Thursday, March 12, 2009

School Reform Commission

This is an article about Kevin Peter (blog: Knowing Henry) and the seats available on the School Reform Commission.

Posted on Thu, Mar. 12, 2009

Ronnie Polaneczky: Why not a public-school parent for SRC slot?

By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News Columnist

WHILE WE'VE been distracted by talk of a trash tax, swimming-pool closures and library shutdowns, four of the School Reform Commission's seats have quietly gone up for grabs.

The terms of Heidi Ramirez, Martin Bednarek and SRC chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn have expired. All have agreed to stay put for now, and have said that they'd like to be re-appointed.

The fourth commissioner, Jim Gallagher, has already left.

Kevin Peter is hoping one of those seats will be his, if he can convince the mayor or governor to appoint him.

So far, neither has invited him in for a sit-down. But I think they should - and not just because Kevin's a public-school parent (only one SRC member - Denise Armbrister - actually has kids in the city's public schools).

But because, extraordinarily, Kevin Peter has helped convince 75 middle-class families to choose Philadelphia public education for their children.

That's probably 75 more families than any SRC member has enticed into using a city school.

The development director at Community Legal Services, Kevin, 44, lives in Mount Airy with his wife, Nancy, and their son, Ben, whose education was on their minds back in 2002.

They were wondering where to enroll Ben for kindergarten and were curious about their neighborhood elementary school, C.W. Henry.

"A lot of people would either move to the suburbs when their kids were ready for school, or they'd do private school - even though they'd never even checked out Henry," says Kevin, who has also worked in community relations, philanthropy and fundraising for nonprofits.

Determined to separate truth about the school from myth, the Peters held meetings in their home, where Henry parents and staff answered questions from local non-Henry parents. Along with a handful of other families, the Peters chose Henry, which they found to be a dynamic, inviting place.

They've since become rabid Henry and public-school advocates, continuing their monthly gatherings for parents curious about local education options.

Kevin has co-chaired a committee that worked with six public schools in Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy to rally support and resources for the schools.

And his blog, "Knowing Henry," has become a must-read for prospective Henry parents wanting honest information about the benefits and drawbacks of public education.

As a result of these efforts, 75 families have chosen Henry.

This is huge.

Studies show that schools with 50 percent or more of children from middle-class families are 24 times more likely to outperform schools with students from mostly poor families.

That's because middle-class parents' involvement profoundly impacts a school's environment, explains Richard Kahlenberg, author of All Together Now: Creating Middle Class Schools Through Public School Choice.

They're four times more likely than low-income families to belong to PTAs. They tend to set high academic standards for their kids, so their kids tend to work hard - which adds to classroom rigor.

And their kids tend to have fewer behavioral problems than low-income kids.

So, schools that are economically well-integrated become places where teachers spend more time instructing, less time disciplining. So, they stay put longer- contributing to school stability.

"This isn't elitist or anecdotal," says Kahlenberg. "It's based on solid research," which also shows that low-income students perform better alongside peers who are middle-class.

Kevin admits that he's not an "A-list" candidate for an SRC appointment - SRC members have had deep business, finance, education or political connections - but he notes that those connections haven't put the district in the black, designed a sustainable fiscal program or turned the district into an efficient, successful organization.

"So, maybe the A-listers and their A-list networks aren't bringing the right things to the table," says Kevin (whose resumé is on Mayor Nutter's desk).

What he has proven that he can bring, he says, are parents with resources, networks and motivation to work with schools and administrators to improve the education experience for all kids.

"How many SRC members have brought their peers into the schools?" he asks. "When was the last time any SRC member encouraged Philadelphians to consider sending their children to their neighborhood school?"

The way that he has, successfully, at least 75 times?

Like I said, I think the guy deserves a sit-down. *

E-mail or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: Read Ronnie's blog at ronnieblog.

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