Doors are closed on school talk

Posted: May 23, 2012

Several parents gathered at a closed-door meeting Monday with officials at Philadelphia School District headquarters to speak in favor of Universal Cos.’ taking over Thomas Creighton School in Crescentville.

The meeting followed a reported dinner for Creighton parents Friday night paid for by Universal. At the dinner, Rahim Islam, Universal’s president and chief executive officer, told the parents it was in the students’ best interest for Universal to run Creighton, said Regina Feighan-Drach, an arts teacher at Creighton who said she attended the dinner.

Islam told the parents — about 10 members of the Creighton School Advisory Council were present along with about 10 children — that they needed to attend Monday’s meeting at district headquarters to express their support for Universal, Feighan-Drach said.

Parents on both sides showed up for the meeting, which had a printed agenda that mentioned general reform issues for the financially strapped district. Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos and Commissioner Feather O. Houstoun were invited to attend by education advocate Mama Gail, who organized the meeting.

Ramos acknowledged that the topic of Creighton came up, but said that after a while he told the parents that the matter was before the commission and that their commenting “has to be in public” before the commission. Sarafit Abazoska, a member of the Creighton advisory council, said she did not recall Ramos’ saying that, but did recall his saying that reporters should have been allowed to attend.

Around 5:40 p.m., a reporter showed up at the Monday meeting, identified himself, and asked to attend. A woman who was later identified by others as Mama Gail allowed the reporter to stay. In the rear of the large room were children holding signs. One read: “Creighton SAC, Parents for Universal to Make Change.”

A few minutes later, Mama Gail told the reporter to leave. A man made an announcement that “no press” was allowed.

In April, the School Reform Commission postponed a decision on Creighton after a competing proposal was put forth to allow the school to be run by a council of teachers and community members. That proposal was organized by Feighan-Drach.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he was shocked that Universal was still lobbying parents because the period for prospective contractors to make their case to parents had closed.

“No decision has been made” about Creighton, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said Monday night. As for any dinners or lobbying, he said he need to learn more before commenting.

Devon Allen, a spokesman for Universal, said he also needed to find out more about what was going on before he could comment.

Turning traditional public schools into charters is part of the district’s effort to improve low-performing schools.

Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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