State, city, unions meet on school violence

They agree on a 4-point action plan

Pennsylvania's education secretary met yesterday with officials of the Philadelphia School District and of the teachers' and principals' unions to design strategies for curbing violence in the city's schools.

Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak, district chief executive Paul Vallas and officers of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union met at Temple University for the closed-to-the-public meeting. Also participating by conference phone was Michael Lerner, who heads the principals' union.

The meeting came more than a month after Germantown High math teacher Frank Burd suffered a broken neck in a hallway attack by two teens on Feb. 23.

Burd had taken away one student's iPod in class before the assault.

In a statement, Secretary Zahorchak said the meeting was intended to clarify "what role the state can play in identifying best practices to ensure the safety of Philadelphia students."

Among the actions the group agreed to yesterday were to:

_ Identify an "immediate responder" in each of the nine "persistently dangerous schools" who will be the point person for any disciplinary infraction.

_ Suspend for up to 10 days any student whose presence in a regular school threatens to disrupt the academic process or the safety of others.

_ Provide specialized training in prevention and disciplinary processes to all staff in the nine schools. The training will include teaching staffers how to "de-escalate" potentially violent situations.

_ Assess the district's alternative schools to evaluate student academic and behavioral performance.

Vallas, in a statement, said the strategies first will be used in a limited number of schools but ultimately will be applied throughout the school system.

And Jerry Jordan, the PFT's vice president, said, "So often in education, we place Band-Aids on problems and as soon as that wound heals, we move on to the next incident."

Following the meeting, Jordan said it was important to stress the need to train school employees how to prevent tense situations from becoming worse.

"Even though you are the authority figure, you got to be careful that you talk to these young people with respect," Jordan said. The "persistently dangerous schools" are:

_ Bartram High School, 67th Street near Elmwood Avenue;

_ Frankford High, on Oxford Avenue and Wakeling Street;

_ Germantown High School, High Street near Germantown Avenue;

_ Martin Luther King High School, Stenton Avenue and Beverly Road;

_ Lincoln High, Ryan and Nesper streets;

_ Overbrook High, Lancaster Avenue and 59th Street;

_ University City High, 36th and Filbert streets;

_ West Philadelphia High, 47th and Walnut streets;

_ Vare Middle School, 24th Street and Snyder Avenue. *