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Muñoz-Marín parents vote decisively to keep school within the District

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jun 6, 2014 09:56 AM
Photo: Bill Hangley Jr.

The principal of Muñoz-Marín, Ximena Carreño (in black), celebrates the results of Thursday's vote.

Updated | 3:50 p.m.: Superintendent William Hite announced that Muñoz-Marín will remain a traditional District school, saying, “Parents and guardians have chosen a path for their school and we are going to support their choice and quickly move forward with the very important work of improving outcomes for students at Muñoz Marín.”


A long, lively day of voting at Muñoz-Marín School in North Philadelphia ended with a decisive victory for the school’s current administration, with parents rejecting a proposed match with a charter provider, ASPIRA, and electing to remain under District management.

“It’s 223 for traditional public school and 70 for ASPIRA,” spokesperson Fernando Gallard announced at 7:45 Thursday night to a roar of delight from the school’s jubilant supporters and staff.

In a separate vote Thursday, parents on Muñoz-Marín’s School Advisory Council also voted to reject ASPIRA, 11-0.

“We were right. And we won,” shouted Vivian Rodriguez, a retired teacher and vocal supporter of the school, as Muñoz-Marín supporters danced and chanted around her. “You know what 11-0 means? That means, ‘in your face!’”

Principal Ximena Carreño was likewise exhilarated.

“It’s a big thing,” she said, beaming. “For me, it’s like, I don’t know, a miracle. The community was with us, all the time. I’m very tired – but I’m so happy. So happy.”

ASPIRA officials left quickly after the vote was counted. The provider had not been optimistic going in, but CEO Alfredo Calderon said he felt they had done the best they could. “We’re OK,” Calderon said before the vote. “We’re comfortable with the job we did.”

Heidi Gold of the League of Women Voters, which oversaw the vote, said that the balloting went off without a hitch. “A perfect day,” she said, with only a few minor issues, such as the occasional ineligible voter or missing ID.

The League also oversaw the SAC vote, which was equally trouble-free -- unlike last month’s SAC vote at Steel Elementary. At Steel, District officials didn’t report the number of eligible SAC voters until the last minute, resulting in some SAC members being turned away. District officials also monitored the vote themselves without outside observers, and their alleged mishandling of the votes triggered grievances from Steel supporters.

In contrast, at Muñoz-Marín, District officials determined SAC voting eligibility days ago, allowing SAC president Maria Cruz to make sure that all the eligible voters were present. Gold said the SAC vote went thoroughly by the book: “You could have heard a pin drop in there,” she said.

About one-third of 1,000 eligible voters cast ballots – “better than most Philadelphia elections,” said one teacher with a smile.

The scene was a lively one, with supporters for both sides bustling about and chatting with voters, passing cars honking horns, and parents sporting “I Voted” stickers as they headed home.

The school’s support included union organizers and volunteers from the Philadelphia Coalition for Public Schools (PCAPS). ASPIRA had staff and supporters of its own on hand.

And unlike the scene at Steel, election day at Muñoz-Marín featured an active showing of local politicians, all supporting the school’s current administration.

A sound truck provided by Leslie Acosta, the District’s Democratic nominee for the General Assembly (virtually assured of victory in November), drove through the neighborhood all day, urging residents to “get out and vote! Let’s keep this school public!” She and her father, Ralph, a longtime activist and former state senator, were on hand to press the pro-public message, as was local ward leader Carlos Matos.

The polls closed at 7 p.m., and the ballot-counting began.

It wasn’t long before a burst of cheers came from the building, where word of the SAC vote had just leaked out. Inside, Muñoz-Marín supporters began to dance and chant while waiting for Gallard to provide the final tally. At 7:45 p.m. he made the official announcement, triggering a fresh round of cheers and delight from the parents, staff, and school supporters crowded in Muñoz-Marín’s front hall.

None was happier than Cruz, the SAC president, who had been accused by ASPIRA of personally blocking its efforts to get SAC members eligible to vote. ASPIRA filed a written complaint about Cruz just days before the election.

That complaint did not result in any response from the District, and in the end, it appears that almost all SAC members became eligible and voted. “I fought for the parents!” she shouted, hugging friends and supporters in delight.

The two-month campaign, which grew increasingly contentious as election day neared, was not without its cost for the winning side.

Principal Carreño thinks she’ll probably lose some teachers next year, because site-selection deadlines required them to start looking for new jobs before knowing Muñoz-Marín's fate. Her already-overworked staff was stressed by the process, she said. And her plans for school improvements will take money that’s yet to be found.

But for now, Carreño said, she’ll get some rest, and then get started on the next chapter. “The Marín family,” she promised, “will be working together to get better and better and better.”

