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Philly’s new superintendent talks about student success, teacher turnover and early goals

By on June 16, 2022 0

Let’s talk about equity and justice in education. We are currently awaiting a decision in the fair school funding lawsuit. Pennsylvania has been accused of adopting an inequitable funding system that does not provide the resources all of its students need to meet state standards and discriminates against students based on their socioeconomic status. Have you read about the lawsuit? And what programs or initiatives would you suggest to help bridge the gap for students who come from struggling areas?

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of lawmakers during my recent visit to Harrisburg. I had the opportunity to have a telephone conversation with Governor Wolf and several other members of the delegation.

There are five priority areas that I will focus on. First, I want to spend time assessing student and staff well-being. I mean physical health, social and emotional health, and that would also include the impact of gun violence in the school district and safety issues that certainly impact schools, some more than others.

Second, I want to spend some time focusing on how to engage with broad stakeholder groups across this city. I have to understand their hopes, aspirations, concerns, understand what they think we are doing well and what different members of our community think we need to improve.

The third area will be to assess teaching and learning. Certainly, we want to take a close look at our educational resources. How well equipped are teachers, teachers to do the job they are being asked to do? What are their levels of support? The same goes for school principals.

Fourth, we want to assess how much talent we have in this school district, as well as the gaps.

And finally, this fifth area of ​​work will be to assess the operations, facilities and finances of the district.

All of these have budgetary implications. We will present formal conclusions and formal recommendations to the Board of Education and will be very public and very transparent. And we’ll say the things that we found, and here’s what we’re going to recommend.

What are your strategies for addressing gun violence and keeping students safe to and from school?

The first priority area that is in my entry plan, and this is no accident, is to assess the welfare of students and staff. Even before we got to teaching and learning, the evaluation of teaching or learning, or the assessment of student status, was a big study. You have nearly 200,000 students. I imagine that some students, some staff members and some parents are in a different situation than others. So I don’t think I should paint the whole city with a wide brush.

I want to take the time to understand the context of the problem. Because I want to be careful not to fall into stereotypes, or simply into what I think I have read or observed in the media. I want to take the time to do my due diligence, to take the time to listen, to talk to people, and to study our data. We have data on school climate. There are statistics available from the police department and others. And so we will have more to offer in this respect.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Philadelphia and the district since being hired?

Well, because I spent a lot of time studying the neighborhood and had some familiarity with the town, with my dad living about 20 miles west of here in New Jersey, I don’t wouldn’t say that I was surprised by anything.

The district has done a phenomenal job of improving its financial health. That’s really important in urban America, where the tax base can be tough at times. Some indicators suggest that you are making some momentum. The spirit, grit, and courage that I have seen first-hand among Philadelphians tells me that we absolutely can be the fastest-improving urban school district in the nation.

Have you chosen a neighborhood? Have you ever bought a house?

I became a resident of Center City. I am currently not the owner. I’m doing a temporary lease to give myself more time to learn the city and figure out what I want to focus on. There are many great neighborhoods to choose from here.