It was an intense and emotional journey leading up to the results that would help decide the fate of Edward T. Steel Elementary School in Nicetown. It would soon be decided if parents and the School Advisory Council wanted to turn over the school’s administration to Mastery Charter, or leave it in the hands of the school district.
After voting all day on May 1, it seemed like relief was sure to come after votes were tallied and the popular vote was announced. That moment never came. Instead, the plot thickened with a split vote, filed grievances and the fate of Steel still up in the air.
According to the School District of Philadelphia, the parents of Steel, who participated in the general election, voted 121-55 to keep the school under the administration of the district.
SAC President Kendra Brooks released a statement that celebrated what was called an overwhelming decision to stand behind Steel as a district school.
“Steel parents made a clear message to the School District of Philadelphia: Steel Elementary will remain a public school. We ask the district and SRC to act immediately to honor this decision by the parents so that parents and our Steel community can get back to educating and supporting our children,” she said.
However, the overall vote was actually split. While parents in favor of Steel as a district school took the general election, the SAC voted 9-8 in favor of Mastery Charter.
A statement released by the Mastery Charter Schools Network celebrated its victory.
“Yesterday the Steel Elementary School’s Advisory Council (SAC) voted to partner with Mastery to become a Renaissance Charter School this fall. We are thankful and humbled that the school’s leaders, who visited Mastery schools and had the opportunity to carefully consider all options, decided that Mastery is the best choice for the Steel community,” it said.
The Mastery statement did not recognize the other vote by parents. It did acknowledge that there were some difficulties when voting, as it stated, “The renaissance process was not perfect.”
Many parents felt that the difficulties were the fault of district officials who administered the voting process for SAC members. They alleged there was intentional bias and discriminatory acts to sway the votes in favor of Mastery Charter.
SAC member Giavoni Gethers filed a complaint of unethical behavior against an official who coordinated the SAC voting process. Parents also filed grievances against the district for allegedly discriminating against 80 percent of the SAC members, who were disqualified from voting.
According to a report in The Notebook, those members were disqualified for various reasons, such as the failure to meet the requirement that they visit a Mastery school. Brooks expressed how this requirement was very hard to achieve among working parents. In response, it was reported that Mastery made individual tours available to parents.
Controversy was also raised because there was no requirement for SAC members to visit and tour a high-performing public school. Many parents felt the entire process was biased.
Charisma Presley, president of the Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown, issued a statement asking the district to further investigate the matter.
District officials were not available to comment.
The general election, on the other hand, went smoothly. It was conducted by the League of Women Voters. Board member Warren Knight talked about the good parent turnout and why he thought it was the best option for the league to conduct the voting process.
“We are an unbiased third party,” he explained. “We really have nothing to lose or gain, so I think it was best for everybody if we stepped in and conducted it.”
The Steel community still must wait for the ultimate decision made by the School Reform Commission, which is scheduled to vote during its meeting on May 29. The results of the two votes would only be used to “guide the recommendation” of Superintendent William Hite, according to district spokesman Fernando Gallard.
If Steel remains a district school, different organizations, such as the Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown, are asking officials to give the staff the same amount of money it would have paid to Mastery.
“You cannot give any less to a school run by your own team,” the Concerned Neighbors of Nicetown said in a statement
District officials were not available to confirm how much the Mastery contract would be worth.
All the community can do now is wait. No matter the outcome, the new challenge will be to come together as one for the best interest of the children.
UPDATE: Mastery announced on May 8 that it would withdraw its proposal to manage Steel. The same day, school district officials said they would recommend to the SRC that Steel remain a traditional neighborhood school.
– Video, text and images by Joe Coufal and Latifah Laws