Preview of Philadelphia school year

PHILADELPHIA - September 4, 2009 Dr. Arlene Ackerman is determined to improve education for Philadelphia public school children as she prepares to start her second year as superintendent.

She calls last year's progress adequate. She contends faster progress is a must if Philadelphia children are to reach proficient learning levels in less than a century.

"We have a long way to go before we can claim victory," Ackerman said.

The district has hired 200 new counselors to guide students and a thousand teachers to create smaller class sizes especially in primary grades.

"We know that a young person who leaves 3rd grade without strong reading and math skills, their hopes and chances for having a successful conclusion to their public school education diminishes," Ackerman said.

In this second of the superintendent's five year plan, combating truancy, increasing graduation rates and decreasing drop out rates are critical.

Violence is a concern. The number of schools classified as persistently dangerous rose from 20 to 25, but reports of violent incidents in schools dropped 17-percent.

To address swine flu related health concerns, the district will offer free flu shots to any of its 167,000 students at school and strategically place hand sanitizer around the building.

Ackerman hopes the district and teachers finalize a contract soon that rewards teachers in challenging schools and positive results.

She needs the state to adopt a budget soon so funding toward the district's $3-billion budget becomes clear.

"Not knowing exactly what our budget is going to be for next year is certainly a challenge," Ackerman said.

The district's 267 schools will open their doors to begin the new school year on Tuesday.

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