Last week, the Charter School Office (CSO) of the Philadelphia School District, recommended that the school I have led and served, Mastery Charter-Shoemaker Campus, charter be renewed.
This was a highly contentious issue, although, based off of the data, it should not have been; academic, student retention rates, parent satisfaction surveys, student and staff surveys would indicate that our school community has been committed to our values of Student Achievement, We Serve, and Continuous Improvement for 10 years now.
However, because of the negative atmosphere in Philadelphia about the basic rights of Black families to have quality choices, the negative energy was palpable. Instead of the community of schools in our city coming together to learn from each other, staunch opponents of communities and unrelenting supporters of the oppressive status quo, would rather rant and rave instead of engaging in due faith. While thousands of charter-based educators strive to provide families with the basic right of choice, anti-choice advocates denigrate our work and our partner (families).
As a part of the renewal process, three members of the Shoemaker Campus community were able to testify before the voting body, the School Reform Commission (state controlled school board). My testimony is posted below. I will share other members of our community’s perspective (student and teacher) in a later post. Both our testimonies and our 800+ waitlist reject the tired, stale narrative that the anti-charter crowd loves to peddle.
Good evening Dr. Hite and School Reform Commission members. I am Sharif El-Mekki, the proud principal of Mastery Charter-Shoemaker Campus. I am here to ask that you support the charter renewal for our campus. We are a community school focused on both present and post-secondary success. Our students have access to amazing and gifted teachers of Honors and AP courses, math, drama, science, art, computer science, and Social Emotional Learning. We believe in Excellence. No Excuses coupled with empathy and community. We strive to be culturally competent and trauma informed, and we have a persistent and growing thread of student leadership and social justice permeating throughout our school.
Unlike many, we don’t solely look at education through a labor lens. We look at education through the lens of the individual and collective civil rights-the civil right of students, their families, and the overall communities in which we serve. Contrary to the misguided, yet somewhat popular opinions, we are a neighborhood school, serving mostly neighborhood students from Carroll Park, Conestoga, Parkside, and Wynnefield. I know because I live in the same neighborhood as many of my students. We serve our community as partners and cheerleaders. Educators and mentors. We serve students with special needs. We serve gifted students. We Serve as a partnering anchor in our neighborhood.
And, despite the unfortunate and negative rhetoric about our work, our students, who actually live in our community, have turned around a school that was persistently failing kids and communities for decades. 10 years ago, Shoemaker was violent and oppressive to children. While thousands of so-called “interested” citizens ignored the persistent problems these Black children faced, we (Mastery Charter Schools) jumped into the arena with our families, rolled up our sleeves, and got to work.
This is our 10th year anniversary and we are proud of the work that we do and we are not done. We represent a viable option for over 730 families. While others, who falsely claim to be dedicated community servants and activists, have lots to say, we have actually been doing. We have been selected to speak FOR & WITH the communities that we serve.
We respectfully ask that you renew our charter and let us continue to do the work that we started 10 years ago. We know we have lots to improve on and we want to continue our partnership with our families to DO the work-not talk about it.
We now await the School Reform Commission to vote to approve our charter, which will enable us to continue working the community in which I live and love for another five years.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.