Philadelphia – Behind a unified message calling for the ouster of the School Reform Commission, nearly five-hundred teachers, parents and students gathered outside the North Broad Street Philadelphia School District headquarters, Friday, chanting “Ho, Ho, the SRC has got to go.”
Although most at the rally were calling for an end to the leadership of Philadelphia’s public schools by the SRC, others, like Maria Cruz and Yaritza Diaz, were at 400 N. Broad to voice their opposition to the Luis Munoz Marin School being included in a “Turnaround Model” program.
As part of a $23.7 million “Turnaround Model” reform unveiled earlier this month, beginning in the 2016-17 school year some fifty percent of the K-8th grade, 680 student Munoz Marin’s teachers and staff will be replaced.
“I don’t think it’s fair and the students don’t like it,” said Maria Cruz.
The Turnaround Model reform – that includes 15 other schools, from Mitchell in southwest to Roosevelt and East Germantown- essentially consists of four components: galvanizing the involvement of families and community; creating a safe learning environment; improving the quality teachers; and fostering more cooperation among teachers.
Besides requiring all current teachers re-apply for positions, the district’s explained the Turnaround Model: “The investment and strategies will translate into more individual student attention, instruction based on student’s abilities and needs, smaller class size, specialized staff and a more engaged school community. Also, through this model the school district will identify and cultivate great school leaders, view teaching and learning as a process of continuing improvement and provide targeted professional growth to teachers with resources for student’s needs.”
A Grandmother of four students at Munoz Marin and School-Volunteer, Maria Cruz spoke to El Hispano of why she strongly objects to the Turnaround plan: “This school is in the Latino community and most of our children don’t speak english as their primary language. They don’t give the PSSA tests in Spanish, or we would have better scores.”
Noting that the majority of Luis Munoz Marin’s teachers are bilingual, Ms. Cruz said, “We have beautiful teachers. I love the teachers we have there. Teachers who have been there for many years.”
“But they want to take fifty percent of the teachers and the principal out of our school,” she added. “It doesn’t matter whether they are good teachers or bad.”
“This (type) of turnaround we don’t want that. Bringing new teachers into the school, I don’t think it’s fair, and the student don’t like it,” continued the grandmother of four. “They’re used to the teachers there now.”.
While conceding the decision to place Munoz Marin under the new status was ostensibly based on low test scores, Ms. Cruz welcomed the infusion of funds: “Yes, give us more resources and stuff for Latino community and the students who speak Spanish. Our (test) scores could be higher. We are a Latino community, and If they (recognized) that we would have higher scores.
A teacher at Munoz Marin of just 2 years, Yaritza Diaz echoed Ms. Cruz’s comments on the need for “more resources.”
“We’re a strong community and they’re breaking up our family,” said Ms. Diaz.
Recalling that Superintendent William Hite had attended a recent meeting with parents and teachers at Munoz Marin and briefly “walked out,” Ms. Diaz said, “we told him what we need and what we want.”
“He didn’t like what we had to say, and that we didn’t want the “Turnaround” to go forward,” she added. “But he heard what we had to say anyway.”
Acknowledging that “low test scores” were the principal reason for the placement of the school in the “Turnaround” program, she noted that “85 percent of our student are Spanish-speaking. We have so many kids who are ESL (english as a second language).
“We tell them to try their best on the tests,” added Ms. Diaz. “But the majority of students -especially the middle school students – feel the tests are “bogus.”
“We don’t need test to show us where our kids are. As teachers we have our data, we have our records” argued Ms. Diaz. “We are with our kids every day. I know where my children are, as far as reading level. I know if they understood the math or if I have to re-teach a lesson.”
”I don’t need a PSSA test to show me that my children grew or that they’re failing,” said Diaz. “We’re trying to (tell the District) our parents and our students want to maintain Munoz Marin as it is. But it’s the guys in the big suits with the big pockets that make the decisions for us.”
An examination of Munoz Marin’s PSSA scores revealed declining numbers in reading and math from 2012-2013 to 2014-2015 school year. However, the school district itself experienced similarly precipitate declines.