by Sue Ann Rybak
“Will our children have to leave J.S. Jenks Elementary School in June?”
That’s what more than 80 parents who gathered in the J.S. Jenks Elementary School’s auditorium wanted to know on Wednesday, April 11.
The meeting was held to address a whirlwind of rumors and conjecture about the possibility of a “mass transfer of students” at the public elementary school. At issue was the School District of Philadelphia’s tradition of “principal privilege.”
The School District of Philadelphia used to allow a principal to enroll children who lived outside the catchment area if spaces were available in September. It’s a policy the School District plans to end starting in September 2013 due to school closures and citywide budget cuts.
A number of city and state representatives attended the meeting including City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Briana Elzey, legislative assistant for State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker and Yahne’ N. Baker, outreach coordinator for State Rep. Rosita Youngblood.
Parents breathed a sigh of relief when the school district officials announced that no children currently attending J.S. Jenks elementary school would be forced to leave.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass called the meeting a “win-win.”
Bass said she was happy that the meeting came to a resolution that “everyone is satisfied with.”
“We were able to squash unfounded rumors and get down to the facts,” Bass said. “I think it was a win-win. I think the school district did an excellent job. I think the parents are quite pleased with the resolution. I think this was a win-win for the community and the school district. When we communicate we can do nothing but win.”
Several parents said they were told by various sources that students living outside the catchment area would receive transfer slips with their child’s final report card at the end of the year instructing parents to enroll at their neighborhood school.
The rumors circulated after a letter was sent home on March 6 regarding the official transfer process.
According to school district policy students can attend J.S. Jenks three ways:
- They live in the catchment area
- They file a EH-36 form and are approved. (EH-36 requests are processed “in accordance with the resolution of the Board of Education adopted on Feb. 13, 1978 to foster desegregation.)
- They request a transfer under a provision in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) 2001 that states: “if a school continues to fail [Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)] for three consecutive years, parents have the right to transfer their child to a successful public school, including a charter school.”
School officials said no new students will be admitted to a school through principal privilege.
“The purpose of today’s meeting was to come together and build synergy between the community and between the school and between the administration offices on one accord to dispel the myths that children were going to be moved this upcoming September,” said Claudia Averette, deputy of Administration to the Superintendent. “We are here to tell you that every child that is currently enrolled in Jenks will remain in this school until graduation unless the parents choose to do something else. This is not a witch hunt.”
“It was never on the table,” said Mary Lynskey, the principal of J.S. Jenks, referring to the mass transfers. “But, the rumor mill took over, and we had to clarify; we just wanted every voice in the same room.”
Andre’ Dhondt, whose children attend J.S. Jenks said he was upset that so many parents had to take time off from work to resolve the situation.
“It’s sad it takes all this to get an answer,” he said.
However, Dhondt said he was happy that the school district answered the question directly.
Rev. Paul Weeks, whose son attends Jenks said the meeting “went beyond my wildest expectation.” He added that he hopes the school district “crosses the t’s and dots the i’s and takes the anxiety away from the parents.”
Weeks said “ I just hope that people will follow through on everything they [the school district] said.
“And bring back the partnership that is missing from this administration right now,” he said. “My son has special needs and we received a letter last year in the middle of the summer saying he was automatically transferred. We are the prototype of this whole meeting. We need to make sure everybody follows through and gets back to partnering with our children- despite the budget cuts.
“Jenks is a really marque middle school K-8,” he said. “We want to keep it that way despite any budget cuts. “It’s incumbent upon us to work together. Jenks actually has a good problem-people are dying to get in, not dying to get out. That should be brought up in our dialogue of Jenks. It’s a good problem-but lets manage that problem with respect for one another.”
Yahne’ N. Baker, outreach coordinator for Rep. Rosita Youngblood, said she wanted “to learn and understand both sides of the issues” and find a resolution without “a significant amount of advocacy.”
“Because the school is working in collaboration with the parents, it’s the ideal situation,” Baker said.
“We commend the school district, the school and the parents who looked at the problem in a holistic way – What the children were going to need and how it would effect them.
Baker said the problem is that there aren’t enough schools performing to a high standard.
“It is incumbent upon the school district to improve the schools across the board,” Baker said. “So hopefully in the future, you will want to go to your neighborhood school because it’s a wonderful school and it’s close. That’s the solution ultimately. This is the solution for the moment. But, every child deserves the highest quality education.”