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Focus 46: New District safe school campaign

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

A new District school safety campaign, announced at Wednesday’s School Reform Commission, is a comprehensive one, involving a wide-ranging set of initiatives that include everything from improved attendance-taking to developing detailed plans at each school. The campaign homes in on 46 schools that account for about half of all violent incidents in the School District and nearly three-fourths of all expulsions.

The targeted schools – referred to as Focus 46 schools – include the 20 schools on the state’s persistently dangerous schools list, as well as 26 additional schools that have less than 90 percent average daily attendance, more than 40 percent of students chronically truant, and more than 5 violent incidents per 100 students. A full list of schools is not yet available. The District will also be looking at issues in any feeder schools to the 46, a majority of which are high schools.

At the 46 schools, the District aims to improve the collecting and sharing of safety data to support more effective policing and deployment of school staff. Central office staff have already brought in the CompStat system used by the Philadelphia police to map crime and identify problem areas. And five commanders have been assigned to oversee security at the Focus 46 schools.

But the presentation by Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery and the new Chief of School Safety Myron Patterson also emphasized improved leadership and instruction at the 46 schools and ongoing professional development for staff, focused on 92 leaders at the schools.

And Nunery said that parents and students have an important role to play in the effort to improve school climate.

"This is going to be the hardest work we do," he said.

The campaign has ambitious goals, including reducing the number of persistently dangerous schools to zero within two years.

Professional development for the campaign kicked off at a principals meeting last week with an emphasis on developing a shared language and also more conversation about safety.

"The exchange of information around this topic has not been robust and organized," Nunery said.

"It’s okay to talk about the fact that your building is not where you want it to be," he added.

One indication of the priority placed on this campaign is the involvement of top District officials in working directly with the schools in question — "going into schools, walking with principals, not just handing this work off to deputies," explained Tomas Hanna, associate superintendent of academic support.

A focus of these discussions with school leaders is "talking about systems, are systems in place, what type of system," Hanna said. Breakdowns in school climate emerge when schools aren’t as tight in handling things like morning admission, afternoon dismissal, hall passes, or substitute teachers, he said.

Nunery chairs a School Climate Action Team that oversees the effort.

Some other upcoming planned actions include:

  • School plans prepared by November at each school, detailing strategies to prevent violence, truancy, and bullying.
  • Support of the youth summit on November 9 sponsored by the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools.
  • Continued professional development for principals and other staff using materials from Safe Havens International.
  • Use of anti-bullying curriculum materials: Second Step (K-8) and School Connect (9-12)
  • Clarification of reporting standards.
  • An emphasis with principals and attendance secretaries at schools on improving attendance-taking processes to support truancy interventions.

Nunery said a blue-ribbon commission will be named in October to monitor progress.

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