Recently Jim Kenney unleashed his new vision on what he would like to do as the mayor of Philadelphia.
After saying not too much of anything during the entire race, he finally let everyone in on his plan for the city one day after securing the office of mayor.
Kenney has big plans for the kids in this city especially the ones who are school-aged.
He wants to create a universal pre-kindergarten program in which a quality preschool education is available to all families.
Universal pre-k is not a new concept. It began in France in the 1800s.
In 2013 in a released statement, President Barack Obama called on the need for universal pre-k in order to prepare children better for school.
In July of 2015 the City of Philadelphia introduced the Commission on Universal Pre-K. The group of 17 members will meet monthly gather input, determine the costs, the length of time it would take to incorporate such a program, and eventually make their recommendation to city officials in April of 2016.
The commission will continue to meet until their recommendations are passed.
They also want to get public input and will be hosting community meetings beginning on December 3 until April when their recommendations are due. If you would like to attend these meetings, please go to: http://www.phila.gov/universalprek/Pages/default.aspx.
Despite the group not yet presenting any type of recommendation to the city, Kenney seems to have leap-frogged over the process and presented his own idea as to how much it would cost.
Apparently, it ain’t gonna be cheap.
Kenney didn’t offer how he came up with this magical number, but it turns out it will cost $60 million for three years.
Despite all the feel-good moments surrounding the program, there are still a lot of potholes in the road. No surprise, not everyone is on-board with offering quality pre-k that was once affordable to only the rich and upper middleclass that will now be available to everyone.
There are many experts who believe that children in preschool get the most out of it and are better prepared for school when they can spend at least two years in preschool and the current models only have it for age four; that the child gets only one year of the program before heading off to kindergarten.
There’s also the issue of money. Kenney wants $20 million from outside sources and often that means getting money from either state or federal governments.
Sure, the federal government will kick in some bucks as they do currently, but $20 million?
Whatever the federal government won’t pay for out of that amount will most likely have to come from the state coffers, but the Republican-controlled senate in Harrisburg has long held a strong disdain for Philadelphia and, just like the current budget, will drag its feet before eventually offering what won’t even come close to the amount needed.
Many states that have the pre-k program only have it for children entering the public school system and these programs are geared towards low income to low-middle-class families.
There are some, actually a growing number, who believe that it is reverse discrimination because the programs that are in existence are only for public school kids and not for those who attend other schools.
These individuals also believe that it intentionally is shutting out the middle class that falls between upper-middle-class and lower-middle- class families.
These same individuals don’t feel they should have to pay for something, through their tax dollars, that they can’t use and isn’t for them.
Okay, that’s a little ridiculous because the taxes they pay go to a lot of things they can’t use such as food stamps, welfare and funding for various social service agencies.
In Philadelphia, taxpayers are used to paying for things that doesn’t help them.
If Kenney really intends to serve all the people in Philadelphia he should certainly make the program available to all preschoolers regardless of the family’s income or schools they will be sending their children to.
There is also the fact that universal pre-k programs haven’t been around enough to determine how much of a success it is and whether the money being spent on them is being spent wisely.
It has been debated that the usefulness of the program; that if after all the money that has been spent the child ends up in a school system that fails its students on a daily basis.
People don’t think that it matters how much intervention was provided in the early years if due to violence, a poor quality of education or poor leadership the kid that attended a universal pre-k program ends up dropping out or in prison.
Which brings up the second vision of Jim Kenney. Community schools.
Community schools are usually in select neighborhoods and, besides offering an education, certain supports are in place such as social services, youth and community development as well as community engagement.
The objective of the community school is to offer more of a personalized educational experience for the student in addition to becoming the center of the community.
These schools aim to get the parents involved in their child’s education and for the school to develop more of a working relationship with the parents as well as the community in which they reside in.
Community schools aren’t just for urban school districts. There are community schools in rural and suburban areas too.
Philadelphia has only one community school that fits that bill and it is South Philadelphia High which is a clear indication how Otis Hackney, the principal, became Kenney’s new Chief Education Officer.
Kenney would also like to increase the number of community schools to 25.
