According to Evelyn Sample-Oates, “They say if you are not at grade level by the third grade then they start building prisons knowing that you are not going to make it.”
This statement reflects the education system in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District has closed 41 schools in the past three years and are expected to close more very soon. This information was delivered by Evelyn Sample-Oates, who is the Chief of Family and Community Engagement at the School District of Philadelphia.
Sample-Oates has a gorgeous home where she lives with her husband, daughter and son, and she freely spoke about her new position in the public school district and what they are doing to improve the system. They live in a development in a suburban neighborhood outside of Philadelphia filled with massive houses and families of different races. Sample-Oates is a beautiful woman and would give anybody that warm feeling as a guest in her home, where one with no relation could feel as a relative.
Sample-Oates was wearing a sweatsuit representing her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA); she is the International Regional Director for this organization. It was a laid back atmosphere instead of the intimidating “business” attire that may frighten some. She is an easygoing person to have a conversation with. It was a typical Sunday evening with football on the TV in the living room and the kids enjoying their leisure time, and Sample-Oates even laughed about how she didn’t make dinner yet.
She briefly talked about her Thanksgiving and how she and the family went to the historic Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia, which was a perfect day for November’s standards.
The struggles in the public school system in Philadelphia may be foreign to those who are not affected by it. Those who do know are aware of schools closing and the schools having a violent reputation.
Philadelphia has been notoriously known as a city stricken by poverty and violence, specifically black-on-black crime amongst the city’s youth.
Diminishing the city’s crime and poverty rates starts with helping the youth within their household and classroom. Sample-Oates is not only a great mother, but she is a hardworking woman who speaks with passion and she really tries to help the youth and to improve their lives in the classroom and outside as well.
Sample-Oates was recently hired as the Chief of Family and Community Engagement at the School District of Philadelphia to “oversee the Office of Parent and Family Services,” according to an article featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sample-Oates spoke about her recent position she was assigned and her roles and duties in the Philadelphia School District.
“This is the hardest job in the school district,” said Sample-Oates. “Dealing with the parents of any child can be challenging under any circumstance when it comes to their well being and education.”
“Out of 900 seniors there may be ten or five parents who consistently attend these programs,” said Sample-Oates.
To help the youth it begins with helping their legal guardians and you can’t do much if they are not willing to accept your hand. One of these programs Parent University, which has college professors teach literacy and finance skills to parents in order to help their children.
Sample-Oates explained how the funds they used to receive are lacking compared to today.
“We started off receiving one million dollars a year to now just 2,000 dollars,” said Sample-Oates.
The insufficient funding is causing the program to struggle because of professors leaving and not volunteering anymore. Sample-Oates showed her concern and stated, “I do all that to make it easier for parents to help their children.”
Sample-Oates included that the Philadelphia public school system is the largest deficit their schools ever had to deal with.
The system receives 60 percent of funding from the state.
“We should’ve received 600 million dollars, and haven’t got any of it yet…It’s a tough time in public education in Philadelphia,” said Sample-Oates.
The Philadelphia public school district is the largest in Pennsylvania, out of the total of 500 school districts.
There are 86 charter schools and 242 public schools in Philadelphia. She talks about how they only get $13,000 to spend for each student, which is significantly lower than the suburb average in Pennsylvania. She talked about how half of their schools are empty buildings, but they still have to pay for that empty seat that a student left for a charter school.
The money for the students goes to the utilities for the schools as well, and this is largely the reason for many public schools getting shut down in Philadelphia.
There have been so many changes to the public school system in Philadelphia that it has caused legal guardians concern and their trust with the system has been diminishing.
Sample-Oates talked about how superintendents have been consistently leaving “after promising a lot of things that has not happened.”
She also spoke about their current superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., who is the first African-American man ever to be in that position, and he is “going into his fourth year already longer than the last three Superintendents.”
Sample-Oates spoke highly of Hite and is relieved that they finally have a superintendent who is in for the long haul. The system will not be fixed until they have people in the position of power who actually care for the well-being of the city’s youth and their educational opportunities.
Sample-Oates gave some statistics about the population attending these schools: 82 percent African American, about 10 percent Latino, and the rest is “other.” The teacher population is composed of about 70 percent white teachers. There is already a barrier created due to skin color and racial tensions in the economy today, but more barriers are created when these teachers are unaware of the circumstances these kids come from.
“I been in houses with no furniture, and wonder where the kids sleep at?” said Sample-Oates.
She explained that the district has not had a contract in over three years and that teachers haven’t received any raises, and they used to every year.
“We stopped seniority, which is we only keep you because you been here forever,” said Sample-Oates.
Some teachers that have been in the system for ten or more years have given up on the students and are only coming for paychecks. They are looking for energetic young teachers who actually want to help these kids. The lack of funding has decreased employment in the school system and students are dropping out left and right because some may feel going to school is a waste of time.
Some kids are dealing with stressful situations at home where they have nobody to encourage them to do their homework. Then they attend school on the daily basis to sit in front of a “teacher,” who does not know how to relate or help students of this “population.”
“We have to put the right teachers in the right schools and in the right positions,” said Sample-Oates. “You can have a bright teacher but can’t handle the student population.”
Julian Keys is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at JK764538@wcupa.edu.