Underfunded, yes, but our public schools can still inspire gratitude
THE UNDERFUNDING of the Philly School District has had me in a quandary since schools opened in September with adult-to-child ratios so low, DHS could investigate the district for neglect.
On the one hand, I desperately want the year to go well, even as we parents wonder how that will happen without enough administrators, counselors, teachers and aides to keep schools from being mere warehouses.
On the other hand, if the schools succeed, I fear Gov. Corbett will say, "Hey, you guys are doing fine without the money you've been yammering for. Keep up the good work!"
In October, Corbett restored $45 million to the district, which allowed some staffers to be rehired, relieving a bit of the extraordinary stress that schools have been under. While I'm grateful for that, I don't want the governor to presume we've settled for crumbs that no suburban parent would deem adequate.
That's a lousy way to feel on the day before Thanksgiving. Hoping to reboot my mood, I asked a bunch of district-affiliated folks, "What are you grateful for?"
George Washington High School senior Delaney Jenkins reminded me that real learning is happening.
"I'm grateful for my excellent education," says Jenkins, an honor student in GW's International Baccalaureate Program and aspiring nurse practitioner who just hit "send" on her college applications. "My teachers are great. I'm in the book club. I play sax and flute in the band. It's been a really good year."
As for Helen Gym, indefatigable co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, well, she's more than grateful, actually.
"I'm inspired by the parents who've stepped up to tell the governor that they're not going to accept how little is being given to us," says Gym, a parent of three. "There has been enormous grit, determination and spirit around the funding issue. It makes me feel hopeful."
I got hold of Gym's frequent sparring partner, district superintendent William Hite, right after he'd returned from a visit to The Workshop School. A student there had excitedly shared how he felt so engaged by the new school, he'd learned more in the last 10 weeks than he had in the prior two years.
"Everyone wants to talk about what's wrong with the district and about the lack of funds," says Hite. "But I'm grateful that we still see the results, every day, of committed staff who exercise passion and fortitude with students regardless of economics."
Amen, says Lisa Haver, co-founder of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
"I am thankful for all of the courageous teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and secretaries who are working so hard to keep our schools together," says Haver, a retired teacher. "They are giving more of their time - and money - than they ever have, even in the face of threats to their own livelihoods and careers."
Over at Roxborough High School, nurse Eileen DiFranco is grateful that the district "exercised the wisdom" to promote vice principal Dana Jenkins to principal when the spot opened.
"She's kind, smart and hard-working and has great interpersonal skills," says DiFranco, who feared the district would install a "crony" in the job. "There have been rough spots because of understaffing, but we chug along and it's because of Dana."
Nolita Pettus, too, wants to credit others for the gratitude she feels as special-education liaison at Laura Carnell Elementary School in Oxford Circle.
"I am so thankful for my staff!" trills Pettus about those who provide services to Carnell's 85 to 90 special-ed students. "They work well together, they differentiate instruction for children and follow up with lots of parental support. Even their paperwork is always in compliance."
At Southwest Philly's Tilden Middle School, a secretary too cautious to share her name felt thankful for principal Brian Johnson, who "creates miracles." Frankford High School secretary Margaret Punches is thankful for her boss, too. Principal Reginald Fisher is "a trouper" who answers phones and greets parents at the front counter when the office is really jumping.
"It's hard to find people who are good to you at your job," says Punches, who was rehired in September after a June layoff. "It makes a big difference."
And then there are the teachers who take on extra classes and responsibilities to fill gaps that would yawn open without their commitment. Like Central High School math and physics teacher Daniel Ueda, who coaches the school's big robotics team.
"He's an amazing coach," says volunteer Katherine Conrad, who no longer has kids at Central but remains the team's assistant coach because of Ueda. "And he's the best teacher I've ever known."
Me, I'm grateful for my own kid's awesome teachers, administrators and Home and School honchos (like you, Janet Pinkerton) who work like dogs to make this a great year for our kids.
Thank you, all.
On Twitter: @RonniePhilly