Barbara McDowell’s testimony to the Education Committee of the Philadelphia City Council – February 29, 2016

Barbara McDowell City Council 2-29-26

Testimony on Philadelphia Public Schools: Magnets

Philadelphia City Council Education Committee

Barbara McDowell Dowdall, Editor (Retiring)

Alumnae News, Philadelphia High School for Girls

Monday, February 29, 2016

Good day, Council members, Chair Jannie Blackwell, Vice Chair, Blondell Reynolds Brown, David Oh, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Mark Squilla, Helen Gym, and Cherelle Parker. (Also Council member Curtis Jones)*

I am profoundly grateful today to have the opportunity to be heard in support of a school system that provided my education from age 4 through 17 (Fitler Elementary, Roosevelt Jr. High and Girls’ High), and my professional service as teacher of English from 1974 through 2010 (schools too many to mention)!

I am increasingly fearful that the proud accomplishments of the Philadelphia public schools and its graduates over the decades, having suffered loss of both resources and reputation, stand to be replaced by an incomprehensible mish mash of inequitably-provided centers of learning: some showered with money, materials, staff and housed in gleaming new buildings, and others left to crumble, bereft of even basic needs, until abandoned to one of a dizzying array of corporate providers or simply shuttered. Whether neighborhood school, magnet or career technical school, all have suffered from lack of both financial and moral support from the School Reform Commission, an entity ostensibly created to bring improvement and hope to our city schools.

Some who have brought honor to our city include:

Judith Seitz Rodin, first woman President of an Ivy League College (Penn)

Pinkie Gordon Lane, first African American Poet Laureate of … Louisiana

Bebe Moore Campbell, New York Times best-selling author

Constance E. Clayton, first woman and first African American Superintendent of Schools

Shirley Clarke Franklin, first woman Mayor of … Atlanta, Georgia

Gloria Bloom Allred, noted Civil Rights attorney

Ann Hobson Pilot, first African American Principal Harpist in the Boston Symphony

Edith Houghton, first, last and only woman scout for the Philadelphia Phillies

Jill Scott, award-winning singer-songwriter, poet and actress

Blondell Reynolds Brown, multi-term member of Philadelphia City Council

Anita Green, mother of newly-arrived Council Member Derek Green

Each of these women attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, a magnet school entering upon its 168th year of operation, in a time when the school could draw highest achieving students from all over the city, many of whom came from the most modest of circumstances, but who were provided the opportunity to enroll in a school rich in learning opportunities not just in academics, but in art, music, drama and competitive sports. Among the essential blessings in their day was a fully-resourced and staffed school library. Today, every field has suffered diminishment and the library is entering its fourth year of closure.

And where did these amazing women come from? They came from Philadelphia public schools: elementary, junior high and middle schools, all of which also had programs in art, music, drama and sports and though physical education facilities were limited and school yards mainly concrete, all had that essential feature: a school library with a certified teacher librarian. The time spent in that magical place with the guidance of professional librarian helped prepare those youngsters for later distinction. Today, 95% of our schools lack this resource. Across the city line, suburban schools boast this gift. Magnet, neighborhood or career technical: let us provide our youngsters that to which they are entitled.                                 -30-

Preliminary remarks [not included in the text I provided in advance] on the Council bill under consideration:

Noted that “vocational” schools are now called “career technical,” and [as I know from having served as a facilitator at the Governor’s Institute for Improving Literacy in Career Technical Schools] that CTE textbooks are written at a higher level that all other high school materials, so that CTE students need to be proficient readers. Also, where the bill would require advance notice to communities when a school is going to be closed, I suggest that they have the right to ask what resources have been provided to the school prior to its consideration for closure.