Changing a school's image

If the buzz in the room at the education forum sponsored by Young Involved Philadelphia Thursday was any indication, there's a lot of energy aimed at fixing Philadelphia schools right now.

About 80 parents and experts gathered to discuss ways to make it easier for parents to live in the city and find good schools for their children.

Many of the parents there were already working to try to improve their local public schools, and they mentioned a lot of barriers. Volunteers must go through extensive background checks, for example. Most schools have no one on staff dedicated to reaching out to - and getting help from - the community.

But participants also wondered if some schools simply need to sell themselves a bit. Often, test scores for individual schools, available on the Internet,  are the only information parents can easily access.

How would most parents know, for example, that Bache-Martin Elementary has violin for kindergarteners? Or that Chester A. Arthur has a theater program run by the Walnut Street Theatre?

Some parents are trying to find new ways to get the word out. Bache-Martin, for example, will hold a fall festival October 15 on the lawn across from the school. Neighbors of Chester A. Arthur are hoping to create a playground at the school that will become a community gathering place.

Participants at the event, at the gorgeous new Salvation Army Kroc Center in Hunting Park, acknowledged that it will take much more than a few successful projects to make many parents comfortable with the city schools. Some parents worried that sending a child to a Philadelphia public school was too much of a chance to take with a child's education, even if it might help accomplish social change.

Will these parents jump and send their children to the local public school? Stay tuned - for about a decade.