Local Control for Philadelphia Schools?

For Philadelphia public schools, big changes may be coming, and very soon. Mayor Kenney has recently made a pitch for local control of Philadelphia schools. Currently, the School Reform Commission, or SRC, has the control over the majority of decisions involving Philly schools. This includes funding and budgets, school closings, curriculum, and much more. In addition to this, the SRC also holds the power to disband itself if seen fitting, by 3 of the 5 members voting against the committee.The SRC operates in Harrisburg, and has been the cause of much of the budget cuts and funding issues Philadelphia schools have faced over the past 16 years. Mayor Kenney has recently urged the SRC to disband itself and offers a loose plan of local control of public schools in Philadelphia. But what exactly would this plan look like?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mayor Kenney has offered a loose plan for local control, but we do not know much. The city would have to find a way to pay for the District's debts- around $103 million dollars in the next year and $1 billion dollars in the next 5 years. A plan for paying this deficit has not yet been confirmed. Kenney’s major goal is to work with a 13-member nominating panel, as well as State Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera, to appoint a nine member school board. The major goal of this school board as opposed to the SRC is the idea of much more cooperation between the schools and the city, and more collaboration going into the decisions that are being made. Although the funding for the schools is a major obstacle. Kenney says that many state officials will work together to find a solution, because the alternative is much worse. He says the city has to break the cycle of cutting funds and debt no matter the cost.

But how will this affect public school students? I believe local control will restore much power to Philadelphia residents and students. Having a local school board will give students a greater chance to vocalize their ideas and concerns, as well as a greater chance of being listened to. Local control means the decisions for our schools are being made by people who live in and care about the city of Philadelphia. Many students, teachers, and parents of public schools are excited and hopeful. Mollie Michel, a district parent, stated “A quality education is the cornerstone of a successful, productive life. My kids and all of Philadelphia’s children deserve the best educational opportunities from pre-K to high school. A return to local control under a Mayor-appointed board is the best chance our kids have to attend thriving schools and receive a top-notch education that will allow them to realize their dreams.” It sounds like the overwhelming majority of people whose lives are immersed in the Philadelphia School District are extremely happy about this plan, and are willing to go lengths to see it put into action.

Unfortunately, nobody has the power to disband the SRC except for the SRC itself. On Thursday, November 16, 2017, they will be making the final decision as to whether or not the SRC will be disbanded and local control will be restored to Philadelphia Schools.   

Thea Risher

Communications associate. 

Points in History of the Forgotten People

“There can be no question of national dignity involved in the treatment of savages by a civilized power. The proudest Anglo-Saxon will climb a tree with a bear behind him and deem not his honor, but his safety, compromised by the situation. With wild men, as with wild beasts, the question whether to fight, coax, or run, is a question merely of what is easiest or safest in the situation given. Points of dignity only arise between those who are or assume to be equals,” as said by the then commissioner of Indian affairs, Francis Amasa Walker concerning the issue of equality and the dramatic question of the decade of what would happen with the native community in the rapidly changing America. Indian policy was based largely on the image of what the Native Americans was/are to us, the remaining Americans. The situation of Native Americans today, I believe, was premeditated. Long before our behavior yesterday our behavior back in the 1860s when the commissioner made his statements, but back in when the Europeans had first made contact with from across the sea and discovered the obvious differences between the ways of life between the two was when their situation was decided. Ronald Takaki, an Asian American historian, in his book “A Different Mirror” goes on to describe what he and other natives at the time had referred to as “the white man’s road,” a process of Americanizing and forceful cleansing that we have read about many times before in American history. In how the U.S. deconstructed the complex cultures and institutions, violently, of various Spanish speaking people, and more famously those of the African American people so much that they would become more “American-like”, the nation has damaged, permanently the lives of many people. From a historical standpoint alone, it is easy to see that the influence of the same stereotype that was held of other peoples, would take its place in Native American communities as well. There was a Super Bowl ad that played in 2014 about a slur used to describe what a typical Native American looked like, that is the name of one of America’s teams in one of its biggest sports.


