Supporters of seven struggling Philadelphia schools packed School District headquarters Thursday night to learn their futures.
Five-year old Diamond Waters was one of dozens of supporters who urged the School Reform Commission to spare Thomas Creighton Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia from conversion to a charter.
“I am in kindergarten. I have been waiting to go to my sister’s school for a long time. Don’t take Miss [Link] from me,” pleaded Waters.
Most preferred an unorthodox proposal from Regina Feighan-Drach and other Creighton teachers to keep their school under District control.
“We would be the decision-makers within the school,” said Feighan-Drach. “We would be able to take what we know works in education. We know our kids, we know what works for them. We are passionate and we have pulled together and we have an enormous amount of support behind us.”
Creighton was one of four low-performing schools that District staff proposed be handed over to outside charter operators as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative. The SRC was also set to vote on the fates of three other charter schools recommended for closure, including Arise Academy, Myliesha Baker’s school.
“I was mute for 10 years of my life,” said Baker. “For years I refused to speak.”
Like many of Arise Academy’s students, Myliesha has been in the care of the Department of Human Services. She told the SRC about the severe trauma she has endured,
“I began abusing substance when I was nine. I was an addict by the time I was 14. I use this to highlight the potential [of student at Arise]…I am now 17 years old, and I have been clean 3 years,” she said.
Then she made the case for her school. “It’s our territory, its our home, it is our family, and in our eyes, its not going anywhere. I can’t force a decision, but I hope this alters it as much as possible,” said Baker.
But citing poor academic performance and other concerns, Chairman Pedro Ramos and the SRC voted to take the first step towards closing Arise, along with fellow charter schools Truebright Science Academy and Hope Charter.
The news for Regina Feighan-Drach and her colleagues was better. Lorene Cary and her fellow commissioners decided to delay a vote on the school’s future until they can further vet the teachers’ plan.
“I’d like time to read the proposal carefully. I’d like not to vote until I’ve had time,” said Cary.
Creighton’s supporters were elated at the reprieve, singing and chanting on the way out of the meeting — especially little Diamond Waters.