Dear Mayor Kenney,
We're not sure you saw us. We were sitting up in the balcony of the City Council Chambers when you laid out your vision for education in Philadelphia.
Hopefully, you heard us. We were the ones applauding when you said your goal was "ensuring that every child has access to quality schools no matter where they live or no matter what they look like."
We share your vision. We believe every child matters. Our children matter.
We are mothers and fathers and grandmothers. We live in North Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia. Our kids go to their local neighborhood schools – Cleveland, Clymer, and Gratz Prep. Just a few years back, these schools were all considered some of the worst schools in the city. They were the "chronically failing" schools and, in some cases, the "persistently dangerous" ones. Not anymore. In fact, they are now some of the best neighborhood schools in the city. This change happened when Mastery Charter Schools started to run and manage them. They are still our neighborhood schools, but now they are excellent, safe schools, with amazing teachers and classrooms filled with love.
We are speaking from our own experiences. We have children who attended these schools before they were turned around by Mastery. We know the difference. Our babies are succeeding now. Our kids were way behind – sometimes more than three grade levels. Now, they are learning, reading above grade level, doing science experiments, exploring their cultural history, and being challenged. Our kids love going to school, and they finally have a chance – a shot to pursue their dreams.
Our children's futures are at stake, and we know our city can make all schools better. We are living proof of that. We want every parent in Philadelphia to have the kind of choice and chance we had.
Nearly 40 percent of all public school students in Philadelphia attend public charter schools. That's why we applauded again, Mr. Mayor, when you said, "We are responsible to every one of those children no matter the public school they attend … we will be judged … on the number of high-performing schools in every neighborhood, not whether those schools are district or public charters."
Remember, we said you probably didn't see us. That's because most people don't see us. We are parents, African American mothers and fathers, living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city – the very places many have abandoned. We see the same pattern over and over – most of the people who make decisions that impact us and our children don't see us, don't know us, don't listen to us.
So Mr. Mayor … we are hoping this time it will be different.
As we all learned growing up, "actions speak louder than words." We liked your words. We applauded them. Now we want to see your actions.
Will the new school board reflect our communities and our families?
Will the new members be people who understand that public education is about all of us – district and charter school students?
Will they stand up for our kids no matter what?
Mr. Mayor, we will stand with you to make quality schools in every neighborhood. We will stand with you to get the resources that are needed.
We heard you when you said, "For too long we have pointed fingers at each other, whether it be traditional public schools and public charter schools.… Again and again we have told the people of Philadelphia that the state of their schools is someone else's responsibility…"
You said the buck stops with you. We heard you.
Will you hear us?
Tomanel Williams, mother and grandmother, Mastery Cleveland Elementary
Laura English, parent, Mastery Prep Middle School and Mastery Clymer Elementary
Dahn Dennis, parent, Mastery Hardy Williams Academy
Leslie White, parent, Mastery Clymer Elementary
Vanika Henderson, parent, Gratz High School