In the 1850s, reservation camps became a big thing for the relationship between native Americans and white America. Everyone who was a Native American was to be put into some plot of land, among others who looked just like them, away from their homes, and it would be there that the cleansing from their Native American cultural practices that would take place. A girl from Minnesota reflects on “the boarding school era” for the assimilated, in the “We are Young” documentary, where she talks about the type of systems that were in place inside these reservations, a school where kids were required to go to and learn American culture, “the dominant culture.” She then goes on to say that “in these boarding schools, you could not speak your native language…” it was one of the restrictions deemed essential in the reservation camps. All Native Americans were locked into their reservation camps, leaving them would mean entering American territory, and therefore making them “liable to be struck by the military at any time, without warning.” legally. This, of course, is despite the fact that American industrialism was allowed to live beside them, literally through their reservation in the form of railroads, it can be clearly seen that the Native Americans were/are seen with respect, or as equal.


In 1890, Wovoka, a strong proponent of the some of the native’s culture had sent a message to his group, saying that the Native Americans former glory would return, and in the event, they were to dance a ghost dance, they were later arrested for a public display of their religion. White Lance, a respected member of the group details the occurrences of a later event, where  “There were only about a hundred warriors and there were nearly five hundred soldiers” as the troops began to fire off at the Native Americans. The American constitution says that, as a citizen of the United States, that we have the freedom to practice religion, but this apparently did not include those who were Native American because their image was too different to be considered American.


In 1891 alone, the government acquired over 17,000,000 acres of the total land originally allotted to the Native Americans following several years of many attempts of reclaiming and were vague “reasonably well payed” for their losses. They were then, told afterward, to prove how American they were by buying back the land that was taken from them, for the native Americans, this was somehow essential in learning to be American. It is indisputably clear that the treatment of the natives was not equivalent to the treatment of your everyday American, with the reneging of several Indian-government treaties as described in the Wounded Knee Incident of 1973 documentary, blatant Americanizing taking place in reservations, and the seemingly endless instances of disrespect and land taking, it is obvious that government policies were influenced by the construct of the natives that the government had imagined in its head.

Ishmael Brown

Penn State



Chicago Public School System

Sam Dennis


As our own education prospers with the multiple events that correlate with the growth of our own knowledge, it seems that the Chicago Public School systems wants to ensure that their student out their profound knowledge to good use immediately after their senior year. Students will be FORCED to either attend college, land a job, be hosted for an apprenticeship, a gap year, or be enlisted in the military. If this isn’t decided before the end of their 12th grade year, then their diplomas will be withheld. These options place students on the road for a career path, but ultimately building the borders as to what they can do after high school.


Of course, the options are still diverse, although they still restrict students from pathways unknown. If you’re not able to lan an apprenticeship, for example, they will withhold your diploma. If there is a certain path you must be on in order to become what you want, this school district rule rushes that, ad prevents this from developing a threshold for the students to take their time on, ultimately forcing them onto their own.


Chicago public school students should be able to determine the use of their own future after high school without being held on a time limit. This would obviously give these students more time to configure a possibly of what they want to do. Already implemented in college, students can obtain an example of “more time” by declaring themselves “Undecided” in order to chose a major in which they see themselves enjoying. This completely would go against their right to “freedom of choice”, which is alluded in the ninth amendment, and enforced in the 14th amendment.

Student Self-Governance: A Country Way Too Far Behind

A Blog Post by: Kwan Hopkins


Respect, democracy, and self-governance. These principles were instrumental to the founding of our nation. These qualities -- qualities so fundamental to who we are as a country, have guided us through our long, and rocky history. From our Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to Pearl Harbor to 9/11. We as a people have continued to demand respect, facilitate democracy, and govern ourselves. We have done these things and followed these principles for 241 years. The question I’m trying to answer, however, is whether or not the principles of respect democracy and self-governance should apply to every aspect of our nation, every government agency, and every federally funded organization? One would automatically assume that the answer would be yes. This simply is not the case.

People could sit around debating about whether or not government agencies at the very least, are living up to these principles. I, however, just want to focus on a place I think respect, democracy, and self-governance should be encouraged: schools across the United States. Our education system’s resistance to or plain ignorance when it comes to student self-governance is hurting students, especially the ones in our urban cities.

I’ve had first hand experience with resistance from my own district’s leadership, from the School District of Philadelphia, its School Reform Commission, from even my own high school. Now, I fear many of our nation’s school districts are ignorant of the need for true student self-governance. I came to the School Reform Commission with and idea for a coalition of student government presidents. This coalition would have been the result of a rule requiring all public schools in the city of Philadelphia to have student governments. Philadelphia’s SRC was and continues to be ignorant of the issue that is a lack of of real student representation and power. After being the subject was brought up to them, they simply began to resist. Much like the leadership of Philadelphia’s public school system, I fear that if an issue like this were to be brought up anywhere else, a student or group of them would eventually get the same resistance. Urban students, primarily minorities, are missing out on chances to build an interest in politics or to learn about the qualities it takes to be a leader in general.

