Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lend a voice to redesigning city's schools

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has asked the community to weigh in with ideas to help the School District.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has asked the community to weigh in with ideas to help the School District. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
By Daniel Sean Kaye

It was truly a joyful moment for me when I heard about the School District of Philadelphia's "School Redesign Initiative." Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is asking any and everyone, inside and outside the district, to make suggestions on how to fix some of the issues impacting city schools.

Why did I feel this way? Because everything else that has been tried to help the district hasn't worked. The financial moves, the protests, the pleading, the threats - all have left us with one gnawing reality: Whatever gets "fixed" will again be a huge issue next year. The solutions have been Band-Aids when we needed surgery, smiley faces instead of the intensive therapy demanded. And the unfillable chasm of issues yet to even be cursorily addressed? Expect to be marking their silver anniversaries before anyone truly pays attention.

Some will scoff at the initiative, considering it the desperate act of an administration that is out of solutions. But I see it as a breakthrough moment, one that is innovative and full of possibility. This is where we can begin to rewrite the future, and where today's Philadelphia schoolchildren, and the generations to come, can start to be considered and loved - even rescued.

We've heard it before, but it still rings true: If the schools fail, the city fails. As our educational infrastructure collapses, crime soars, real estate values fall, businesses hightail it out of here, and not even the Phanatic's energy and enthusiasm will save the day. When schools fail, hope leaves the one place where it should always been flourishing: in the hearts and minds of children.

I have plenty of ideas of what we should do, but none of them are original: Pursue Comcast, the Eagles, and the endless high-end restaurants and clubs to pony up some real money to rebuild the schools. Woo Google and Microsoft to take over the district as an experiment in fostering tomorrow's business people. Have Temple, Drexel, Penn, and other universities mentor the schools in their neighborhoods, using their students to help struggling teachers and administrators. Invite Habitat for Humanity to make the most neglected schools safe and healthy again.

I want parents and community leaders to give up every Saturday through the end of the year to work at cleaning, fixing, and repainting buildings. I want every business to give its employees team T-shirts and send them to these schools to do the same two days a month. I want city politicians in school playgrounds with their sleeves rolled up, working with staff to make the areas safe. I want TV and radio stations to set up shop in schools, drawing attention to the terrible conditions. I want Visit Philadelphia to run a fund-raising campaign: "Text this number to donate $5 to the Philadelphia schools."

More than all that, I want everyone in the region to challenge themselves to come up with much better ideas than these. I want children, teens, adults, professionals, lay people, parents, scientists, economists, unemployed folks, people without kids, retirees, and many others to imagine workable, smart, forward-thinking, award-winning, grassroots, shockingly brilliant plans. And I want these ideas to be considered. I want the School District to listen.

Of course, some suggestions will be too costly or challenging to be considered - just as going through five million ideas might be. And no one is going to have the perfect solution.

But drastic times call for drastic measures. Innovative thoughts breed innovation. Thinking differently offers new ways to consider problems. I implore everyone in the region to realize what an unbelievably terrifying moment we're witnessing. And then we need to live up to our revolutionary heritage and act.

If you truly love Philadelphia, it's time to show it.


Daniel Sean Kaye is the writer/illustrator of "Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab" and director of life enrichment for Rydal Park Continuing Care Retirement Community. daniel.sean.kaye@comcast.net

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