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Local Teachers Picket at H.A. Brown for International Women’s Day

Henry A. Brown Elementary School is a struggling school in East Kensington: Last year, the state Department of Education gave it a 47.3 tally for its Building Level Academic Score. But Keren Tal, who’s expecting a child in September, doesn’t view that as a deterrent.

“I would absolutely send my child to this school,” said Tal, a literacy-based leader and co-dean of students at the school. “The teachers are phenomenal, every single one. We’re a strong group, we support each other. And where we lack in areas, our staff, our teachers really help us back up.”

Tal was one of a couple dozen educators picketing outside of Brown Wednesday morning to commemorate International Women’s Day. Councilman Bobby Henon and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) President Jerry Jordan were also present.

Keren Tal being interviewed./Steve Bohnel

Keren Tal being interviewed./Steve Bohnel

Henon, Jordan and others called on school district administrators and the School Reform Commission to draft a new contract between educators and the district. There hasn’t been an agreement for about five years.

“The games need to change,” Jordan told the crowd on the southeast corner of Jasper and Sergeant streets. “There needs to be a contract between you and the district.”

Multiple speakers noted that the teaching staff of Brown Elementary and the entire district is 75 percent women and that many of them have to spend their personal income on supplies for students.

Mark Meena, a fourth grade teacher at Brown and the building representative for PFT, said another issue is that the district is losing good teachers because of inadequate pay, especially for those who get master’s degrees. He told Spirit News women specifically deserve a fair shake.

“The fact we haven’t had a contract in 5 years is an insult to them, but also to educators in general,” he said. “I don’t think it would happen to a male-dominated profession.”

/Steve Bohnel

/Steve Bohnel

During the picket, Jordan illustrated the importance of female teachers to the crowd.

“Imagine H.A. Brown without any women. How would it operate?” he asked those gathered.

Support for women was a central message of all speakers. Councilman Henon told Spirit News he attended the picket Wednesday to show solidarity for International Women’s Day and urge the SRC to negotiate a contract with PFT.

He added the solution to the five-year contract deadlock should be simple.

“A few years ago, the city of Philadelphia turned in 40,000 signatures to have local control of our SRC,” Henon said. “But I think it comes down to economics and respect. Not only in financial support, but support for our teachers who are educating our kids everyday and having better working conditions.”

/Steve Bohnel

/Steve Bohnel

Henon added that organized teachers and the PFT should send a strong message to the SRC and should bring people “back to the table” for a contract.

Whenever those negotiations occur, it’s imperative that the new contract is fair for everybody, Jordan said.

“I think this is an issue of a lack of respect and it’s not just women, it’s men who work in this system as well,” he said. “If we’re able to successfully reach a contract, it’s not going to be earmarked by sex,” he said. “It’s going to be a contract that covers all teachers, male [and] female.”

Jordan said PFT organized to picket outside other schools for International Women’s Day. There were also other events throughout the city, including a march at 5 p.m. from Logan Square to Thomas Paine Plaza.

Tal wants female teachers to keep fighting for equal rights.

“I think this is a big year for the woman because I do feel if this was a male-dominated career, then I don’t think we would have gone five years without a contract,” she said. “And we need to show we’re an important part of our nation economically and as a whole.”

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