Testimony of Barbara McDowell Dowdall to the BOE, March 26, 2020

Acres of Diamonds*

I am encouraged, in this time of disturbing crisis, by the combination of Comcast’s offer of free internet access (for the moment) and the School District of Philadelphia committed to insuring that every public school child in every household will be provided with their own Chromebook. This is a moment when we will perhaps come to understand and acknowledge the longstanding inequities in education opportunities that have not been addressed by the school district (nor, to be honest, local and state funding sources) – and that robust planning for rectifying these gaps can begin now.

I know that every teacher is eager and willing to make use of the opening and expanding communication avenues to interact with their students in meaningful and fruitful ways. The Board of Education, in addition to facilitating access to these avenues, can lay the groundwork for quality instruction when the day comes to resume academics, technical subjects, art, music, and physical education in person.

The Board itself is at a critical and thus significant moment in time: having been re-appointed in its entirety, although going forward without two of its original members, Wayne Walker and Dr. Chris McGinley, your work has, as a team, been powerfully affirmed by Mayor Kenney. This is the juncture where you –and the superintendent as well — can most clearly distinguish yourselves from the School Reform Commission, its policies, practices and shortcomings. Decide now that you are prepared to restore the School District of Philadelphia as a system with uniformity in provision of basics: safe and inviting environments, small class sizes, fully-resourced and professionally-staffed libraries, proper proportions of school nurses and counselors, dependable opportunities for cultural enrichment onsite and off, varied and valuable afterschool programs that meet the needs of working families. As Temple University founder Russell Conwell might have said: “We are wasting a rich resource if we don’t involve teachers—-and compensate them— in helping to create instructional materials for this new platform…” and for the bountiful and empowering curricula going forward.

*https://www.gutenberg.org/files/368/368-h/368-h.htm https://news.temple.edu/news/2019-03-08/history-laura-carnell-1867-1929-who-made-temple-what-it-today