But why? What is it about student self-governance that scares my district’s administration (and quite possibly that of other urban school districts)? What is it about true, determined student leaders that can turn a provider of American education funded by our federal government and a progressive high school into hypocritical catastrophes that will immediately abandon their values? I’d say fear. Fear of it not working out? No. Fear of what too much student involvement may do? Maybe. Fear of students telling them what they need to be doing. I also think that one of the most American things you can do is to teach students early on to be involved in making change wherever they are and to speak out when it comes to addressing issue they face. There’s no better way to do that then by establishing student governments in schools everywhere, a task that will fully give students the respect, democracy, and self-governance they both crave and deserve.

STATEMENT: We Stand with Dreamers

Statement: We Stand with Dreamers

September 12th, 2017

Media Contact:

Elani Gonzalez-Oritz, Communications Director

Info@urbedadvocates.org | EGonzalez-ortiz@scienceleadership.org


In Phoenix, Arizona, just hours after the Trump Administration announced its decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, hundreds of students walked out of classes at South Mountain High School. Marching a mile to the police station, expressing their outrage at the decision and their solidarity with all the students who will be hurt . Similar student-led protests happened in Denver, DC, and several other cities around the country.

The DACA program was established by President Obama in 2012. It targeted for young people (or “Dreamers,” as they are called) who were brought to this country by parents or other family members when they were children or even Infants. The act is in place for those who entered the US before age 16 and have lived there since June 15, 2007. While the act does not offer a path to citizenship, DACA protected Dreamers from possible deportation and allows Dreamers access to basic human needs such as driver licenses, opening bank accounts, and importantly safety in public schools and workplaces. There are over 800,000 Dreamers in the United States. The vast majority attend school or work – or both and pay taxes without being offered any federal financial aid through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), and are limited to state or college financial aid. For some this is the only country that they remember living in.

As one public high school teacher in Philadelphia said, “these are children who did not make the decision to enter the U.S. illegally. They broke no law and they’ve grown up as American as you and I.” Thousands of those Dreamers who are affected by the Trump Administration’s outrageous decision are still teenagers attending public high schools all across the city. Under DACA, they were able to pursue their education freely, without the looming threat of deportation. Many cities and states even provided financial aid to make that education possible.

Once again, these students must live under the shadow of uncertainty and fear. Once again, they and their families face the possibility of ICE raids, being torn from their families and communities, and sent off to a country which, for them, would essentially be a foreign unknown place.This places fear into the students, which can drastically affect their performance in school. Will they be torn from their social circle of friends? Will the work they have put in to get this far be for nothing? Will their future be torn away from them?

Everyone must join these students in their protests, UrbEd is no exception. We will continue to work to aid the undocumented member of the education community by giving them access to the most resources possible. We will continue to reach out to other organizations and give support and do whatever we can in our power to restore DACA. UrbEd will draw on connections that our team have to organizations working directly on issues facing Dreamers. We strive to make sure all members of our community are safe and secure and is receiving a quality and efficient urban education. By denying them their education and their future, we are denying our society of much talent. We urge Congress to act to protect Dreamers from the hatred of the President of the United States.  We must fight to restore DACA at all costs.  

Guns in Pennsylvania Public Schools

Thea Risher


When I was in seventh grade, I had a quirky world geography teacher. He was a perfectly good teacher. He was interesting and engaged the class well. I  have no real complaints about the class, but there were some moments that stuck out at me. One day, he was in a particularly bad mood and one of the kids in my class was acting up. The teacher yelled at him a few times, but he would not settle down. All of a sudden, the teacher flung a folder at him with extreme force, hitting him on the side of the head. Of course, our whole class caused an uproar, laughing until we cried, because at the time we had no idea that this could put any child in actual danger. This particular teacher had since been known to chuck water bottles at students, or shove desks in their general direction when riled up. Rumors used to spread about him, but his anger outbursts were relatively harmless at the time.

When I heard about the legalization of school employees in Pennsylvania to carry firearms, I was working at a summer camp with kids ages 8-12. My heart dropped. The first thing I thought about was this teacher and his impulsivity when children misbehave. I do not think any teacher or school employee would ever intentionally hurt a child, but our natural instinct as humans will always be to protect ourselves over others. Countless incidents have shown that guns given to people in shootings do not actually prevent fatalities. There is too much training required to be able to maintain composure, and you also risk the chance of shooting an innocent person in a moment of desperation.

