Local control of schools is finally here, and the real work is just beginning | Opinion

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Philadelphia Public School Superintendent William R. Hite (left) and Mayor Jim Kenney.

July 1 marks the beginning of a new chapter in Philadelphia’s history: governance of the School District of Philadelphia has been transferred to a locally appointed Board of Education.

Returning the district to local control was the result of many years of impassioned advocacy from many Philadelphians. We have also reached this point because the district made tough choices during challenging times and worked hard to become financially stable while simultaneously making progress. Now schools are safer and attendance is up, as are graduation rates and academic performance.

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This return to local control doesn’t mean we’ve reached the finish line; in fact, we’re just getting started. But we’re optimistic for the future of our education system because getting this far allows the city and the district to strengthen our partnership and pave the way forward.

We were inspired by the hundreds of individuals who applied to take on the enormous task of serving on the board. Ultimately, nine well-qualified and passionate individuals who represent the diversity of our great city were selected to lead the district into a new era. The board has spent the last three months listening and learning about what our schools do well and where we still need to improve.

All of our improvements must be student-focused. For that reason, starting today, July 1, we are beginning to take applications for a student representative on the board, as well as an alternate. While the position is nonvoting, the student who serves in this role will have a vital voice that will be fundamental to our progress.

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And we know Philadelphians will be looking for the board to make a positive impact. It will be judged on its ability to drive stronger collaboration between the city and the district, increase transparency and public engagement, and prioritize quality education no matter which sector — district, charter, or otherwise.

We know that changing one model of governance for another is no cure-all, but in this case, it is definitely a step in the right direction. For Philadelphia to now build on our schools’ recent success and make quality schools in every neighborhood a reality, we must continue to work together. Everyone has a role.

The city and School District are committed to deepening shared partnerships and maximizing resources, which has already produced meaningful opportunities for our students and their families. These include establishing initiatives like the Read by 4th early literacy campaign, creating Community Schools, partnering on a workforce development strategy, improving behavioral health supports for our students through the STEP program, expanding outdoor play spaces, and implementing a Philadelphia Police Diversion program — to name just a few. Looking ahead, we are committed to increased alignment between city and district services.

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Together, we can build on the district’s recent progress, and expand on the strategies and investments that have already produced improvements in funding, staffing, early literacy, and college and career readiness.

When our students succeed, our entire city succeeds. The neighborhoods around quality schools will flourish, and our city will continue to build, attract, and retain new talent and business. We hope that Philadelphians who share our vision will collaborate alongside us to achieve these goals.

If you’re passionate about education and ready to get involved, you’re not alone. Following the board’s appointment, hundreds of Philadelphians participated in the board’s “Listening Tour” in April and May to share their feedback and hopes for our local school system.

We encourage residents to continue bringing their experience, knowledge, and ideas to the table. The next opportunity to do so will be the Board of Education’s first public meeting on July 9 at 5 p.m. at the School District’s headquarters at 440 N. Broad St.

Philadelphia’s public schools have always been all of ours — but beginning today we are better positioned to influence their success. Together, we can build on the district’s hard-won progress and realize our shared goal of ensuring quality schools in every neighborhood.

Jim Kenney is mayor of Philadelphia. Dr. William R. Hite is superintendent of the Philadelphia School District.