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Council candidates discuss dropouts

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

Public School Notebook contacted all announced Philadelphia City Council candidates we could identify (as of Feb. 21) and posed the following question, in connection with the newspaper’s spring edition on dropout issues:

In City Council, how will you promote a true citywide campaign to keep students in school, ensure access to high-quality learning opportunities for struggling students and out-of-school youth, and support our most vulnerable young people – i.e., those who are involved with the foster care, juvenile justice, and abuse and neglect systems, and those who are pregnant and/or parenting?

All responses received by the deadline appear below.

District 1

Michael Seidenberg – Republican
Minimizing the dropout rate is critical to the future of our city. While truancy enforcement can have some success, what is truly required are reforms to the education system and changes in social behavior by those whose children are most at risk.

The issue is multi-faceted. Different organizations need to be responsible for separate results. The School District is best suited to spearhead prevention within enrolled school-aged children and should be charged with this responsibility. Truancy enforcement currently underway should continue.

Unfortunately, any effort the school makes is really only treating a symptom. Without a strategy to address the root causes of dropping out such as family dysfunction, poor parenting skills, and low civic responsibility, the District will continue to be overwhelmed by at-risk youth. Therefore, other organizations must find ways to intervene earlier in children’s lives and be held to similarly high levels of accountability.

As a Councilman, I will help establish a comprehensive strategy, assist in identifying funding, and provide oversight of the actual effort. I will also work within my district and across the City to seek out and raise awareness of programs that are effective in preparing youth for educational success.

District 5

Haile Johnston – Democrat
Investment in our city’s youth must be our top priority. By funding and expanding early education programming, we can better prepare Philadelphia’s youth for scholastic success and prevent them from falling behind. All schools should also offer well-rounded learning opportunities in arts, culture, and athletics. Schools must be transformed into enjoyable learning environments that appeal to a child’s interests and provide positive incentives for participation.

Providing a full slate of afterschool programming enhances the educational experience and keeps children engaged in positive activity. The program that my wife and I started at the Blaine K-8 School in our neighborhood provides at-risk youth positive incentives for improved classroom behavior and attendance. After homework is completed, children can participate in physical, nutritional, and environmental learning activities along with their favorite activity, chess.

It is critical to target the most at-risk children with early intervention programs before they fall out of the educational system. We must also create specialized learning centers that are tailored to the acute needs of adjudicated youth, teen parents and other dropouts.

It is my intention to bring the needed resources and programming to create positive educational environments that our most vulnerable of youth can enjoy.

District 8

Irv Ackelsberg – Democrat
I have spent the last 30 years as a peoples’ lawyer with Community Legal Services, representing hundreds of individuals, families and organizations, giving them a voice and working hard to solve their problems. I want to bring my experience, leadership skills and willingness to speak out to City Council and be a voice and advocate for everyone trying to make a difference in our city.

No issue is more important than taking care of our youth. Research by Johns Hopkins and the Philadelphia Education Fund provides clear indicators for spotting children who are most at-risk for dropping out. The Philadelphia Youth Transitions Collaborative is developing and coordinating programs that we know can work, including new high school options for at-risk youth and expanded involvement in the schools of social workers, consultation and evaluation workers, and behavioral health. We need leaders who will be effective fighters for these programs. Not only will I fight for funding for these programs, I will be a clear, loud voice for restoring art, music, libraries, and other activities critical to youth development. I will assign a specialist in youth programs to my Council staff so that parents and students of the 8th District have the best advice and support available in the city.

Cindy Bass – Democrat
Providing a quality education amid the complexities of life for our youth is quite a challenge. Staying in school must not just be a concern; it has to be a priority as we all have a stake at ensuring their success. I propose the following to begin addressing this critical issue:

1. We have a great scholarship program that enables all eligible high school seniors to get a scholarship for college. However, we all know young people that are taking an alternative route. I would propose that students with an entrepreneurial spirit receive a grant for their small business plan, once the student has consulted and been advised and trained by a city-supported small business incubator. These are the same dollars that they would have qualified for in the CORE Philly scholarship.

2. Also, as a graduate of Philadelphia public schools and of the Parkway Program, I support alternative educational programs as an option along with the standard structured environment now in place. Our goal is to reach our students with tools and in an environment that they can excel in, and thinking outside of the box is critical to developing and implementing such educational opportunities.

Brian Rudnick – Green Party
As a member of City Council:

1. I will insist on having the time to continue doing what I am doing now, volunteering in a school or schools. For the past four years, I have been a volunteer reading tutor with kindergarteners and first graders at the J.S. Jenks Elementary School. I enjoy it very much, and these youngsters are the same students who, if not given sufficient supports early on, are vulnerable to becoming dropouts later on.

2. I will support and encourage the foster care system because so many at-risk students are involved with it. I am the proud foster parent of a Central High grad who happily graduated college and is now looking at grad schools. I can take little credit for her academic success and still campaign for her to recognize what love and hopes her biological parents have for her despite their inability to care for her.