About the Author

Bill Hangley Jr. is a freelance contributor to the Notebook. 

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Comments (31)

Submitted by Me (not verified) on June 6, 2014 10:54 am
Woo Hoo! The parents have spoken. Now to get the DIstrict and the Legislature to LISTEN!
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on June 6, 2014 10:37 am
Stop the presses! the Poor Urban people do not want the Superman that the smart all knowing elites have designated to teach their children?? How ungrateful!!! What is wrong with them?
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on June 6, 2014 10:24 am
Not enough people voted says Maria Quinones-Sanchez!!!!!!!! Too little concern about the standardized test score results I suppose!!!!!!! A misguided appreciation for the values of the community????? BTW, when MQS won the city council election, was she concerned about the folk who elected to stay home?
Submitted by Headstart teacher (not verified) on June 6, 2014 10:18 am
If Hite does not respect this decision and forces them to go charter there WILL be a riot. Maybe that's what he wants, who knows with the King of churn and burn.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on June 6, 2014 12:42 pm
A Great victory for the Munoz-Marin school community and a Great victory for Democracy! The School District needs to rethink the Renaissance Charter initiative and stop trying to turn public schools over to private operators which have only their self interests and profit motives. There is no place for hostile takeovers of public schools. It is a destructive and counterproductive process. Dr. Hie and the SRC should focus on improving all schools and fully staffing them with all support services including reading specialists and math specialists along with ELL and bilingual education specialists. It is time to stop playing these games and it is absolutely wonderful to see the school community rise up and just say, "No."
Submitted by Mayday! (not verified) on June 6, 2014 12:33 pm
Hurrah! The community has spoken, and it shouts NO MORE hostile takeovers of cherished community schools!
Submitted by Lisa Haver on June 6, 2014 1:56 pm
The parents, teachers and students at Steel and Munoz-Marin are an inspiration to everyone who is fighting to save public education in Philly. If you organize and fight back, you can win. Please come to the SRC meeting Thursday, June 19 @5:30 PM (sign up to speak Wed 18 before 4:30, 215-400-4180). It is the last voting meeting before August. We need to tell them to stop trying to give multi-million dollar contracts to charter chains and start investing in neighborhood schools. We also need to be there to see whether Green and Hite will stand by their decision not to pass a budget which puts our students at risk of academic failure and physical harm. Will Green put aside political considerations and demand that the Governor fund our schools and reinstate the fair funding formula? And when we ask him that, will he have the decency to answer?
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on June 6, 2014 1:40 pm
Chalk one up for the teachers' union. They're not losing every battle.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 6, 2014 7:21 pm
HUH? Evidently you are illiterate as well as dim and ignorant the PARENTS and School Advisory Council voted against going charter
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 6, 2014 8:23 pm
Please don't feed the troll.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2014 11:22 am
And the PFT members lobbied the parents to get them to vote for the status quo. As you can see from the previous posts, the PFT won and they are elated.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 7, 2014 11:36 am
ASPIRA lobbied aggressively. You don't think the parents are capable of thinking for themselves and did not buy into the starve the public schools/build up the charters game being played?
Submitted by Education Grad ... on June 7, 2014 7:18 pm
The decisive votes by parents to remain as District-run schools says a lot about the quality of these schools, much more than any test score or data point. Ultimately, parents are willing to entrust these schools with educating and caring for their children. Teachers and other staff persons have formed RELATIONSHIPS with parents and students and, obviously, parents and students value these relationships. My educated guess is that most of the parents/guardians at both Marin-Munoz and Steel care deeply about their children and want what is best for their children. So it says a great deal that parents/guardians trust the staffs at these schools, even with all of the negative publicity about budget cuts and problems with school safety in The School District of Philadelphia. The parents's votes reflect the fact that teachers and other staff persons have established relationships with people in the communities. Parents see the dedication and other positive qualities of the teachers and it's the RELATIONSHIPS that matter. I have learned more about Steel from media coverage, specifically that the principal has been there for 8 years and there are many veteran teachers who have spent many years at Steel. (I didn't hear as much about the longevity of the principal and teachers at Munoz-Marin.) Having staff persons who have worked at schools for long periods of time, 10, 20, 30 years is in many cases a benefit. Student and former students feel connected to schools because of the relationships they have had with staff members. Some teachers have been around so long that they may have the chance to teach members of multiple generations, such as a child and one or both of his/her parents. I'm please that Dr. Hite honored the wishes of the parents at both schools. This new structure to the Renaissance process compells the citizens of Philadelphia to consider what parents and student VALUE about their schools as well as "Who should be making decisions about our schools?" In some cases, an advanced degree and powerful position in the School District does not guarantee sound decision-making. Rather, sometimes it's the local community and parents who really do KNOW BEST. This is a PUBLIC school district which has a legal obligation to respond to the public. Those in positions of power need to "stay in their lane" when it comes to making decisions affecting neighborhood schools because, sometimes, parents really do know best.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2014 12:20 am
