PHILADELPHIA — November 16, 2017 – Today, Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) released the following statement in response to returning schools to local control:
“Many of us have been waiting for today for a long, long time.
“16 years ago I sat in at the old School District headquarters with parents and high school students to oppose the state takeover of our public schools. Tonight we await your vote to restore our schools back to local control and re-commit to democratic governance of our public institutions. In between those years, a grassroots movement of parents, teachers, youth and community members became an unstoppable political force that helped define the politics of this moment.
“Now for 16 years, I’ve come to the SRC often to testify, but tonight I come to say thanks. I come to say thanks to the majority members on this body who will be voting for local governance, and for your stewardship in the months ahead as we navigate this transition.
“And I come to say thanks above all, to all of us in this room tonight, and those beyond these walls, who have stood together for decades. The energy, the passion in this room today carried us through some of the darkest times in our District’s history, and is re-shaping the possibilities of our future.
“Let’s not forget that the state’s decision to take away local control of Philadelphia schools was also a move to turn over large chunks of our school system to for-profit companies. The premise that Philadelphians are incapable of governing our own schools was wrong. The premise that solutions to educational injustice in our schools could simply be purchased in the free market was just as wrong. The takeover was a massive educational experiment on Black and Brown and immigrant children – from reckless charter expansion to mass school closings – these were strategies not backed by any educational research, they didn’t solve the existing and terrible problems within the District, and they hurt far too many children.
“Today we recognize that we need to chart a new path.
“At too many points in time during the state takeover, it felt like the presence of the public was sometimes singularly unwelcomed, something to be managed, marginalized and moved out of the way. It turns out that these public voices are the ones that are saving the District, and helping redirect its future.
“Over the next few months, official processes will kick in, but the enduring lesson is that the journey from 16 years ago to today was always led by the people of this city who never gave up on their public schools, and who demanded quality learning institutions which raised up a whole child over a test score, and who demanded that they too would have a voice in what those schools must look like.
“I will not be naïve about what lies ahead, and that the next steps may not meet everyone’s vision for what a fully locally controlled school board may be, but this is a first step. Just as we stood together to bring back local control, we must stand together to make any new governing board representative of and accountable to the people of the city. I look forward to that journey and a chance over the coming months to re-establish a big vision for our public schools.
“Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s historic 1967 Black student walkout. The students who organized were fed up with an unequal education, the legacy of Jim Crow in Philadelphia – tired of not being valued in their schools. Thousands of Black students and their allies walked out and marched to the School Board with a spirit of hope, energy and possibility that could not be denied. We keep that spirit of those students alive, and we stand in unity to fight for the schools our children deserve.”
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Councilwoman Helen Gym was sworn in as an At-Large Member of Council in 2016. Her primary concerns include addressing widespread poverty in Philadelphia, particularly through an emphasis on building a quality public education system. For more information, visit phlcouncil.com/HelenGym.