Studies have shown that in order to maintain composure and self control as well as keep people safe in a potential shooting, an armed citizen would need 700 hours of training, at a bare minimum. The Philadelphia school district in particular does not have the time or the money to pay school employees to conduct and participate in these trainings. Having guns in the hands of any school employee is proven to only cause more danger, and school employees do not have the right to put any kids in danger. Guns are relatively helpless and even more harmful if you don’t know how to use them.One motto of the NRA has famously been “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. Only 3% of the time in the last ten years has a shooting been stopped by a regular citizen with a gun. The percentages are not high enough to grant us any amount of safety.

I believe there are endless reasons that guns in our schools are not beneficial and would be nothing but harmful to all parties. There are many other realistic alternatives that may not be perfect, but would work much better. More security around the entrance of non-school employees or students into the buildings could be very beneficial and more cost effective. Having better lock down drills and protection in individual classes could be an effective alternative as well, and practicing more thoroughly how to stay safe when there is a potential shooter on the loose. There are many things that could better insure safety than bringing the root of the problem, in this case guns, into school environments themselves.  Overall, putting more guns in a facility means more access to guns for younger students or anyone who can get inside the building. Guns were made since the beginning to be weapons of destruction. To me, once a weapon always a weapon. Schools have always been advertised as a safe place and putting guns in this environment would ruin the whole fundamental idea of school culture. Why have such a lethal weapon be within reach of the most vulnerable part of our population? We should be asking ourselves how to eliminate the root of the danger instead of adding fire to the flames of gun violence.

Thea Risher

Blog Coordinator

STATEMENT: Charlottesville, Race in America, and UrbEd's work

Picture was taken by UrbEd team member Luke at the memorial for Heather Heyer who was killed by a car driven into her by a white supremacist. 

Picture was taken by UrbEd team member Luke at the memorial for Heather Heyer who was killed by a car driven into her by a white supremacist. 

Luke Risher, Deputy Executive Director

Info@urbedadvocates.org | lrisher@scienceleadership.org

We at UrbEd are saddened and disgusted (but not surprised) at the tragic recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is a yet another cog in the cycle of racism and hates that this country was built on, shaped by, and still suffers from. A team member of UrbEd, Luke Risher, was able to travel down to the Charlottesville community and stand in solidarity with the community during their time of strife.

UrbEd sees the lack condemnation from the government and leaders specifically Donald Trump. Statements like the "both side" statement shows where the administration's values lie and how this country still accepts open white supremacy.

At UrbEd we fight for Urban Education and we see how the underlying and explicate issues of racism have formed and currently impact education. We are based in the City of Philadelphia, located in Pennsylvania - a state that both hosts an active Ku Klux Klan chapter and voted for Donald Trump in the election. In our schools in Philadelphia we see examples of racism, for example, the Swastikas were drawn in Little Flower High School, or spray painted downtown in areas where multiple schools are located. Also, we see how the underlying racism in our school system leads to issues like underfunding, lack of control, lack of opportunities, negative and degrading school environments, for urban primarily non-white students.

We continue to fight and stand in solidarity against the overt racism we see, we also will not lose sight of the ingrained racism in the system in our country like the education system and the economic structure. As student advocate fighting for urban students (primarily not white), we will always fight the systems that create inequality and injustice in our communities.

No Experience DeVos

Betsy Devos is the current Secretary of Education. She is expected to oversee the country’s education system and yet she has no prior experience in the education world. She was never an education leader and she is unfit to be in charge of our country’s education systems.

According to the U.S Department of Education, “The mission of the Department of Education is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.” The current nominee for the Secretary of Education Position, Betsy Devos, is pro charter rather than pro public. Betsy Devos is President Donald Trump’s republican nominee. Betsy Devos lacks in experience when it comes to public schools. BBC states, “"She is, in essence, a lobbyist - someone who has used her extraordinary wealth to influence the conversation about education reform, and to bend that conversation to her ideological convictions despite the dearth of evidence supporting them."” Devos is not capable of running the entirety of the education system our nation holds.

She believes that public schools are not the best option. Rather than her explaining as to how she plans on fixing out urban schools she suggest that parents should have more say in their children’s education. During the senate hearings Devos makes it clear that she does not believe that traditional public schools are the best option. She was asked multiple times whether or not she would privatize public schools and she answered with I look forward to finding common ground. Rather than fixing the public education system she would like to make public schools more like charter schools.

