Community Activist Brings New Perspective to School Reform Post

From bus attendant to Student Reform Commission member

By Sarah Glover
|  Thursday, Feb 7, 2013  |  Updated 9:50 AM EDT
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Community Activist Brings New Perspective to School Reform Post

Sarah Glover

Feb. 4, 2013: Sylvia P. Simms is sworn in as the newest member of the School Reform Commission by Mayor Michael Nutter. Her daughter La'Skeetia Simms is at left.

Last month, North Philly mom and grandmother Sylvia P. Simms was a bus attendant. Today, she’s the newest member of the School Reform Commission (SRC).

Surrounded by friends, family and community members, Simms was sworn in by Mayor Michael Nutter in his office.

“Sylvia is someone I’ve known for many years and brings an enormously important perspective to the commission. This is an opportunity for the SRC to empower the parent community. The SRC provides policy and direction working with Superintendent Hite. I’m very excited,” said Nutter.

Simms is the first community activist tapped for the SRC. She brings a very different point of view to the job than other members who have legal, government and professional backgrounds.

“I’m proud of my mom. She’s a grassroots person and a strong voice of a working parent,” said Simms’ daughter La'Skeetia Simms.

Simms resigned from her bus attendant job of 15 years and now works as an outreach project coordinator for Broadband Adoption, working with Comcast and the Urban Affairs Coalition. The SRC appointment is a volunteer position.

“I gotta keep my eyes on the prize and the prize is the children,” Simms said during the ceremony.

Two major issues the SRC faces are the budget and the proposed closure or consolidation of 37 district schools.

Simms said she hasn’t been briefed on SRC matters yet, but will be giving herself a lot of homework and reading to get up to speed. “I know it’s going to be a lot of work and there are challenges ahead, but you take the time to prepare and I’m going to do that,” she said. 

“It’s about time that somebody with a connection to all different types of members of the community is on the SRC,” said parent Jay Cohen, who has children attending Masterman and Central.

Simms is also the president and founder of Parent Power, a coalition with a mission to empower parents, families and caregivers to advocate for their children’s academic success. Simms’ two daughters attended Philadelphia schools and her 11 year-old granddaughter attends T.M. Peirce Elementary, which is on the Philadelphia School District’s proposed closings list.

Simms started Parent Power three years ago. The organization has a working board, hosts parenting programs and has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook.

Board member Sahaba Thompson said Parent Power was started, in part, because former superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman created an atmosphere where parents were valued.

"Her appointment gives parents an advocate and lets them know they can achieve something similar, that you can rise up to become a SRC member,” said Simms’ sister, Quibila Divine.

Simms fills a vacancy left by Lorene Cary, who decided not to seek reappointment due to health considerations.

When not working, Simms said she likes listening to the oldies, like Marvin Gaye, and cooking soul food (mac-n-cheese is her favorite dish).

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