic intervention. But the SRC, catering to the Philadelphia School Partnership and Mastery, overrode Superintendent Hite and put Wister back on the list.

As part of this national action come out and support parents and school staff at Wister, Cooke and Huey. Gather for coffee and donuts and a rally in the Wister school yard, 67 E. Bringhurst St., beginning at 7:45.




The SRC will take the final vote in April. We have to continue to mobilize to defeat this plan. This is an important moment for future of public education in our city.  We call on City Council, the Mayor and the Governor to speak out in favor of these demands.

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From Parents United for Public Education, http://www.parentsunitedphila.com

• POOR ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE Global Leadership, according to the District’s own standards, gets low marks for student achievement and progress. It is in the “Intervene “ category, the ranking for schools that are considered failing. When compared to similar schools, it is ranked 19th out of 29. Why would a school with this rating be chosen to turnaround another school?

• HIGH PERCENTAGE OF UNCERTIFIED AND INEXPERIENCED TEACHERS Huey currently has a staff that is 100% certified with an average of 9.59 years of teaching experience. Almost 20% of GLA teachers are uncertified with an average of 3.61 years of experience. Teacher quality matters. Why go backwards?

• A PAST RECORD OF MISMANAGEMENT AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST In 2006 the CEO and the chief financial officer of what was then Raising Horizons Quest Charter School pleaded guilty to covering up the defrauding of taxpayers to cover their personal expenses The Board hired a consulting firm led by the current CEO, Naomi Booker, paying them over 200,000 dollars to reorganize as Global Leadership with Booker as the new CEO.

• HIGH SALARY FOR SCHOOL CEO Naomi Booker was hired in 2009 at a salary of $190,000, exceeding the compensation of District principals. Regional superintendents, responsible for supervising groups of schools earned an average base salary of $137,917 at the time. At a time when schools have cut back staff can we afford this?


Everyone recognizes Huey needs to improve. But this doesn’t mean the school needs to be turned over to a charter company, which would get rid of one of the school’s greatest assets – its experienced and dedicated teaching and support staff. Parents and teachers have worked to develop an alternative community plan that would draw on the strength and expertise of parents, teachers and the surrounding community. Let’s tell the SRC to give OUR PLAN a chance.


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What Every Parent Should Know About Great Oaks Charter

The following is a slightly edited leaflet produced by Parents United



Steve Klinsky                                        Michael Duffey

Michael Duffey and Steve Klinsky are the NYers behind Great Oaks who led the failed for-proft charter Victory Education Partners

Don’t be fooled.  Get the facts on who’s behind Great Oaks Charter.

Their managment team had a failed 8 year run in Philly.   Now they’re back for more.   Here are the facts:

They’re tied to a for profit company.

  • Great Oaks founders and board are tied to a for-profit charter company called Victory Education Partners.
  • In NYC Victory takes as much as $2100 per student in fees

They’re a “no excuses”charter with high rates of suspension and expulsion.   In NYC at one Victory school 118 third graders started in 2005.   Only 30 remained by 6th grade.

They have a track record of failure

  • Philadelphia: Victory ran for-profit schools from 2002-2010 until finally shut down for poor performance
  • Albany: Victory’s New Covenant Charter was shut down in 2010 for poor performance, high student and teacher turnover, and money problems
  • Long Island: State blocked Victory from opening a charter.
  • New York City: Victory’s charter schools placed in bottom 20% of all schools citywide

Its Board is out of touch  Private equity capitalists, speculators and real estate developers with little or no background in public ed make up their out of town board.  No low income or parents of color or community leaders serve on their board.




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Let’s Make Community Schools the Schools Our Children Deserve – PCAPS Releases Plan


Spring Garden parent Sheila Armstrong speaking at City Hall press conference

Today, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools announced their comprehesive community schools vision and  platform , developed by over the last year by  a group of public school parents, educators, service providers, university partners and community organizations working with or in public schools. This platform outlines clear, concrete next steps that will ensure real Community Schools are built across the City, providing transformational education and resources to our neediest neighborhoods.

“We reached out during the last election cycle to candidates, calling for them to embrace a Community Schools initiative. We are here today to share the fruit of that work,” said Ron Whitehorne, retired teacher and PCAPS coordinator. “First, we applaud Mayor Kenney and Council President Clarke for their commitment to a community schools initiative. We hope to work with them as well as the School District to fashion a community schools plan.”

As an initial step, the group called for the City to establish a funded planning process led by a city-wide task force that includes parents, students, teachers and other school staff, community organization leaders, and city agency leaders. The group asserted that the task force should be charged with developing Philadelphia’s inclusive and effective plan for community schools, including fleshing out the ongoing governance structure, long-term funding, program components, school selection criteria, performance metrics, and processes and templates for partnership contracts.

