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Opinion: Public voice is important in decisions regarding our public schools

Ami Patel Hopkins. December 17, 2020 Category: FeaturedPurposeShort

Disclosures

This guest column was written by Ami Patel Hopkins. It represents her individual opinion and does not represent the viewpoints of organizations with which she is affiliated either professionally or personally.
In a recent post, I posed a question to the new federal administration: “how are you incorporating the voices of all Americans in the selection of the new Secretary of Education?”

I pose a similar question to Mayor Jim Kenney and other political officials about how they are advocating for the incorporation of public voice in the selection of the individuals who will fill the three vacant seats on the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) Board of Education.

I want to first thank all (including Mayor Kenney) who worked hard to get us to this point of a local board of education after 16+ years of advocacy. This provides an opportunity for the Mayor to nominate candidates who are passionate about the success of Philadelphia’s public schools.

As of December 16, Mayor Kenney now has a list of nine potential candidates recommended by his nominating panel who selected them out of a pool of 82 applicants.

There was one public meeting on the same day for public feedback.  However, there were only nine speakers who were allowed to speak at this meeting and no public debate.  This one meeting also took place at 3 p.m. This can be a difficult time for my fellow educators as many of us are teaching until at least 3:30 p.m. In my case, I also facilitated an after-school club and was not able to attend.

Also, what about working parents/guardians who cannot attend a meeting during the work day?

When looking at the list of nine candidates, I am glad to see that six of the nine are SDP alumni, educators, or parents/guardians. However, the voices of students, families, community members, and my fellow educators are crucial in the selection process as we definitely understand the needs of both our students and schools.

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Mayor Kenney still has time to request more names from the nominating panel.  He will then have to submit his three choices to the City Council for approval.

In this time, there is definitely time to incorporate the voice of the public. The city has already taken steps towards more public involvement in decision-making such as launching participatory budgeting.

There is time for our political officials to be both accountable to Philadelphia’s citizens, and transparent before the approval of new SDP board of education members. City Council’s Education Committee could host multiple virtual public input meetings.  These meetings should:

  • Be held at times when students, working families and educators can attend and provide feedback.
  • Be promoted in different languages and through several channels (i.e. various student groups, teacher networks, Bilingual Counseling Assistants, Community School Coordinators, AmeriCorps VISTA members in schools, the SDP’s Family and Community Engagement Office, School Advisory Councils, Home and School Associations, Friends of Neighborhood Education groups, etc.).
  • Provide alternative methods for feedback (i.e. written comment).

Just as the board of education meetings are reported on by various media outlets, the same can be done for these meetings so the public can truly stay informed.

Decision-makers need to have a true partnership with stakeholders in order to truly engage the public and this starts with building trusted relationships and allowing for input in decisions that impact the public.

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If you have ideas about issues, policies, and/or perspectives that I should highlight in this column, please complete this submission form. My column focus areas will prioritize submission ideas. The dialogue can be continued at EdSpace. 

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