In 2012 when the school district was proposing to shut or re-configure 44 schools, there was a lot of talk about turning some of these schools into community schools, but that idea was quickly shelved because it would have came down to receiving state funding and Republican Governor Tom Corbett was still in office reveling over cutting public school funding.
In New York, for example, the millions of dollars that was needed were provided –in part- through state funding.
The $52 million Mayor de Blasio received enabled him to open over 40 community schools.
In Pennsylvania where the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled senate can’t even pass a budget let alone set aside funding for community schools.
Although Kenney hasn’t said how much is needed or where it is going to come from, he does have a lot of local support for this endeavor.
Unfortunately that’s not necessarily going to get him too far in realizing this goal.
Apparently, not one to be deterred, Kenney, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Otis Hackney (the new Chief Education Officer), and PFT President Jerry Jordan visited Cincinnati, Ohio to look at what may be considered one of the best community school programs in the nation.
As impressed these three men seemed to be with the Ohio program, Philadelphia has a lot of obstacles to overcome, the least not being that this city tends to mess things up and run things into the ground pretty easily.
Other obstacles include the way the city and the school districts operate in general – covered in a cloak of darkness; that no matter how many times they toss the word transparency around, there really is no such thing in this city.
In order to have community schools there must be input and collaboration with the residents who will utilize these schools. This cannot be another you’ll-get-what-we-give-you-and-like-it which is typical of district and city officials.
When Kenney decides which buildings to make into community schools he will obviously put together a commission. Members on this commission should include regular people from the neighborhood and not those who do the bidding of the Democratic Party.
Too often whenever community input is needed city officials take the easy route and rely on community leaders, but the problem is that these leaders are usually pawns of the Democratic Party and don’t speak for all the residents in that community. In fact, they speak for a very small amount.
Before deciding which schools to use, Kenney needs to cover the entire city. Too often all the needed resources are put in North and West Philly leaving people in the Northeast out in the cold.
Every neighborhood in Philadelphia should be treated equally and every area would greatly benefit in having a community school.
Sometimes tradition can be a good thing and the tradition of community schools is that it uses curriculum both in and out of the classroom to teach the students. Students need to learn about things that can’t be shown on a white board or through a computer.
The Philadelphia School District’s habit of teaching to test – teaching solely to prepare students to take a test that will have no bearing on their future – needs to be left out of the community schools’ model.
Whether or not Kenney can be successful when he has Republican Senators nipping at his heels remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. He must use this time to earn the trust of the people of Philadelphia by including them in the process.
It was great that Kenney, Clarke, Jordan, and Hackney were impressed with the community school they visited in Ohio, but they have to know that there is a certain formula that has made any successful community school what it is.
These very things could also be another obstacle for the new mayor especially when the city has a penchant for, well, doing what is best for members of city council. They also have a nasty habit of only giving the best to the people who fall into a certain economic status.
The bike rentals, his desire to add even more bike lanes, the $55 million renovation of Dilworth Plaza, four star restaurants and expensive rentals are all geared to those who bring their money and wealthy lifestyle into the city.
This is also why all the blight, slumlords, poorly performing schools, drug clinics, and storefront check cashing agencies that prey on the poor are located far away from the more desired areas where the people with money inhabit.
The community schools have a model that the successful ones replicate and if this city wants to have successes like the ones in Ohio, they will need to adopt them to one degree or another.
1. The facilities are upgraded.
Many of the schools within the school district are in need of a lot of repair that has gone on ignored for years. Many schools have roofing problems, poor ventilation, rodent problems, electrical problems as well as structural problems. In order to make any of these schools acceptable as a community school or even be a welcoming place for members of the community, these issues must be addressed.
Many of the schools have dark hallways and unfriendly atmospheres which isn’t a positive educational experience for children on a daily basis.
In order to make these schools a place where learning is a positive experience, the environment needs to be welcoming.
2. The school’s leadership and staff are of high quality.
Kenney needs to carefully think about the caliber of people who will be running these schools.
Too many schools have subpar administrators who are too stuck in the past and are often disconnected from parents as well as the community.