The PCAPS plan also calls for embracing a vision of community schools that goes beyond a lowest common denominator.  “What has been emphasized to date is the development of partnerships housed in the school that provide support and services to students and families,” stated Ron Whitehorne. “That is critical, but we believe other things are essential as well, including a democratic culture and structure that draws on the energy and special knowledge of all elements of the school community… students, parents, teachers and neighborhood leaders.”

A series of speakers talked about why they saw community schools as a critical need.  Sheila Armstrong, a parent leader from Spring Garden elementary and co-chair of the POWER Education Committee, talked bout the gains a community schools approach has brought at the school.  “The leaders at Spring Garden School determined that one way we can see our students succeed is to find community resources to help our families with their issues that were not school related,” she explained, “The benefits we saw in the past three years were a reduction in missed days from school due to illness or medical appointments, the doctor’s visits to the school taught our children how to keep themselves healthy, we saw an increase in parent participation at the school which helped decrease the number of suspensions and behavioral problems we were having. And we have seen increase growth every year in our student’s academic success since we have bought community resources in the school.”

Christine Del Rossi, a teacher at Willard Elementary talked about the efforts underway at the Kensington school to build partnerships.   Explaining her own involvement in this work, Del Rossi said, “I love the vision of having Community Schools in our city because they create the possibility of meeting the needs of all our children, but most importantly, the neediest children: a wonderful place where their academic, physical, social, and emotional needs will be met. I love the vision of Community Schools because they will aide in building the bridge for better partnerships between parents, the community, and teachers.   I love the vision of Community Schools because public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. They are worth fighting for and transforming.”

Kia Philpot Hinton, parent and leader of Action United, underlined the need for community schools to give real power to historically disenfranchised communities.  “Black and brown communities should have the same access to power and decsion making that middle class, white communities take for granted,” Hinton said.  For PCAPS the fight for community schools is part of the unfinished legacy of the Brown decision and the struggle for racial equality in our schools and throughout our society.

Consistent with this, ending the school-to-prison pipeline and promoting restorative practices is part of the PCAPS platform.   Parents United leader Kendra Brooks was scheduled to speak on this, but becuase of illness in her family was unable to make it.

The support of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been critical in pushing community schools towards the front of the city’s education agenda.  PFT President Jerry Jordan talked about his visit to Cincinnati and how the approach taken there could work here.” “Community schools are a great way to make sure students and their families receive wraparound services that can include everything from social services to dental and vision care,” Jordan said. “Philly’s educators are excited about this great chance to strengthen student supports in our city’s neighborhood schools.”

Comegys school coordinator Daniel Merin talked about the achievements and remaining challenges as that school moves toward becoming a full blown community school.  Andrea DiMola, Director of the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative, a non-profit that is building partnerships with neighborhood schools in South Philadelphia, expressed excitement at the prospects for a new and productive relationship between schools and the city’s non profit sector.

The last speaker was just inaugurated Councilwoman Helen Gym who praised the group for pressing to see that students,parents, educators, and community members are at the table when decisions get made.   She graciously invited the whole assembled group to get out of the cold and come up to her fifth floor office to talk more, and most people took her up on it.

In closing Ron Whitehorne urged people to get involved in this work by joining the PCAPS community school task force, ably chaired by Evette Jones of the PFT and Rebekah Phillips from the Media Mobilizing Project.   For our demands, a short version of our platform and many resources  related to community schools go to the community schools task force page elsewhere on this site.







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Who Runs the Great Oaks Foundation? Wall Street well represented. Parents and Educators, not so much.



The Great Oaks Foundation is the one charter operator that has applied to take over Jay Cooke elementary.   The company is a new comer to Philadelphia.   Their claim to be something different appears to be employing poorly paid tutors who work in their schools.   When it comes to their Board it’s a familiar picture.    Wall Street, real estate developers, and corporate types dominate.   There are no K-12 educators and one parent.   The following information comes from their website.



Steve Klinsky, Chairman

Steven Klinsky is the Founder and CEO of New Mountain Capital, a growth-focused private equity firm. He also led the creation of New York State’s first ever charter school (the Sisulu-Walker Charter School of Harlem), and is active in a range of philanthropies, particularly in the fields of children, education and health.


Adam Weinstein

Adam Weinstein is a Managing Director of New Mountain Capital and is the treasurer of the Great Oaks Foundation board. Adam previously worked at Deloitte & Touche in the merger and acquisition and private equity investor services.


Peggy Shaughnessy

Peggy Shaughnessy is a Director at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a global investment firm. Peggy previously served as a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs.



Jay Cross

Jay Cross is President of Related Hudson Yards, leading development efforts of the 26-acre Hudson Yards site on the west side of Manhattan. Jay previously served as the President of the New York Jets.



