Sen. Williams speaks to the audience prior to the film.

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 13, 2012 — As debate on how best to uplift struggling public schools continues, a variety of measures are being considered around the country, including the “parent  trigger,” which would place the power to revamp a poor performing school in the hands of families most adversely impacted.

State Sen. Anthony H. Williams this week hosted a special local pre-screening of a new film, Won’t Back Down, which follows parents and teachers who challenged the status quo and instituted public schools for their families and community.

“Public education is necessary, supported and required. The debate is about how it is served, not that it exists,” Williams said. “Parents want and deserve to have a voice in their child’s education and the system that is in place to provide them with that education. This film portrays the struggle so many parents have in the fight to ensure that their children are in a quality learning environment and how parents and teachers, working together, can make the changes the children need. I’m not bashing what exists, but I am demanding better than what exists.”

About 200 local parents, grandparents and students attended the special screening on Sept. 12 at the Rave Cinemas University City in Philadelphia, including Betty Battle of Southwest Philadelphia. She said her grandchildren do not attend public school because their parents feel the system is an unsafe environment.

Battle said the film encouraged her to keep pushing so that her grandchildren have a higher education and are in an environment conducive to learning.

“It is not fair. How can children be productive citizens in this society and how can they provide themselves with a decent living without a good education?” Battle said.

Diane Hall, another attendee from Southwest Philadelphia, said she had children in the public school system and grandchildren who just left the system because they were in a failing school. Just like the people in the film, she said she is very dissatisfied with the state of public education and feels a lot needs to be changed.

“It’s important for parents and teachers to work together,” Hall said. “We need to reform public education so children can stay in their neighborhood and get a good education.”

The film is based on real-life events in California and other states, where enacted legislation allows parents of students at poor performing schools to overrule administrators and even fire ineffective teachers.

Williams has introduced his own version of such legislation, Senate Bill 1148. Under his bill, a majority of parents could petition for one of four types of reform at a perpetually poor performing school:

  • School closure – students are moved to a better-performing school in or outside the district.
  • Restart – the school is taken over by an approved charter school.
  • Turnaround – the school must hire a new principal and at least 50 percent of the teaching staff, as well as institute new procedures for training, hiring, and retention of teachers.
  • Transformation – same as turnaround, but is more prescriptive because it outlines required activities and which activities are permissible or impermissible.