Finding a Fix: Solutions for Philly schools

PHILADELPHIA - February 17, 2014

But according to this month's Philadelphia Magazine cover story, the rebirth could be in jeopardy as newcomers have children and do some soul-searching.

"They want to be here, but many of them will leave because the schools are not up to snuff," said Patrick Kerkstra, writer of that story.

He is talking about the continuing woes of Philadelphia public schools. As an example, Kerkstra cites reading assessment scores of 4th graders: Only 14 percent were considered proficient or better, compared to 34 percent nationally.

Among steps he says must take place, the district must make teacher recruitment and retention its top educational focus. Kerkstra says, on average, teachers stay in Philadelphia just five years and many, he says, leave frustrated.

Kerkstra says Harrisburg must give the district more oversight of charter schools, not less. For every good Charter operation, Kerkstra argues, there are many weak links.

However, the most controversial step has been dubbed 'The Nuclear Option' - the immediate breaking of the PFT contract, replacing it with more management-friendly work rules.

It may not be fair, Kerkstra says, but if labor and management cannot negotiate a compromise a shorter, simpler and far more flexible contract must be imposed.

"I think we have reached a point in the School District of Philadelphia where a step that drastic might be necessary," Kerkstra said.

What would an imposed contract include? Changes in now iron-clad seniority issues? Longer hours or a longer school year?

"What we are talking about are changes in the contract that enable individual schools to make those kinds of decisions," said Kerkstra.

He adds that the central office must be reigned in and give individual schools more freedom to innovate.

"The goal of all this is to sort of unshackle the schools," Kerkstra said.

Join Action News and on Tuesday at 4 p.m. as we present an online special "Finding a Fix: Philadelphia Public Schools." We will talk to local educators and leaders about the ideas presented in the article.

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