This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Taking over the auditorium at District headquarters this morning, the newly formed Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools, a cross-section of the city’s leaders, convened for the first time to introduce and discuss its plans for tackling violence in and outside of the District’s schools.
The gathering took place just as more than 200 high school students from across the city were assembling down the street for an all-day Youth Power Summit at Community College of Philadelphia to work on strategies to address similar issues. The summit was called by student groups involved in the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, which describes itself as a multiracial, youth-led campaign to reduce violence by building young people into leaders.
The new commission is led by Mayor Nutter and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and includes members of District staff, union leaders, government and law enforcement officials, clergy, parents, youth organizers, and community activists.
Superintendent Ackerman first announced plans to form the commission at a School Reform Commission meeting last February in response to heightened youth violence both in schools and communities.
While the panel will seek solutions for combating the violence that continues to plague the city, it will first focus on the District’s Focus 46 schools, a list including 20 schools that are on the state’s persistently dangerous schools list and another 26 schools that were once on the PDS list or trending that way. All Focus 46 schools have less than 90 percent average daily attendance, more than 40 percent of students who are chronically truant, and more than five violent incidents per 100 students. The District has committed to dramatic improvements in safety at these schools.
The panel will meet quarterly – next convening February 8, 2011 – to review and provide recommendations for action. The commission will also issue an annual report to Ackerman and the mayor.
Four subcommittees will meet once or twice in-between the full commission meetings to review, discuss, and monitor safe schools scorecards. The subcommittees are:
*Safe Schools Audit Committee – will ensure that the Project Safe Schools recommendations are fully implemented using the Safe Schools Audit measurable categories.
*School Visit Committee – will participate in school walkthroughs with District leadership to make sure that plans are being executed and to address concerns.
*Policy Work Group Committee – will propose policy changes to the SRC to ensure that potentially dangerous incidents are recorded correctly.
*Attendance and Truancy/Bullying Prevention Committee – will ensure that stronger systems for attendance and truancy prevention and intervention are created, as well as confirm that bullying and violence prevention strategies are launched within schools.