Lessons from Muñoz-Marín

From the outside, the vote on whether to turn Luis Muñoz-Marín public school over to a charter operator seemed like a done deal. But when the call went out to Working Educators for spanish-speakers who could help call parents and gauge their support, I quickly learned that the opposite was true. Spending Wednesday evenings in the basement of the PFT offices, calling family after family, WE volunteers quickly saw that parents powerfully supported keeping the school public.

“Buenas tardes, me llamo Max y soy un profesor con el distrito escolar de filadelfia. Estoy con la coalición para mantenerse pública la escuela Muñoz-Marín, y queremos saber si podemos contar con su apoyo?” Can we count on your support? 

“Claro” was the most frequent comment I heard. Of course.

We spoke to block captains who had been mobilizing their neighbors, mothers who did not want to see their favorite teachers gone. “My daughter is in special ed”, one parent mentioned to me. “I don’t know what will happen to her under ASPIRA. All special ed parents should be concerned”.

Longtime Muñoz-Marín volunteer and retired teacher Vivian Rodriguez wrote for the WE blog about the community’s fight to keep their school public: confusion over the vote being pushed back, alienation of teachers who had to choose whether to stay at a school that might not exist next year, frustrating accusations about school leaders.

Despite the challenges, last Thursday the parents at Muñoz-Marín voted overwhelmingly to keep the school public.

If parents hadn’t courageously come out for their beliefs, would the community’s support for their public schools have been lost in history? Could this story have looked like the other charter takeovers we hear about every day, in which community opinion garners only a short quote at the end of an article filled with the voices of politicians and (so-called) education experts?

My experience volunteering as a WE member with the campaigns for Muñoz-Marín and Steel Elementary demonstrated the powerful voices of parents, communities, and school leaders in the battle for public education. These are the voices that have been marginalized and ignored in the corporate reform movement, but are increasingly gaining power in cities like Newark, Chicago, and now Philadelphia.

When families and communities are asked, they decisively want adequate funding for our public schools, not to turn them over to private companies.

We know that parents and communities are not usually asked for their opinions, though. From the outside, corporate reform will continue to look like a done deal, such as in the ongoing school ‘transformations’ at Blaine and Kelley. These schools make it clear that our work is just beginning.

However, the victories at Muñoz-Marín and Steel this month show that we can make sure our voices are heard, regardless of whether they are asked for. When a diverse coalition of parents, teachers, and community leaders come together despite the alienation and frustration, we can show that corporate school reform is far from a done deal.

Join WE this Friday, June 13th, to celebrate this year’s victories together -and plan for new ones!- at our End of Year Happy Hour at Frankford Hall.

WE volunteers call parents and families of Munoz-Marin students leading up to the vote.WE volunteers call Muñoz-Marín families ahead of the big vote.