EGS - I feel torn when I read your post because I believe relationships are essential and advanced degrees don't know best, but aren't these failing schools even before budget cuts? Even when parents care who is going to organize a high poverty and racially segregated neighborhood that does not have the actual political and school infrastructure make change on its own? Who will fight with corrupt politicians and poor city/SDP services that stand in the way of improvement of schools? With the vote won what will the Union/Ed Activists do to support those parents and staff to transform their school? Funding is critical but the truth is that the reformers are right that it is not enough. The weakness of schools like Steele and Munoz are about systemic failures by teachers, government, SDP, and communities. We need to find systemic answers about how to deliver those services.I believe in public education but I also believe that both Steele and Munoz are not good schools. That doesn't make students and teachers bad but it does mean that we have to have a real plan to improve them and a realistic notion of how we are going to marshel the social and financial resources to do that.
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on June 9, 2014 4:33 am
What makes a school "not good" or "bad?" Is it more than test scores? There are many "good things" happening in so called "low performing" schools and "bad things" in "high performing" schools. I have a kid in a "high performing" school and there are many problems - including pedantic teaching, ineffective and unresponsive administration, limited student engagement, etc. Test scores are high because you can't get into the school without high test scores. I have a kid at another school with some great teachers but also some real duds. Are these "good" or "bad" schools?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2014 1:50 pm
YES, exactly!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2014 7:14 am
But if you can never evaluate a school and you shun accountability how do we every show that we are doing a good job at a School? I would agree test scores alone don't simply say that schools are good or bad, but having seen a neighborhood school close up I don't see a lot of high quality teaching, they have a weak curriculum, lack of dara driven decision making (meaning understanding how are our practices impacting student learning and developing and how to we do them better)? )overwhelmed leadership (not because of budget cuts), poor facilities, a lack of cohesive neighborhood commitment and student performance is weak both in the classroom and on tests.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2014 1:43 pm
Life is the best assessment. The problem with that it takes time to find out, so people like you seek quick assessments which in the long run to not tell very much about how a student will do in the future...but then they are not really about the students are they. They are a way to attack and experienced teaching staff and community schools which have been parts of communities for decades.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2014 2:34 pm
I am not one of "those people". I believe in a public system of education and that we need holistic answers to education and poverty but we can't look away from the weakness of the current system (charter and public). Parents didn't win anything at either school since there isn't a clear plan to improve the schools nor are there resources to improve them. That doesn't mean they should have gone charter but it does mean we need a plan to improve neighborhood schools rather than a simply a defense of what is not good enough for our kids. That's not simply on Hite but the ed activist groups that turned the tide at both schools. When we look at long term life outcomes there is a lack of employment, social mobility, college completion, engagement/attendance in school, poor voter turnout in this city among the graduates of the public schools. That is not all poverty's fault there is a basic lack of quality service in the schools charter and public because the students are poor and therefore do not get the best investment, teachers, or solutions. Instruction is weak and people are taking from the system (public admin/teachers and CMO's) because we don't care enough about the kids and parents to create a high quality public system for and with them.
Submitted by Brenna (not verified) on June 10, 2014 5:39 pm
A few years ago my sister moved to philadelphia and enrolled my niece in Luis Munos Marin school and goodness what a mistake that was. If you drive by the school it looks nice, but looks can be deceiving. That's school is an ABSOLUTE joke. It seems lthat there is absolutely no learning going on in that school whatsoever. The kids don't know anything. The middle school age students can't barely read or do simple math. The kids are out of control and have no respect for the teachers. There's almost no parental involvement in that school and most of the parents in that school are a joke themselves. Where did all these votes come from if the parents in that school seem so uninvolved and uninterested? Did someone pay the parents to show up and vote? Whatever has been happening in that school is OBVIOUSLY not working and the school is in dire need of change. I would NEVER send my kids to that school. I'm happy my sister decided to pull my niece out of that school as she is a bright girl (came from a top notch magnet school in NY), she deserves better and a proper education. My young daughter got a spot at Northwood Academy Charter and I'm happy with what I have seen so far at this charter school. Some charter schools are obviously doing something right. If I had not gotten a spot at one of the better charter schools for my child I would have sold my house and moved out of the city. In the end it does not matter what decisions are made to help improve these schools. All these problems stem from the household itself and parental involvement. If the kids are not getting it right in their homes they will never get it right in school either.
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