The teachers as well need to be a special breed. There are a lot of good teachers in the Philadelphia School District, but too often the ones who are just there for a paycheck take away from the true educators.
3. Programs and curriculum that teach the students to excel and how to be the leaders of tomorrow.
The type of education that these students receive shouldn’t revolve around the tests that the state administers.
There also needs to be a diverse curriculum that awakens every student’s love for learning which is not how the school district is currently operating.
4. Funding for after-school programs and resources.
Many schools have after-school programs that offer homework help and then the students pretty much play for the remaining time until the parents comes to pick them up.
Many of these programs employ adults who work for the school district or are college students, but far too many of these adults fail to make real connections with the kids.
These after-school programs should offer a plethora of activities in which the child will continue to learn and every employee should engage with the kids on a daily basis.
5. Schools will stay open after the traditional school day is over and each school will be open to the community in order to meet their needs.
For Kenney this will be a slippery slope especially in crime ridden neighborhoods.
In order to fulfill the needs of the community as well as provide a safe environment for students and staff, he will need to rehire many of the support staff that has been laid-off in order to prevent strangers from wondering around the school unsupervised.
In Philadelphia there are 2, 654 registered sex offenders and over 100 people who are wanted by law enforcement; 6 of them are on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Criminally-minded people might think they can come into an open school and set up shop for drug dealing, robbery, aggravated assault or rape.
If Kenny isn’t careful he might have another incident like the one at Bryant Elementary School in 2013 when Christina Regusters, dressed in traditional Muslim garb, came into the school posing as the guardian of a five-year-old student and abducted her.
Regusters was found guilty of child rape, sentenced to 40 years in prison and the child’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against the school district.
Has Kenney bitten off more than he can chew?
Possibly. It all depends on whether he can get the funding for all these projects without expecting the taxpayers of this city to pay out more money while their families have to go without.
Thanks to Nutter’s four tax hikes during his administration, that well is pretty dry.
If city council continues to raise taxes they may find that their newly acquired wealthy tax base will move somewhere else.
Another problem is that Kenney will have to secure funding every year because the state isn’t the most dependable when it comes to giving Philadelphia money.
There will have to be a tight rein on spending every year and this includes contract negotiations that will eliminate or reduce the funds for these community schools.
In addition, these schools will have to show that there is success in what they’re doing; they will have to produce statistics and facts every year.
City council and the school district will also have to demonstrate a willingness to communicate honestly with the community which includes 100% transparency which is something they’re not good at.
Neither entity has the trust of the communities where these schools will probably be located at and that lack of trust or mismanaging these schools could come back to haunt Kenney and council members come election time.
It will also prevent people from utilizing these community schools.
Kenney certainly has his work cut out for him, but the question whether he will have the support of city council, the PFT (the teacher’s union), and the Philadelphia School District still remains to be answered.
Jim Kenney’s vision: http://articles.philly.com/2015-11-04/news/68020396_1_south-philadelphia…
President Obama’s speech: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/13/fact-sheet-presid…
Commission on Universal Pre-K: http://articles.philly.com/2015-07-02/news/64007706_1_deputy-mayor-new-c…
Community Schools: http://www.communityschools.org/aboutschools/what_is_a_community_school….
Community Schools and locations: http://www.communityschools.org/assets/1/AssetManager/Top%20Ten%20List%2…
Otis Hackney: http://articles.philly.com/2015-11-17/news/68327462_1_chief-education-of…
School closings: http://thenotebook.org/blog/125433/across-philadelphia-strong-reactions-…
New York funding: http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/communityschools/downloads/pdf/community-scho…
Local support: http://thenotebook.org/blog/159159/community-schools-philadelphia-opport…
Ohio visit: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/mayor/20151120_Kenney_heading…
Dilworth Plaza: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/08/18/philadelphias-dilworth-park-…
Storefront check cashing agencies: http://renewablewealth.com/articles/go-broke-with-check-cashing/
Community School model for achievement: http://www.directionservice.org/cadre/pdf/children_strategy_7.pdf
Christina Regusters: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Child-Rapist-Christina-Reguste…