Derrick Diggs

Derrick serves as the Vice President and Director of Business Development of Diggs Construction. Derrick has a wealth of experience in real estate development and construction.


Mary M. Brabeck

Mary M. Brabeck, Ph.D., is Professor of Applied Psychology and Dean Emerita of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She is the elected chair of the Board of Directors of the Council on Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Bill Stephney

Bill Stephney is a principal for Broad Market Media LLC. Bill was the founding president of Def Jam Records and Stepsun Music. He is a current member and former chairman of United States Commission of Civil Rights’ advisory committee for the state of New Jersey.


Gregorio Mayers

Gregorio Mayers is a consultant and professor of Government and Public Policy at the City University of New York (CUNY). He previously served in the administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a senior policy advisor on education and community development.


Michael Duffy

Michael Thomas Duffy is the President of the Great Oaks Foundation. Michael previously served as the Director of the Charter School Office for the NYC Department of Education. He was one of the founding board members of the Match Charter Public School in Boston.


Maureen Sherry

Maureen Sherry is an author of children’s literature, and was named to the list of “Best New Voices” by the American Booksellers Association. Maureen is the mother of four school-aged children.

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Cooke, Huey and Wister Communities Rally to Save Their Schools

Since Dr. William Hite announced the plan to turn Cooke Huey and Wister elementary schools over to charter operators, the parents, school staff and the impacted neighborhoods have been fighting back. At all schools parents have been meeting to decide what they want in their schools. At Huey elementary for two successive weeks community leader Pam Williams, along with students, parents and school staff, have rallied in the middle of 52nd St, vowing to fight the charter takeover. Hundreds of people have signed the PCAPS petition calling for no charter takeover and a democratic, open process to develop a community school.

Last night, prior to the SRC meeting, in spite of the rain, all three communities rallied to protest this plan and the exclusion of parent and community voices from the process. Wister parent leader Kenya Nation-Holmes, Cooke Home and School President Deborah Azure, First grade teacher from Huey Jennifer Ballard along with several student speakers made clear that they want a strong neighborhood public school driven by the needs of their communities.  Parents United leaders Kendra Brooks, who led the fight to save Steel elementary from charter turnover, and Tonyia Coffer, parent leader at Fox Chase elementary spoke in support of the three school communities.  Community member and labor leadear Antoine Little contrasted the resources children receive in affluent suburban communities with what children in the predominantly black and brown neighborhoods of our city get.

Later parents, teachers and community supporters testified at the SRC meeting with the same message.

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Make Comcast Pay Its Fair Share!


Over a hundred people who sat in Council Chambers for over five hours waiting for a chance to speak out on the upcoming Comcast Franchise agreement. Here’s the testimony of PCAPS coordinator Ron Whitehorne
Good afternoon, Council members. My name is Ron Whitehorne. I’m a retired teacher, a parent of two children who attended neighborhood public schools and currently work as the coordinator for Philadelphia Coalition Advocating For Public Schools a coalition of educators, parents, students and community based organizations that has long advocated for corporations to pay their fair share to support our schools.

As a teacher I know first hand the way computer technology can boost student learning. Just let me share one story. At Julia de Burgos at one time I taught science to a group that my team had for three successive years, 6th thru 8th grade. I had a student named Carlos who repeatedly failed. He rarely did his assignments, doodled and talked during class and seemed beyond the reach of any strategies I knew for getting him engaged. Then we embarked on a robotics project where students constructed machines out of Legos, learned an elementary form of computer programming and then wrote programs that operated the machines from the computers. Suddenly Carlos came alive. He built a huge dinosaur robot that could do amazing things. He helped the other students over the difficult spots in the project. His pride in his new found success was a wonderful thing to behold.

It’s sad to say that kind of success story with computers is not very likely in most of our classrooms today. Computers, on average, are over 10 years old. As most people know that’s an antique in today’s world, prone to breakdown and lacking the computing power to run state of the art software. Computers that get a lot of use from students need maintenance and over burdened, over stretched staff can’t do it without more support.

We have to ask two questions.

First why should our students be denied the same advantages when it comes to computer technology that students in affluent communities have. Why should our students be short changed when we know that computer literacy is important for success in school and beyond. We know the answer. Money.

But that get’s to the second question. If money is so critical why is a corporate giant that makes record profits excused from paying school property taxes. Why isn’t a technology company that depends on the city granting it a franchise expected to do more to promote computer literacy in our schools?

Many of us are tired of the same old trickle down economics arguments that justify subsidies for corporations and the rich while we see deepening racial and economic inequality all around us, symbolized by crumbling, under staffed, under resourced schools

We need City Council to stand up for our city’s future, our children, and support a franchise agreement that includes dedicated funding for technology and staffing.

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