Faces of the Philadelphia School District layoffs

Three-thousand-fifty-nine is a big, abstract number that is incredibly important to the future of Philadelphia public education.

It’s the number of teachers, administrators and support staff laid off from Philadelphia public schools over the past two weeks. It represents about 20 percent of the 19,530 total district employees and includes all assistant principals, secretaries, and counselors.

Larissa Pahomov wants to remind you of the people behind the statistics.

Pahomov was not laid off from her position at the Science Leadership Academy, but after her friends and colleagues were, she started FacesoftheLayoffs.org. The site posts photos and stories of some of those 3,859 people out of a job. So far there are almost 200 entries, with more going up everyday.

The front page of the site features rows of photos of the support staff and teachers, some posing with students or in their classrooms or at their desks. Co-workers and students have posted about the importance of these people in their schools.

On the entry for Barbara Melsch, a secretary from Northeast High, it reads, “Without her we can’t hold school, plain and simple.”

Each entry also features the name and contact information of an elected official, urging the site’s visitors to help save the jobs with “just one phone call.” Some entries include links to talking points.

Getting their message out

“The plan is to keep informing the public and keep encouraging them to take action,” Pahomov said. “You cannot have a school without any secretaries, without any counselors, without any aides.”

So far, only one elected official has publically acknowledged the site; state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, tweeted a link to it on June 12.

The public response has been slightly larger. As of noon Tuesday the site has received nearly 350,000 views. “The response has been positive considering the circumstances,” Pahomov said. But she and the other teachers running the site are still working to get their message out.

David Sokoloff was laid off from Northeast High and helped get the site up. He noted how hard it is for the public to understand the devastation caused by the layoffs.

“A lot of my friends are starting their careers as lawyers and doctors, and a lot of them are pretty unaware,” he said. “They’re my friends and family so they care for me but they’re pretty unaware of what this means for the city.”

Anissa Weinraub, an English teacher at Bartram High School, was the first face to go up on the site. If the layoffs stick, she is not so much worried about her own job as she is about the students and schools.

“If the state and the school haven’t figured out this money and the school district goes ahead, I think we’re going to have mass city action,” she said.

Sokoloff, though, has a more jaded perspective.

“I don’t really have a desire to be a public servant in Philadelphia after this,” he said. He plans on moving to the suburbs or another area that “treats its public servants well.”

All three teachers agree that if the layoffs hold, schools will simply not be able to function.

“If the school district goes through and tries to open our schools next year with the doomsday layoffs — that’s unconscionable,” said Weinraub. “You cannot function as a school at the doomsday budget.”

“We have to reclaim our schools,” she added.

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