Not only is Devos not in favor of the public school education system but she lacks in experience. She is someone who had a say in the education world due to her wealth. She is not and educator nor an education leader.

WRITTER: Elani Gonzalez-Ortiz


Part of UrbEd’s identified focuses is the SRC and regaining local control to the school district of Philadelphia. We see this as a concern because we think that without local control and the people most affected making the decisions, the decision makers will never be held accountable to the people and never truly reform the schools in the ways we would want them to. Because of this UrbEd sees local control of the school district to be a major step in reforming the schools.

But the SRC has been in place for over 15 years, why is now more than ever the time to abolish the SRC and transition to a locally elected school board? For years, the city and active education advocates have all talked about needing to abolish the SRC -- and now we have a firm and real timeline because this opportunity to get three out of five members to vote to abolish may not come again for a long time.

Estelle Richman, Joyce Wilkerson, and Chris McGinley all have expressed some interest or willingness to open the conversation to disbandment. That the 3 needed! This situation where there were even three possible supporters hasn’t occurred for a long time!

If that wasn’t enough motivation, In Fall 2018, our state will vote on a new Governor. Many people here will remember what happened when we had a Republican governor and a state controlled school board -- we had massive budget cuts, massive school closures in certain neighborhoods. Our schools are still recovering. We can’t risk this. With Trump, with Betsy DeVos -- we need local control of our schools more than ever! This means that to reach the 180 day requirement, the vote needs to happen by the Fall of 2017.

According to Act 46, to abolish the SRC, we need a simple majority vote of SRC members and then the Secretary of Education needs to approve the vote. This vote needs to happen at least 180 days before the end of the school year for local control to go into effect.

This would give us an entire year until the 2018-2019 school year to discuss what local control would look like and what the next steps are. This year should be used to gather the voices of students, teachers, parent, faculty, and community members and build a sustainable and just system that works for all of us -- a school governance system that we all deserve.

WRITER: Luke Risher


RELEASE: ‘UrbEd’ Relaunch

August 21st, 2017

Media Contact:

Tamir Harper, Executive Director

Info@urbedadvocates.org | (267) 277-7065

Elani Gonzalez-Oritz, Communications Director

Info@urbedadvocates.org | EGonzalez-ortiz@scienceleadership.org

UrbEd is a youth lead advocacy organization with leaders all under the age of 18. UrbEd is working to better the Urban Education system.  We are fighting to have a quality and efficient education for our Urban Schools. UrbEd is focusing on four major projects: the school reform commission,  school to prison pipeline, teacher diversity, and building conditions.

UrbEd seeks to change the Urban Education system by fixing the issues that are affecting public students the most. The Student Reform Commission is not and will never be beneficial to the School District of Philadelphia. Rather than have the SRC we call for local control which will benefit the students and it will give us the city back.

The school to prison pipeline is the system where students are funneled out of public schools and into juvenile and adult criminal justice system. One of UrbEd’s main priorities when it comes to discipline is not only to ensure the safety of students of students in Philadelphia’s schools but to ensure that students aren’t prosecuted unfairly after an offense occurs in their learning environment.  

Teacher Diversity is an issue that is affecting the dynamic of the classroom. The lack of teacher diversity is negatively affecting our student of color. We plan on working to make sure that our students feel included and can relate to relate our entire teacher force.

Building conditions are one of the biggest issues the school district faces. Due to the extremely underfunding of the School District of Philadelphia, it caused our schools to have a major lack of necessary resources. UrbEd is working towards giving every student access to a safe, sanitary, and functional building that allows them to be educated.

Every single student in the Philadelphia School District deserves a safe, well kept, and quality education. UrbEd seeks to give every student the education that they deserve.

Thanks, to Bread and Roses UrbEd is able to continue fighting for 2017-2018!


About UrbEd:

UrbEd is an initiative to advocate for students and families that are being deprived of a quality and efficient urban education. We as an initiative work directly with students, parents, teachers, school staff, policy makers and organizations fighting for the same objective. Given our connection experience and location we are currently working only in Philadelphia, but reaching out into other cities possible as we formulate strategies that take the power from the hands of the wealthy decision makers and give it back to the everyday citizens and students affected. We hope that students are able to be provided a quality and efficient urban education by 2026.  For more information about UrbEd, visit Urbedadvocates.org, like our page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @UrbEdadvocates.