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Surveying school leaders: do schools have the basics?

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

An advocacy group’s survey of principals at Philadelphia’s neighborhood high schools found diminishing concern about shortages of books and computers, but a wide range of problems in staffing, facilities, and school climate.

The Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth report “What Every High School Should Have” focuses on conditions at the city’s neighborhood high schools. “These are the schools in general that have not had the kind of attention that other schools have had,” explained Shelly Yanoff, PCCY’s executive director.

Yanoff said the group’s survey tried to determine whether these schools have “the absolute basics.”

Positive findings include that 85 percent of principals surveyed reported having enough textbooks in every subject for every student, and 86 percent have Internet access in nearly all classrooms. But PCCY highlighted several areas that need attention.

  • Staffing: 45 percent of principals said they do not have enough substitutes to cover teacher absences, and nearly two-thirds had a classroom that lacked a permanent teacher.
  • Buildings: 60 percent of principals called their heating systems “poor;” and 58 percent said drinking water was not available throughout the building.
  • Libraries: 58 percent said their library is not “current or in good condition.”

The need for more behavioral health and social services “was probably spoken to more than anything else in the survey,” added PCCY Education Specialist Dennis Barnebey.

The four-page PCCY questionnaire is a tool for monitoring and advocating for improved school conditions. It is available at www.pccy.org/schools.htm or by calling PCCY at 215-563-5848.