Nutter on My Brother’s Keeper: Progress, but More Work to Do


From left: Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor Christine Piven, Mayor Michael Nutter, assistant to President Obama Broderick Johnson and Superintendent Dr. William Hite. Photo | Fabiola Cineas

Philadelphia is standing up for young men and boys of color.

Statistics have long identified the plight of black men across the country — on average, one in three black men will have some level of contact with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. In Philadelphia, 75 percent of homicide victims and about 80 percent of the known perpetrators arrested for violent crime are young black men.

These figures were at the crux of Mayor Nutter’s announcements yesterday about the city’s ongoing efforts to improve the lives of young men and boys of color. At City Hall he was joined by Broderick Johnson, Assistant to President Obama and Chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force; Christine Piven, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Mayor and My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia’s Project Director; Superintendent Dr. William Hite; Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; and Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

“One shooting, or one homicide is one too many,” said Mayor Nutter, “we have work to do.”

Nutter’s words came on the day after his successor, Jim Kenney, was officially selected. Yet Nutter made it clear that his support for initiatives around helping young men and boys of color wouldn’t dwindle even after his term. Read more »

Insider: Darrell Clarke Won His Needless School District Power Play

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. | Copyright of the Philadelphia City Council. Produced and Edited by Michael Falconi.

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

The laughter and colliding high-fives you heard recently in the vicinity of lower North Broad Street were those of Council President Darrell Clarke and school boss William Hite (+ entourages) celebrating their sealing of an agreement that allows Council greater access to school budget figures, management details and provide general fiscal oversight.

Clarke says the agreement “is a document that will not only get a consensus, but it will actually require that we see each other a whole lot.” There will be quarterly reports to council on hiring and meetings to discuss those reports and handle general inquiries. CFOs will meet with CFOs, and so forth.

Politicians being practitioners of “the gesture,” there was a real-live signing ceremony to communicate that this was a Very Big Deal. In case we weren’t properly impressed, Clarke and School Reform Commission Chief Marjorie Neff later jointly announced the agreement was “historic.”

The Clark/Neff announcement contains language suggesting the practical independence of the School Reform Commission has been diminished. Phrases like “our common goal,” “we will continue to fight,” “we cannot do this work alone,” all indicate a new concord that has these two in tandem, in agreement on the direction of the district. The governor still appoints a majority of the commission, but the new guv is a Democrat and that’s a difference that makes all the difference.

Given that Clarke, for months, held hostage $25 million to coerce this deal, one might think it was actually — well — significant. It ain’t. City Council has “forever” had annual hearings to review district requests for cash. They’ve always had the legal right to say “nope, not gonna do it.” The mere fact that Council interdicted district loot is proof they have all the clout they really need. Read more »

Insider: What Philly Mag’s Awful Cover Reveals About School “Choice”

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider. Check Citified next week for a different take from at-large City Council candidate Helen Gym.)

My first reaction to the cover of Philly Mag’s new issue was, wow, they can’t be serious. But that reaction was followed by the realization that the photo ironically represents an unfortunate reality: in Philadelphia, the ability to choose a school for your child – the topic of the issue – too often belongs to those who can afford it, a whiter and wealthier population than the city as a whole.

As the articles show, the school choice process in Philadelphia is really complicated, even for those with the resources to navigate it. There’s a myth that increased options are THE problem; the variety of schools of different types with separate applications have made it too complicated for families. The common refrain goes, “Why can’t we just make all neighborhood schools great? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about navigating choices, applications and deadlines!”

That argument ignores this fact: those with the ability to buy it have always had and taken advantage of school choice. By buying a home in a different school district or paying for a private education, middle and upper-income families like mine have exercised school choice for decades. Today, even in neighborhoods with the strongest neighborhood schools, many families are choosing another public option. For example, according to the most recent data available, less than two-thirds of public school students living in the top-performing Greenfield Elementary neighborhood catchment attend the school, while the other 36 percent are choosing a charter, magnet or transferring to another neighborhood school. And I would bet that a very significant number of families in this Center City neighborhood are choosing a private school.

