During their primary campaigns, Democratic mayoral candidate Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke both said community schools were part of their vision for improving public schooling. Their frequent allusions to this school model suggest that community schools will gain more attention as the November election nears and might even become a key part of Clarke’s and presumptive Mayor Kenney's education agenda in 2016.
For Kenney, "community schools" are educational facilities that house schools but also offer things like medical care, social services, and community educational resources. They create a single point of contact that can keep students from missing school for things like doctor’s appointments and can reach families where they are.
It’s time to end the charter vs. District school schism in Philadelphia. The horse is out of the barn. The deal is done. Get over it.
If Philadelphia’s public schools are going to get adequate funding, there needs to be a “united front” of charter and District leadership marching arm in arm to City Hall and Harrisburg. Supporting one or the other should not be a litmus test for mayoral or City Council candidates. Division won’t bring victory in Harrisburg.
Although the mayoral primary isn’t until May, prospective candidates for mayor are already testing their prospects.
Four have already announced their intentions to run: former head of the city's Redevelopment Authority Terry Gillen, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. In the view of many Philadelphians, there is no more important issue than the future of public education in the city. And advocacy groups like the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools are already determining what issues to focus on and which candidates they might support.
In some respects the issues seem obvious: increased funding, local control, and restored services like libraries, counselors, and nurses. But the devil is in the details. What specifically would the candidates do? What is the candidate’s record on support for city schools? What experience does the candidate have in dealing with City Council and Harrisburg?
Beginning this month, all School District principals will be subject to a new evaluation system, mandated by the state’s Department of Education.
In this system, called the "Framework for Leadership," principals will be rated by their supervisors on 20 different criteria as “failing,” “needs improvement,” “proficient,” or “distinguished.” According to PDE, the intent is to create schools that are on track in preparing students for college and career.
But the new rating system raises major issues for the School District and principals. Foremost is the fact that more than half the principals are in their first or second year in their positions. This brings up two serious questions: whether it is fair to judge them by the same standards as more experienced principals and whether they are getting the resources, support, and mentoring necessary to ensure their success.
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.