Barbara Dowdall testimony transcript from the SRC meeting on August 17th.

Barbara Dowdall SRC 2
Click on the picture to view the meeting video. Barbara is at timestamp 35:34.

Remarks to the School Reform Commission: at Girls’ High                               May 24, 2012 {Re-shared w. revisions: August 17, 2017}

Greetings. Barbara McDowell Dowdall, January 64 graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, parent of a 1999 graduate of Central, and the retired {2010} English Department Head of A. Philip Randolph Tech High.* Our school district history offers a context for considering the future, with key term: “system.”

In pre SRC days, the school board shepherded every school. In the 1950’s and 60’s, every child learned to read music.** Teachers offered instruments; orchestras formed; choruses practiced. Some students, notably Ann Hobson Pilot and Booker Rowe, one day joined major symphonies. Joy Simpson sang at the New York Metropolitan. Others of us can be found today in community orchestras and church choirs or in now silver-haired audiences.

Modest school choice allowed Black parents in North Philadelphia to transfer their children to more integrated schools in Germantown. Although a ripple of white parents then “chose” whiter schools for their children, many of us stayed and gained in some ways from our {new} “minority” status. Robert Colesberry (Fitler, Roosevelt Junior High, Germantown) won an Academy Award for co-producing the film Mississippi Burning, and served as a creator of TV’s The Wire. An African American classmate would one day teach French (next to me at Vaux Junior High) and another who would become a psychology professor and college dean. When the school board believed in every school, Philadelphia public schools helped prepare the first woman president of an Ivy League college (Dr. Judith Rodin) and the first woman Mayor of Atlanta (Shirley Clarke Franklin). In recent times, when Benjamin Rush Middle School offered a gifted support program with small classes and enrichment opportunities to all area schools, parochial and home school students signed up. We have proven that Philly public schools can offer quality and attract students when we do.

Financial stresses are not new. In the 70’s, paying teachers in scrip was possible. In 1980 and 81, the city declared it could not fund its negotiated contracts. By 1983, resources were divided inequitably based on racial balance. Not enough white students? No full-day kindergarten for you! Despite all of these struggles, no one suggested disbanding the system.

Until the state takeover in 2001, the school board accepted responsibility for every school. Though challenged, Philadelphia had scores comparable to other big city schools. SRC’s approach, and a continuing strategy, was not to manage and improve the entire system, but to hand over control of low-rated schools to outside entities. In the first experiment, Edison Schools, Inc. took one group, a variety of EMO’s (Educational Management Organizations) took another and, in a seemingly radical strategy, a third group was given additional resources and run by the District itself. Result: District-administered with enhanced (adequate?) resources schools did the best. This approach and its accomplishment seem lost in the fog of “reform.”
In the current fiscally-stressed and administratively mysterious and unpredictable operations, we could {continue to} toss our struggling schools to the wind {to charters, Renaissance, Turnaround, etc.} or we could instead re-dedicate ourselves to a city-wide system of public education. Outstanding teachers work in every school. With your leadership, their skills, and consistent equitable resources, we could begin to re-build {restore} today.***                                                           Barbara McDowell Dowdall, Editor, Girls’ High Alumnae News and                        Scrabble Club Volunteer.

*{Future member of APPS}   **{Metal or plastic melody flute, treble clef.}

***In 2013, the School Reform Commission closed 23 schools   -30-