When’s the Last Time You’ve Heard a Politician Take Full Responsibility for the Education of Black and Brown Children in Philly

For too long, we’ve pointed fingers at each other…again and again, we’ve told the people of Philadelphia that the state of their schools are someone else’s responsibility. -Mayor Kenney

Last week, Mayor Kenney, in a speech in City Council’s chambers called for the Philadelphia School District to return to local control. It has basically been under state takeover since then-superintendent Hornbeck called their tactics “racist.” They were offended, but took it over with an accompanying promise of more funding and support.

But, while the call for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission is very noteworthy, unfortunately, it wasn’t historic. What was historic was a politician saying they wanted to be held accountable for the educational outcomes of a district with mostly Black and Brown children. That, far too often, is unprecedented.

Mayor Kenney set an example and threw the gauntlet down. While folks (rightfully) gave our mayor a standing ovation for throwing the gauntlet down about local control of our schools, they should have stayed standing for the following point as well:

I will be judged by the voters on the number of high-performing schools in every neighborhood, not whether those schools are district or public charters.

The District currently serves over 200,000 students, including the nearly 70,000 of those students attending a public charter school. I am responsible to every one of those children, no matter the type of school they attend.

It is not often when Philly’s elected officials publicly declare their unwavering and unmitigated support for all children. I can actually count them on one hand. Senator Anthony H. Williams, Rep. Jordan Harris, are amongst the few. Others, skillfully navigate Philly’s public school system as they choose the right fit for their own child, all the while either whispering their support for parental school choice or shamefully, hypocritically decrying the idea of choice.

So, while I support a return to local control and deeply appreciated all the context Mayor Kenney brought to bear in his speech, I was just as excited to hear someone take public responsibility for the education of Black and Brown children—irrespective of the type of public school they attend.

In that alone, the mayor is in rare company.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
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.


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