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Students deserve our very best

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

Response to Jan. 10 commentary post, “Technical solutions are insufficient to fix District’s problems,” by James H. Lytle.

Penn professor James H. Lytle offered a thoughtful analysis of the District’s current woes and less-than-successful attempts by the School Reform Commission and political leaders to address the problems of a dwindling public school population and inadequate achievement.

While I heartily agree with Lytle’s key recommendation that the District should be “engaging parents, students, employees, and the larger community” in seeking solutions, I must truly wonder at his suggestion that we adopt “leadership expert” Ron Heifetz’s view that our challenges “require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments.”

I believe we have experimented. Under Paul Vallas, an imported leader from a district that did not perform as well as Philadelphia, we divided struggling schools into three groups: Edison Inc.; a variety of other managers; and a school district with additional (read “closer to adequate”) resources. What we discovered was that schools run by our very own district, when more adequately resourced, did best!

Our students are not lab rats. They are not “seats.” They should not be charity cases. They are young people deserving the best we can provide them.

What exactly might that be? Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham recently wrote about a Radnor High School student who, apparently possessing more regard for Philadelphia students than any of our politicians, is attempting to diminish the inequities with volunteer time and donations of clothing and school supplies.

Why don’t we dedicate ourselves as citizens and office holders to bring the resources, through policy and taxation, for Philadelphia – and all urban and rural schools in our commonwealth – to the same level as a Radnor, a Lower Merion, or a Wallingford-Swarthmore? What is needed is not mysterious – just unacknowledged and denied.

Barbara McDowell Dowdall

The writer, a retired English Department head at A. Philip Randolph Technical High School, is a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

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