On Tuesday, March 15th, three members of the School Reform Commission gathered at SLA l in order to hear testimony that would inform their decision on whether to keep the school in its current building. They spoke to a packed house of over 700 SLA community members.
Commissioners Bill Green, Farah Jimenez, and Sylvia Symms were in attendance, as well as Facilities (exact job title? Ask Lehmann) Fran Burns. At around 6:00 pm, the SRC members met at the front of the café, gave a short introduction, and explained the reasoning behind the meeting. They handed out a packet that listed potential sites SLA might move to, including 440 N. Broad Street and the former Vaux High School building at 24th and Master in North Philly.
After their introduction came a long string of testimonials by former and current students and teachers, parents, heads of companies, important representatives from different organizations.
Google Education Evangelist Jaime Casap testified via video: “I use SLA as a model for what great learning looks like. I would hate to disrupt that learning in any way.”
Another point that stood out to me and most was from one of the SRC members Sylvia Symms who claimed: “We should replicate learning centers like this around the city.”
Both students and their parents were active in asking questions and sparking new ideas amidst the small congregation. You could see that despite their anger, they remained composed and rational as possible.
One of the most interesting and eye-opening parts of the night was when SRC member Bill Green asked the head of The Franklin Institute about if the location would matter if it were in “Sylvia Simms’ neighborhood.
One of the older parents in the audience stood up and argued that one’s neighborhood, (especially one that lots of people call home) should not be considered a place that children can’t earn a decent education and that he owed Simms an apology. Simms agreed and therefore made the statement “We should replicate learning centers like this all around the city.”
The second-to-last testimonial was by senior Katia Hadjeb who told the audience about her experience at this school and how much it meant to her after leaving her home in Algeria in order to receive a better education.
“If there was a school like SLA everywhere else I wouldn’t have to leave my home,” she expressed. Each story left very few dry eyes in the house and it was really touching to see how much this school has impacted the lives of its students.
Parents who did not have a chance to speak publicly had equally impassioned things to say to SLAMedia.
“It’s the perfect school,” one mother raved. “My child is confident, makes friends, has great teachers and everyone helps each other.” When asked about what would happen if the location were to in fact change, another parent responded: “The location of the other school would tamper with the safety, diversity, transportation and many of the programs that my child enjoys.”
So what is to be expected? Currently we are patiently awaiting the SRC’s decision but for further details I sat down with co-principal Aaron Gerwer. “So far, we are guaranteed two more years in this building,” he explained. “If we have to move, then the conversation will be ‘how can we ensure that everybody can get to school safely?'”. This is truly one of the biggest questions on everyone’s minds, but he is confident that the community represented the school well. “I think that fact that people were able to present really good cases showed how thoughtful we are and how committed people are to this school,” says Gerwer.