Opinion: 6 things to consider before reopening schools in Philadelphia - Generocity Philly

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Jul. 27, 2020 7:30 am

Opinion: 6 things to consider before reopening schools in Philadelphia

Guest columnist Ami Patel Hopkins says she heard the words “let’s work together” at the latest School District of Philadelphia board meeting. She's taking that sentiment to heart and offering her suggestions.

The headquarters of the School District of Philadelphia.

(Photo by Dan Marcel via Technical.ly Philly)

When my friends, family members, and fellow educators ask me what I think of the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) re-opening plan that was released on July 16, I direct them to my in-depth analysis.

The perspective I provide in the analysis (and in this column) is that of a current citizen and homeowner in Philadelphia (Northwest Philadelphia); the mother of a 3-year old who attends a preschool in Philadelphia; a current SDP teacher of color; the board chair of a school, and a person who has a background in public policy.

However, I want to be very clear that the analysis I provide here and in the in-depth piece is as an individual and does not  represent the viewpoints of organizations that I am affiliated with professionally or personally.

I can empathize and understand that developing a plan and making decisions about the education of our students during a pandemic is not a simple task.  In many conversations and in the testimonies from the most  recent board meeting, I have heard the words, “let’s work together.”

Councilwoman Helen Gym stated in her testimony at the board meeting that the “community are experts.” I agree with her 110% — as the students, families, school staff, educators, and administrators know their school community the best. My recommendations come from a lens of hope and collaboration.

1. Dr. Hite’s administration does not need to re-think a plan alone.

There are many partners that need to be at the table, including the City of Philadelphia (Parks and Recreation, Managing Director’s Office), SEPTA, Out-of-School Time providers, etc.

2. A 100% online plan should be school-based.

I am defining school-based as students and families still being included as part of their enrolled school’s community — including having the same teachers and participating in events (different than the current Digital Academy model). Each school should work with their community to develop a plan of learning with enough community feedback — or at least the voices of principals, educators, students, families and community members should be considered when revising the plan. This plan should be a phased approach starting with online and moving to hybrid.

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3. There is ample time for community feedback before the SDP board vote.

The “new plan (NP)” should be posted prior to the board meeting. A timeline to consider is:

  1. develop a NP with students, families, staff, educators, school leaders, and community partners;
  2. ample time for community feedback on this NP through surveys, focus groups, etc.;
  3. then a vote by the SDP Board.

4. Stay 100% virtual (with equal access as a priority) until we have more local COVID data and create neighborhood learning opportunities.

Recreation centers, neighborhood hubs, nonprofits could be online centers for students whose families have to work full-time. Paid staff would be there as one-to-one support for students. This time could also be used to rethink how we used our public outdoor spaces in Philadelphia.

5. Provide resources to educators to be effective online.

When we transitioned into an online module in the spring, it was not the same as in-person teaching and could never compare, but it can be enhanced.

6. The City should commission a university/research entity to look at the hard local data of contact tracing.

All scientists know that this type of analysis is valid and would take a lot of time. But honestly, it is worth the effort to ensure that our students, families, school staff, and educators are safe.

Let us indeed work together as a city to be a pioneer in how we problem-solved together during this historical time.

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