A child dealt with the death of a parent with no counselor available during a time of extreme distress.
A high school student started each period searching for desks and chairs because her classes were so overcrowded.
A 7-year-old with emotional and learning needs began regressing and scratched himself bloody during class because a classroom aide and full-time counselor were no longer available, as they had been the year before.
As we begin a new school year and approach a gubernatorial election, let’s celebrate the work of teachers, students, parents, community members, labor unions, and faith communities in Philadelphia who are coming together to improve education in our city. Never before have people from so many sectors of the city joined together to pursue their common goal: high-quality education for all.
Back in the summer of 2012, I was between schools, having left after five years the first school that I worked in. I wrote every day, along with the 19 other teachers who took part in the Philadelphia Writing Project's summer institute. The experience changed my life.
I spent a lot of time with my colleagues, examining my practice and planning the kind of classroom that I wanted to teach in. After talking about what it means to have a student-centered class, I wrote a letter to my future students.
This year, I plan on using the letter again. This year, it seems much more important. When classes resume, kids will undoubtedly know that their school almost didn’t open on time because adults can’t figure out how to give them what they need and deserve. They will also be wondering about who in America does and doesn't value their lives.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a commentary piece in which I argued that the School District and its supporters should focus attention on how to provide quality schooling with available resources and not concentrate solely on additional funding. The article generated many critical responses. Readers contended that I had given up on the fight for adequate funding for District students and was willing to settle for less than what students need – in terms of nurses, counselors and libraries, for example.
I regret that I was unclear. I absolutely do not think that District schools should passively accept less. My intent had been to suggest a strategy for providing quality education given the current circumstances and political climate. But that message clearly got overwhelmed by some of the recommendations I made.
This experience prompted me to think further about what parents, advocates, students, their teachers, and the community want and how politicians could respond.
So, here, I attempt to provide background for the long-running efforts to improve Philadelphia public schools and suggest options for action.
Last week, several Philadelphia clergy members of the interfaith organization POWER witnessed the growth of a powerful movement for racial equality in Ferguson, Mo.
After the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, our clergy colleagues traveled to Missouri to call for justice and listen to a community in grief. They marched nonviolently with thousands of black youth asking for fair treatment from law enforcement – and even more important, for a sign from their fellow Americans that their lives matter.
But as our clergy brothers and sisters returned home last week, they returned to another place where there is no dearth of racial injustice.
Lisa Haver is a retired teacher, a member of the advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, and an inveterate presence at School Reform Commission meetings. During a recent meeting, the first of the school year, she used her allotted three minutes of public testimony time to speak on a proposed contract related to implementing the state's new accountability system tying teacher evaluations to student achievement, which the SRC later approved. Haver asked the SRC members, "Is accountability applicable only to those in the classrooms? Why do we not hold those in leadership positions accountable?"
Below is a copy of her written testimony.
We are beginning another school year in which teachers and other school professionals will not be provided with anything close to what they need to do their jobs.
Frequent Inquirer contributor Clark DeLeon recently wrote that he “has given up on the Philadelphia public schools." He asks why any young person would want to send their kids to a public school here and wonders where the fearlessness of “the endless stream of young, hip parents biking their helmeted toddlers through Center City traffic or adjoining neighborhoods” goes when it comes time to choose a school.
I’m not a millennial (I was born at the tail end of the baby boom), but I can answer his question.
We Philadelphians have a special kind of love for this old city. It is a love rooted in family, food, neighborhoods, and, yes, our schools. As a “lifer” in the Philadelphia School District, from 1999 to 2012, I have a vested interest in its future.
Over the last two years, I’ve observed the District’s budget crisis from the comfort of my computer screen in my dorm room at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But this past May I traveled 400 miles back home and took action alongside hundreds of other Philadelphians who refuse to accept the meager hand being dealt to Philly students.
Note: This is adapted from a brief that was published Aug. 8 by the Philadelphia-based group Research for Action. The full brief can be found here.
Philadelphia’s school funding situation is a central issue in state policy discussions. The recent debate has focused on city’s authority to raise taxes on cigarettes. But the essential questions on whether the school system has enough money have been present in the state capitol for at least two decades.
The Commonwealth Foundation released a brief on Philadelphia school trends recently that received prominent attention in the local press. It argued that despite a funding increase, the District has little academic improvement to show for it.
Many young heroes attend schools like Beeber Middle School. Any of the student leaders who worked alongside parents, teachers, and the community to keep Beeber Middle School off the closing list last year could be called heroic. The same could be said for the many students who strive to succeed academically and socially in a challenging and under-resourced school.
On Wednesday, the National Liberty Museum will honor two rising 9th graders from Beeber Middle School for a Young Heroes Award. The annual award goes to ordinary young people in the Philadelphia area who have done extraordinary things in the areas of civic engagement, conflict resolution, promoting liberty, diversity, and school or community leadership.
Deciding which of my students to nominate was not easy. I chose to nominate Sarah Louiness and Xavier Muchison, because they embodied the composite of all the young heroes I teach and encounter every day. They challenged me to be a better teacher and a better person.