A crowd of some 100 parents, teachers, principals, and education activists braved a brutal rainstorm on April 30 to wage what amounted to a two-hour attack on the School Reform Commission, which was considering the proposed bare-bones budget for the next school year.
Earlier that day and a block away, an 11th grader at Benjamin Franklin High School named Jeremy Rodriguez had been fighting his own battle with the current school budget.
“Some days the teachers just don’t have the energy … they’ll give us a paper and we’ll teach ourselves,” said Rodriguez, 17. “There’s nothing new in the school. … All the books are ripped up.”
Twenty years ago, Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner’s landmark decision in a long-running desegregation case offered a glimmer of hope that a longstanding inequity could be corrected: The Philadelphia School District, she ruled, must spend more and do more to close the “achievement gap” between Black or Hispanic students and Whites.
When Peggy Marie Savage thinks back over her 20-plus years teaching in the School District of Philadelphia, she whispers one word: “Wow.”
Savage had been teaching for eight years at Richmond Elementary by 1994, but “it felt like I was still brand new,” she said. Her classes were large, as many as 33 children. She had students at both ends of the spectrum – “kids who were really, really gifted and kids you really had to pray for,” whose learning disabilities cried out for evaluation and extra help.