Thursday, May 3, 2012

We can support strong community schools

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I intended to stay positive in this blog and chronicle my daughter’s and now son’s journey through our local neighborhood Philadelphia public school. We have had a great four years thus far but I would be lying if I claimed that the entire road has been bliss and there was no drama or that this time of year when the “doom and gloom” and “fear mongering” outlooks for the district begin that it doesn’t physically and emotionally fatigue me (remember last year’s threat of ½ day Kindergarten). In addition I am professor in higher education where we also face constant budget cuts, top down restructuring and a professoriate that is increasingly undervalued and dismissed.

BUT I do try to stay positive remembering we are in a major city with resources and educated leaders.  So as all the stories come out regarding the latest restructuring of the district I try to make sense of it.

  1.   I have been thrilled with all the teachers that we have had a J.S. Jenks.  I cannot wrap my head around the notion that the “failing schools “ are all their fault.  “It takes a village.”
  2.  I am relatively new to Philadelphia but one fact seems to come up over and over in some of the recent articles; the city’s schools have been UNDER funded for quite some time. Why don’t we have the political will to educate our children and fund the schools well?  Our school has done amazing things on a skeleton budget and I hope to see what is possible when there are no budget fears. So why don’t we (the city, mayor and city council) pressure Harrisburg or figure out some way to fund the system?
  3.  I am frustrated when dealing with the district. I was frustrated with all the money needed to “buy out” Dr. Ackerman.  I am frustrated with all the money spent on consultants, testing and test preparation and who knows what else
  4. The latest restructuring does not seem to be a huge money saving venture so what is the motivation……..

BUT with all these factors I believe that neighborhood schools are necessary.  Having kids commute to all ends of the city for “choice” seems unreasonable.  

I do think dismantling the arbitrary catchment boundaries and building neighborhood-community schools seems to be a far better idea.  Giving communities’ autonomy to build their school with teachers, administrators, parents and communities partners working together seems to be the ideal model.  The district should provide support to areas that need the help but learn from communities who make it work.

Our school community is trying to build the ideal.  A newly formed group, Friends of J.S. Jenks, has a 3 fold mission. 

  1.  To enhance the educational and enrichment opportunities for students at J.S. Jenks by bringing together the financial and creative resources of educators, parents, students, alumni, and the greater community.
  2.  To insure long-range financial flexibility for J.S. Jenks, allowing the school to develop innovative programs, student support systems, and infrastructure.
  3.  To forge new partnerships between the school and the cultural, business, and academic institutions in Chestnut Hill, and contribute to the vibrancy of our neighborhood.
Since we cannot seem to get politicians to fund our kids’ education  we are taking matters into our own hands. Private funding is not an ideal or equitable way to fund public education but community partnerships and collaborations are necessary and who better to form those relationships than the school community.

I look forward to the enhancement of a strong northwest Philadelphia community public school (J.S. Jenks).  The added benefit is that my kids see parents rally around their school and not run to the next better (seemingly) option. 

Come support our inaugural fundraiser to benefit the school’s music and arts program, on Saturday, June 9, 2012 from 4pm – 7pm at The Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Field, 8000 Saint Martin’s Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118. Enjoy hors d’oevres and refreshments amidst live music from area musicians; including a performance by J.S. Jenks music students. A silent auction of goods and services from an array of local businesses, as well as raffle prizes, will be available throughout the event.  All proceeds will help support the music and arts programs at J.S. Jenks School, and all donated items will be tax-deductible.

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