3. I will: a) listen to school dropouts, to parents, teachers, advocacy groups b) read and digest testimony and reports; act on the recommendations of experts among whom I count foremost – students, parents and teachers.

District 10

Sean McAleer – Democrat
As a Councilman, I would promote a citywide campaign to keep every student in school until they graduate. This can be done in a number of ways, including increasing night school opportunities for students who choose to work or are parents themselves and having an accelerated curriculum so they can graduate within the same time as regular students.

I would increase the budget for struggling, vulnerable, and at-risk students. The levels of these students are skyrocketing throughout the entire District. We must reduce class sizes so that our teacher-student ratio is more manageable. Furthermore, we must increase resources to match the rise in these levels so that every student has access to a high-quality education.

I would promote accountability from the parents of our students. Without parental involvement, we will only receive low to modest levels of success. Finally, the District has to be returned to local educators that understand the needs of our neighborhood students. All management companies must be removed at once. This will guarantee both a better quality education and improved standardized test scores.

Neighborhood schools and smaller class sizes will ensure access to high-quality learning opportunities for all our students!!!


Bill Green – Democrat
Philadelphia is facing a dropout crisis with dire consequences for the individuals, our economy and public safety. We cannot become the nation’s next great city if our children are failing to graduate.

On City Council, I will forcefully advocate on this issue and will fight to ensure adequate funding. The city MUST fully fund our obligation to public schools and increase funding by dedicating a greater percentage of property taxes to public education.

Teachers are our best chance to keep kids in school and we need to pay them what they are worth and hire more of them—and reduce the bureaucracy at the School District. We must fund early intervention and outreach programs that truly work in keeping at-risk kids in school, and eliminate those that don’t – regardless of political connections. And we need to make our schools a safe place to learn.

In addition, children need to see a greater link between education and employment. We must expand vocational training and alternative education, summer work opportunities and opportunities for accelerated degrees.

Philadelphia has the resources and the ability to solve this problem, but it is time we started to expect more – from both our children AND from our elected officials.

Blondell Reynolds-Brown – Democrat
Studies show that there is a huge pool of poorly educated youth who are becoming further disconnected. Finishing high school is the exception, legal employment is scarcer than ever, and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing especially for young African American males.

On June 15, 2006, with the help of child policy advocates from Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, I set legislation to establish a Youth Commission. The Commission operates as a panel of young Philadelphians who assess legislation and policies that affect youth. They will make recommendations to the Mayor’s office and City Council.

We, as elected officials, must foster programs that provide constructive and directed opportunities that assist and guide the difficult decisions youth face during adolescence. Programs like this offer students in grades kindergarten through twelve a chance to gather information, think critically, interact appropriately with their peers, and make decisions. They learn the importance of collaboration and negotiation skills, as well as respect for differing points of view.

If the voters on May 15, 2007 choose to add the Youth Commission, they will be doing a great service to our city.

Frank Rizzo – Republican
Philadelphia can’t be a world-class city with nearly 50 percent of its young adults not having 12th grade proficiency.

City Council needs to promote the integration of social service programs with the School District to identify at-risk students to help keep them in school through graduation, as well as track those who leave school to support their return to acquire 12th grade proficiency.

Equally important–and with a longer-range impact–City Council needs to promote and support early childhood education. Most learning is done before age 6: this is the time to encourage a lifetime love of learning. Those who receive such an education are more productive, are less likely to engage in criminal behavior, and will have a better quality of life.

And, with a highly qualified, highly employable population, we can have a competitive advantage over the rest of the world. Business will come. Jobs will come. Income will rise. Government revenues will rise. Government services will be easily supportable. Our quality of life will rise.

Education is our best investment. As a Philadelphia City Councilman-At-Large, for over 11 years now, I have promoted this vision for our future. I will continue to do so in my fourth term.

Matt Ruben – Democrat
Keeping students in school requires improving the learning environment; identifying and helping at-risk youth; and helping dropouts return.

As a teacher, I know safe schools with smaller classes let teachers focus on students, and make students more invested in learning and less likely to drop out. This requires more Commonwealth funding – a difficult task, but our most important one. On Council, I will work tirelessly to build the regional alliances necessary to effectively lobby Harrisburg.

We must identify potential dropouts and be able to act on the information. I will work to secure dedicated funding for: ongoing districtwide K.I.D.S. analysis; placement of dropout prevention specialists in middle and high schools; special classes letting students who’ve failed core subjects catch up and avoid being held back (a dropout risk factor).

I will also sponsor legislation establishing a DHS education office; promote “wraparound” services addressing issues that make students miss class and fail core subjects (two other risk factors); promote continuing-education-style “storefront schools” to let working and parenting dropouts earn diplomas in environments tailored to their needs; and seek funds to create citywide awareness campaigns for both students and adults, the latter tied to a 311 system tracking truancy calls.

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