May 15th, 2010 by jacqueline
Last week, I met South Philadelphia’s version of Chicago’s Roscoe Park eight: the Passyunk Square moms. Last Fall, this group of talented, scrappy moms joined together to form the the Passyunk Square education committee, with the goal of improving Andrew Jackson Elementary, one of the lowest performing schools in the city. While I was there, their story landed on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer! Now their movement’s on School Superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman’s radar (she came to my talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia!). Thanks to today’s amazing press, I’ll wager that the Passyunk Square moms now have a cheering neighborhood behind them, too.
As I read the front page story to my kids, my son Zack (age 9) asked why, why, why was I was crying all over my toast and jam.
“There’s no crying at breakfast, mommy.”
The kid had a point, but here’s the back-story: As I’ve been touring the country for the book, I’ve heard all ton of really positive feedback, but it hasn’t all been a total love-fest. The most disturbing criticism I’ve heard so far is that few moms have the background or passion to fix their neighborhood school. And this gem, from an über-respected educational expert, and a woman no less:
“I’m sure you mommies are great, and that your little school is great, and kudos to your local efforts, but until this blueprint is brought to scale, your story really isn’t germane to the public policy debate.”
In a room crowded with super smart people, all I could stammer was, “Really? Gosh, I thought mommies had already gone to scale.”
Why do so many experts and policy wonks believe that parents can’t really impact school reform in any systemic way? Little mommies, HA! Have they even been to a neighborhood sandbox lately? Women change the world every day!
That said, at the end of the day, no mom—no matter how smart, creative, or energetic—wants to sell-out her own kid in the name of some noble, political experiment. From personal experience, being an early adopters is a risk of faith, and not for the faint-hearted. Philadelphia mom, Marina Stamos, is wrestling with the decision to send her four-year-old son to Jackson Park Elementary in September. Her account in the local community paper talks about the fear of being the only idiot in the pool, an understadable fear that many neighborhood parents share. If the Passyunk moms play their cards right, other parents will jump, too. But for the first wave, it will be a matter holding hands, and deciding that, come hell or high water, they are going to make it work.
Philly’s Passyunk Square moms are proof positive that the neighborhood school blueprint is a good idea, not because a handful of type-A Philadelphia moms thought it up, or because their local superintendent is the very best educational leader on the planet, but because their collective vision makes intuitive sense. The road ahead won’t be all sunshine and unicorns; transforming a neighborhood school requires into a school of choice requires a ton of hard work and moxie, but it can be done, and it can be done in record time. Their local superintendent, Dr. Ralph Burnley, told me that he wants Andrew Jackson to be one the best elementary schools in the country. Double-down, and watch this team of moms knock it out of the park.
In Chicago, our crowd wasn’t a bunch of nuclear physicists building a reactor. This is doable stuff. Moreover, our experience reforming Nettelhorst wasn’t a one-off inspirational tale, like Ballroom Dancing or Dangerous Minds. Versions of our movement are springing-up all over the country, like pop-rocks. If you’re cooking-up your own neighborhood school renaissance, please shoot me an email. I’d love to hear your story.
I hope the the Passyunk Square story inspires parents across America to embrace their public schools.
Don’t all great revolutionary sparks start in Philadelphia?