Former SRC member Simms to head Philly pro-charter parents group

 Sylvia Simms, a former member if the School Reform Commission, will lead Educational Opportunities for Families. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks, file)

Sylvia Simms, a former member if the School Reform Commission, will lead Educational Opportunities for Families. (Bastiaan Slabbers for NewsWorks, file)

Former School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms will return to her activist roots as executive director of a pro-charter parents group.

Educational Opportunities for Families announced Tuesday it has appointed Simms as its new leader. Simms, an appointee of former Mayor Michael Nutter, served on the SRC from 2013 to early this year.

In a news release, EOF and Simms also announced a new campaign to spur school reform in Philadelphia’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

“Among EOF’s first targets will be organizing parents to demand change in North Philadelphia, where 34 schools — including 30 district schools and four charters — recorded single-digit scores on the district’s most recent School Progress Report,” the release read.

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The release said that of four charters opened in North Philadelphia — defined as the area north of Cecil B. Moore Avenue; south of Roosevelt Boulevard.; west of Ninth Street; and east of the Schuylkill River — two have closed and a third has been recommended for closure.

The release continues, “yet the district schools remain open despite their poor performance.”

“Just because the students stuck in these struggling schools are from the poorest communities in North Philadelphia, it doesn’t mean that we can forget about them,” Simms said in the release. “We cannot ask them to wait for the same opportunities that other students are already receiving.”

EOF’s preference for charters and parent choice is no secret.

In 2015, during its infancy, EOF held a rally for charter expansion. This year, EOF hosted a forum on race and equity in education that focused on expanded school choice.

And, late last year, parents with EOF disrupted a talk on dissolving the SRC, arguing the focus should be on school choice rather than governance structure. Simms attended that event and attempted to calm the protesters, who carried on regardless.

Simms figures to lend name power and organizing acumen to EOF’s efforts.

In 2009, the former school bus attendant founded PARENT POWER, an educational advocacy group that promotes family engagement. She also worked for the Urban Affairs Coalition on a project to expand internet access in low-income neighborhoods.

While on the SRC, Simms made her mark as a proponent of parent involvement and school choice. She pushed to establish more parent advisory councils at neighborhood schools and generally backed efforts to convert low-performing district schools into charters.

EOF’s funders include the Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners, a pro-charter lobbying group. The group has also been backed by various charter networks, according to a 2015 NewsWorks article.

Simms’ sister, Quibila Devine, has represented EOF in public before, according to reporting from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

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