Students, parents, and teachers from a Port Richmond charter school that the Philadelphia School District has recommended for nonrenewal turned out in force Thursday to ask for a second chance.
It had previously been a district school that was so troubled, it was known by some in the community as "Jones Jail," parents told the School Reform Commission at its monthly action session.
Throngs of supporters wearing orange shirts asked the SRC, which is set to consider charter renewals at a special meeting Monday, to consider their school's strengths.
"Please vote to keep my school open," said Joeyliz Ortiz, a Memphis Street Academy student.
Teacher Catherine Blumenstock said the school has improved dramatically in five years.
"The achievement gap is closing — maybe not at the rate the charter school office would like," but Memphis Street Academy is better, Blumenstock said.
Michelle Santiago lives in the area and sends her children to Memphis Street Academy. Neighbors feel much more comfortable with the charter organization, she said.
"Will you please consider the welfare of our children?" Santiago asked the SRC.
The district's charter office said Memphis Street did not reach academic goals spelled out for former district schools that converted to charters.
The SRC is expected to act Monday on 23 charter-renewal requests. Most are recommended for renewal with conditions. Another school, Laboratory School of Communications and Languages, a K-8 institution with campuses in Northern Liberties and West Philadelphia, was also recommended for nonrenewal because of issues with finances and governance.
In other matters, the commission heard from speakers who want the district to stop suspending children in elementary school.
A group of education advocates, including the Education Law Center, One Pennsylvania, City Councilwoman Helen Gym, and State Rep. Jordan Harris, formally asked the district to cease suspending students in first through fifth grades. The district already has a ban on most kindergarten suspensions.
The majority of suspensions are issued not for violence, but for lesser behavior infractions.
Philadelphia's black students and students with disabilities are suspended at higher rates than white students and students without disabilities, a reality that Education Law Center attorney Alex Dutton called "a true injustice."
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. noted that the district has lowered suspensions, and that it has already committed to working on an extension of the suspension ban, but all that could not be done "at once" without training on alternate ways of handling misbehavior.
Earlier in the day, City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution calling on the school system to halt the practice. She said she would likely hold a hearing on the topic.
"There are so many other less invasive, less punitive measures that lead up to suspension," said Reynolds Brown, a former third-grade teacher. "And if we as educators are not exercising those less punitive measures, then we're failing these kids to use the hardest measure, which is to leave them out of the classroom."
Educators in the audience also drew attention once again to a lack of a teacher contract. At one point, they unfurled a paper chain with 1,334 links, one for each day that they have not had a contract.