Insider: 4 Things Jim Kenney Must Do To Fix Philly’s Schools

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

Jim Kenney | Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

If you’re a parent in the School District of Philadelphia, you may have worried that officials would try to close your school. Or that your child wouldn’t have a nurse, would have to walk two miles just to get to school, or that their favorite teacher would strike.

But City Council has a different worry: Can your child read and write cursive?

At Council’s hearings on school funding this week, cursive — not Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposal to plug the district’s budget gap by raising property taxes  — dominated the debate.

My school has no air conditioning, one-fifth of a nurse, a rotating school-police officer, and the only technology upgrades are the ones we literally lug onto a truck ourselves. Writing this on a 90-degree day, my response to CursiveGate is entirely inappropriate for Citified and begins with a capital “F.” Whether that “F” contains the proper ascenders and descenders is at Council’s discretion.

Jim Kenney, the city’s presumptive next mayor, may have an easier time pushing his education agenda through Council than Nutter has.

School activist Helen Gym will likely sit in City Council next year. And in a mayoral election where education was the No. 1 issue, Kenney won a clear majority against five opponents, one of whom was funded by school-choice oligarchs. He has, dare I say, a mandate.

And yet, the mayor has little direct power over schools. But Kenney will be far from powerless. Here are four things he can do to support strong schools for every child:

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School District Employee Arrested on Perjury, Conflict of Interest Charges

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia School District employee faces charges of steering $900,000 worth of contracts to vendors owned by, and that employed, friends and family.

Priscilla Wright, 50, was manager of small business development for the district. She turned herself in and was arrested today, officials say. She has also resigned her employment with the district. Read more »

Schools Renew Request for City Money

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Now that the primary electionis over, City Council will take a look at the Philadelphia School District’s request for $105 million in new funds for the 2015-16 school year. The request has been on the table for months, but council members seemed reluctant to approve that much spending before an election.

“School district officials will urge council to agree to May or Michael Nutter’s proposed 9.4 percent property tax hike,” NewsWorks reports. “Council members have been reluctant to raise property taxes on the heels of Philly’s recent tax assessment overhaul, which drastically boosted bills for some in the city.” Read more »

Report: Philly Public School Graduation Rates Rising

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 9.05.16 AM

Source: Project U-Turn

Nearly two thirds of ninth-graders entering Philadelphia public high schools in the 2008-2009 school year graduated on time, a new study says — the greatest percentage of graduates in more than a decade of close study.

The report from Project U-Turn shows that 64 percent of 2008’s ninth-graders graduated from high school within four years — up from a low of 43 percent of 2000-01’s ninth-graders.

“This report shows that Philadelphia public schools are graduating considerably more students than in the past,” the study’s authors concluded. “More can be done, however, to ensure that those being left behind receive the support needed before they drop out.” Read more »

Remembering Edward Robinson, Philadelphia’s Great Champion of African Consciousness

A version of this article was published shortly after Robinson’s death in 2012.

Edward Wesley Robinson. Photo |

Edward Wesley Robinson. Photo |

The birth of Edward Wesley Robinson Jr. on April 24, 1918, in Philadelphia laid the foundation for the birth of African consciousness — and the academic excellence of black students — in Philadelphia’s school district. Robinson, who died at age 94 on June 13, 2012, was a historian, educator, professor, author, documentarian, filmmaker, and curriculum specialist who attended Central High School, Virginia State College for Negroes (now Virginia State University), Temple University School of Law, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Robinson said that “Never during all my years in America’s best elementary schools, middle schools, junior high schools, high schools, colleges, and post-graduate schools was I ever taught anything about the huge body of information concerning the beauty, grandeur, and sophistication of Kemet (i.e., ancient Egypt) or the Songhai Empire. I was mis-educated. Fortunately, though, I was later rescued from cultural and intellectual oblivion by the intervention of my ancestors.” That rescue is quite obvious, and he wrote such books as Journey of the Songhai People and Twas the Night Before KwanzaaRead more »

Selfie Sex-Ed: Should High Schools Teach Sexting Risks?


According to a long-term study by researchers at the University of Texas, sexting may actually be a normal part of sexual development among teens.

As provocative as that sounds, I think it’s probably true. And — as exaggerated and semi-Puritan as this sounds — it’s also true that sexting can completely ruin a teenager’s life.

A girl who shares an intimate photo with her boyfriend can be charged with a summary offense in Pennsylvania. He can face charges for having the images, too.  Read more »

Many More Philly Students Are Opting Out of State Exams

It would appear the opt-out movement has momentum: Philadelphia School District officials said this week that the families of 486 students in grades 3 through 8 have asked to be excused from taking standardized tests — a dramatic increase over the mere 20 who opted out last year.

That growth is “remarkable,” said Kelley Collings, a teacher and activist with the Caucus of Working Educators who has helped lead efforts to encourage Philadelphia parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

“The numbers are still growing,” she said via email. “As more parents and students understand they have the right to opt out, word is spreading.” Read more »

Darrell Clarke: Fund Philly Schools By Cracking Down on Tax Deadbeats

Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr

Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr

A Philadelphia lawmaker has a plan to fund the city’s schools and crack down on tax deadbeats at the same time.

City Council President Darrell Clarke introduced a bill Thursday that would expand the local government’s ability to sell liens on commercial properties.

He says it could raise “millions of dollars” annually for Philadelphia’s schools. He did not provide a more specific figure.

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Jim Kenney’s Complicated History with School Vouchers

Photo Credit | Matt Rourke, AP

The Philadelphia teachers union announced last month that it is backing former City Councilman Jim Kenney in the mayor’s race.

“His years of consistent support for traditional public schools and educators, and his vision for a better Philadelphia for every child make him the clear choice,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Nearly 20 years ago, though, Kenney would likely have had a hard time wooing the PFT. In 1996, the young Democratic Councilman wanted to strike a deal with then-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge to obtain more funding for the city’s schools in exchange for something that is anathema to teachers unions: a voucher system, which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for tuition at private and parochial schools.

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Council to Nutter: Find Your $105 Million Somewhere Else

Philadelphia City Council  | Photo Credit: City Council's Flickr page

Philadelphia City Council | Photo Credit: City Council’s Flickr page

Close, but no cigar, Mayor Michael Nutter.

That was the general message from Council members at their hearing Tuesday on Nutter’s five-year fiscal plan, the first budget hearing of the season.

Lawmakers said they expect to provide additional money to the city’s cash-starved school district, but not in the way the mayor has suggested. In response to a request from school officials for an extra $103 million, Nutter has proposed raising property taxes by 9 percent in order to send slightly more than that, $105 million, to the district.

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