Read more »

3 Huge Problems With the Charter School Movement

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from PIDC.] has a story this week that distills many of the troubling qualities of the charter school movement down to a disturbing essence.

Yes, it’s that bad.

This deeply reported piece by Alex Wigglesworth and Ryan Briggs zooms in on one school and one deal: the academically well-regarded String Theory Charter School, which is housed in a high-end eight-story office building at 16th and Vine. This is the same building that not long ago was the North American headquarters for GlaxoSmithKline. It would be eyebrow-raising enough if the taxpayer-funded String Theory were merely leasing such high-end digs. But the school — or, technically, a separate nonprofit run by two of the school’s board members — actually owns the tower, and acquired it through a $55 million tax-exempt bond deal. Read more »

Darrell Clarke Thinks Philly Schools Need the Firm Hand of City Council

Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by Philadelphia City Council and Associated Press.

Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by Philadelphia City Council and Associated Press.

Early this month, we told you about City Council President Darrell Clarke’s clear-cut power play to get Council more leverage over the School District of Philadelphia.

Now it’s looking like we underestimated his ambitions.

Clarke — who yesterday welcomed Council back from its long summer recess — wrote what amounts to a sweeping critique of the School District of Philadelphia and Superintendent Bill Hite in an op-ed published in Thursday’s Daily News.

He was responding to a tough recent editorial from the DN, which took Clarke to task for hounding Hite about problems — financial problems school district governance — that the Superintendent simply lacks the power to fix. Said the DN: “The superintendent is laboring under the illusion that the facts matter. They do not. The source of Clarke’s anger isn’t really over any particulars of district spending, it is over the fact that Council lacks control over how the money is spent.” Which, by the by, is exactly what Citified was telling you three days before the editorial ran.

In any event, Clarke was not cowed. His latest statement on the schools goes well beyond his past remarks, which had focused on the district’s financial management. Writes Clarke: Read more »

Darrell Clarke’s School District Power Play


Left, Darrell Clarke. Right, Bill Hite. | Photos by City Council and Associated Press.

City Council President Darrell Clarke has grown profoundly frustrated with the School District of Philadelphia in recent years. Now he looks poised to turn that frustration into action — and the impact on the district could be huge.

In private and in public, Clarke in recent weeks has ratcheted up pressure on the district and the School Reform Commission. He’s laying the groundwork for a campaign — one that likely will begin in earnest after likely next mayor Jim Kenney takes office in January — that is designed to win back some local control over the district, particularly its finances.

What’s his latest beef? Ostensibly, it was over a number of recent hirings and promotions in the school district’s central offices, which, after three straight years of fiscal crisis, is now staffed by a skeleton crew. Seriously. The number of empty desks in the (admittedly too big) district headquarters at 440 N. Broad is both depressing and alarming.

Clarke’s point, though, is that Superintendent William Hite came to City Council in the spring seeking cash on account of the dire needs in classrooms, not district HQ. He says, in essence, that Council didn’t approve $70 million* in new funding for it to be spent on senior bureaucrats making six figures. Read more »

The Brief: Hite Damns the Politicos, Moves Full Speed Ahead

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

1. Tired of waiting, for reasonable funding that may never come, Schools Superintendent Bill Hite is pressing forward on his plan to reshape the district.

The gist: In a must-read story for the Notebook, Dale Mezzacappa breaks down a big administrative change underway at the School District of Philadelphia. In short, Hite is further decentralizing the district, shifting power out of the main office and into schools and a growing number of “learning networks,” which group schools both either geography or particularly educational needs and approaches. Writes Mezzacappa:

After three years of an administration defined by austerity, personnel cuts and school closings, Superintendent William Hite is ready to move forward with his vision of improving education in the District.

Hite is moving ahead even though he doesn’t know yet whether he will get the financial support from the city and state that he needs to make it happen. He said his main goals will be stability, equity, and opportunity for all students, outcomes he hopes to achieve by making schools — not the central office — “the primary unit of change.”

Read more »