Testimony of Aileen Callaghan to the Board of Education, September 19,2019

Thank you teachers, parents, and true stakeholders of Philadelphia School District for attending today. I am constantly humbled by the passion and love I feel in this room for the children of Philadelphia.  As a mother, I thank you for throwing down for my son alongside your children and I hope to return the solidarity to the best of my ability.

My name is Aileen Callaghan, I use they/them pronouns, I am a resident of Port Richmond, the Chair of the Steering Committee of Reclaim Philadelphia, and a member of the Our City Our Schools coalition.

Our City Our Schools led the fight in eliminating the SRC so that we have school governance  that is accountable to young people, families, educators and community members. This past year we’ve been taking stock of this new board and have created a report card.

You have the entire report card before you, so I will focus on the most impactful portions:  student and parent engagement, Charter School accountability, and spending priorities.

The power of this body lives in these four pillars. To have power, you need 2 things, organized people and organized money.

In regards to organized people, there are 3 main suggestions for improvement.

  1. Increase access with intentional scheduling that recognizes the needs of working families: childcare, SEPTA Transportation, and timeliness of action items being presented.
  2. Increase transparency by documenting questions and answers, then  provide this information online and at the next meeting.
  3. Have accountability systems around issues presented at monthly meetings.  Establish a student panel to dig deeper into the issues that directly impact them giving students a meaningful voice.

These changes can transform the parent-school relationship. Sixteen years of major harm was perpetuated during the time of the SRC. Trust cannot be built overnight.  Transparency and good faith efforts towards accountability from this board are essential so that parents, students, and educators can begin to heal and build trust with the School District leadership and with this Board.

In Regards to organized money, you must take bold action as a collective body who is committed to the health and equity of our children.

  1. Stand up for the people and children of Philadelphia by immediately prioritizing spending around  remediation of current toxic conditions in our schools.  Advocating for an end of the 10 year tax abatement. This body must publicly advocate for safe, healthy schools and work with City Council, the Mayor, and the state to address spending priorities. This must be a top priority of this Board.  Our efforts to push City Council will be stronger if you are on our side.
  2. Create a mission statement and commit to building in-house District expertise, union jobs, and public scrutiny of SDP spending.  Align spending with Anchor Goals AND the mission statement. Engage diverse COMMUNITY stakeholders in creating the mission statement. Trust that the community has some serious Funds of Knowledge on spending and budgets.

This is the people’s Report Card. Show us that we can begin to build trust. Can you commit to standing on our side by publicly advocating for ending the 10 year tax abatement?