The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union kicked off the school year Thursday by celebrating the restoration of full-time nurses and counselors.
Union president Jerry Jordan appeared along with City Councilwoman Helen Gym at Richard Wright Elementary School in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia to deliver a largely positive message, focusing on an uptick in District services.
“This is the very first year that I can ever remember of every school in Philadelphia having a full-time nurse,” Jordan said to a group of applauding teachers.
This year, the District has added 42 full-time counselors and 62 full-time nurses. That means schools including Richard Wright — which last year had a nurse twice a week and a counselor just one day a week — will have a far fuller suite of support staff.
School counselor Carana Bennett, who split her time between Wright and George Meade Elementary School last year, said that being assigned to one school will help her form better relationships with students and families. Wright had 385 students last year.
Jordan credited his members with pressuring lawmakers to increase education spending. Pennsylvania’s latest budget includes an additional $200 million for schools, about $50 million of which will wind up in Philadelphia.
Gym has been a prominent supporter of teachers, and the PFT contributed to her campaign. She applauded union members for “keeping that vision of public education alive even when everyone else wants to tear it down.” For the first time in several years, Philadelphia schools opened without a budget shortfall or major financial uncertainty.
Gym’s biggest applause line, however, came when she mentioned a less-cheery subject: the PFT contract. A simmering dispute between the union and the School District has left Philly teachers without a contract for more than three years. Gym vowed to change that.
“We’re gonna get a contract,” Gym told the teachers. “We’re gonna get a contract that’s fair, that is just.”