With so many questions facing the School District of Philadelphia as it continues to operate in an era of great uncertainty, City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson hopes to deliver a few answers when he convenes an education town hall meeting on Wednesday at John Bartram High School.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Bartram, on 67th Street between Paschall and Elmwood Avenues. The meeting is open to the public, and prior registration is not required.
Johnson has invited newly-hired District Superintendent Dr. William Hite Sr. to attend and field questions from the attending community members, and Hite has accepted.
“The purpose of the town hall meeting is to introduce Dr. Hite to parents, friends, neighbors and stakeholders of the community to talk about his vision for the school district,” Johnson said. “Over the past several months, there have been a lot of changes in regard to the future of the district, so it’s important for the new superintendent to come out and lay out what his vision will be in an open dialogue.”
Johnson, who serves on City Council’s public health and human services committee, and whose district includes several of the district’s under-performing schools, said the major issues his constituency is concerned with are safety, a declining graduation rate and the dozens of schools the district has said will close.
The district, through the implementation of plans contained in the Facilities Master Plan, five-year economic plan and the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public School, plan to shutter more than 40 schools over the next five years, and it has already undertaken severe austerity measures — including the elimination of services and the discontinuation of weekend hours — as it tried to close a budget gap approaching $300 million.
But instead of just airing out their grievances with the district to Hite, it also offers the community a chance to kick start a partnership with him.
More importantly, this is a chance for the community to engage in a partnership with the new superintendent, because statistics have shown that the most successful schools have great community involvement. That’s an imperative I believe in,” Johnson said. “There are a variety of issues that need to be addressed, but Hite is new and the majority of these issues have been her prior to Hite taking the position.
“So we want community members to have an open mind, hear his plan and see how we can be supportive and work with the school district.”
Hite has made repeated promises that, after he has taken some time to properly understand the nuances of the school district, he will release a detailed plan on his findings and solutions. Hite is publicizing that report in January.
For his part, Jonson isn’t expecting Hite to release any details, which at this point may be sketchy; likewise, Johnson isn’t expecting the community to leave more dissatisfied than they have shown up; Johnson, however, does expect something a level or two above that of a simple meet-and-greet.
“The key to this meeting is to give the superintendent and community a chance to engage in a dialogue about what the community’s needs and concerns are,” Johnson said, noting that since Hite will release his finding in January, he doesn’t expect Hite to unveil any concrete plans or initiatives. “I want to make sure people have access to the superintendent and an opportunity to voice their concerns.
“I want people to leave the meeting feeling that they have been heard, that their government is working for them and that their council members are making sure education is at the top of the agenda.”