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SRC hears about school violence

By Benjamin Herold on Jan 18, 2012 12:49 AM
Photo: Benjamin Herold

Commissioner Lorene Cary (to right of lectern) unveiled a new structure and format for the SRC's first "strategy, policy and priority" meeting, held Tuesday evening at District headquarters. 

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

A new committee of the School Reform Commission attempted Tuesday evening to tackle an old issue – school violence.

First, the SRC’s new Safety and Engagement Committee was presented with a report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Safe Schools, originally convened more than a year ago by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. 

Then, Commissioner Lorene Cary chaired a free-form, talk-show style community discussion, asking all 70-plus individuals to introduce themselves. The audience sat in a circle, with District staff and SRC members scattered throughout. A basket of fruit was provided in the back of the auditorium. At one point, Cary even asked those in the room to take a deep breath together.

The new “strategy, policy, and priority” meeting format replaces what had been previously been known as SRC planning meetings.

Unchanged, however, is the District’s massive budget shortfall, which cast a pall over the Blue Ribbon Commission’s ambitious goals and recommendations for addressing the endemic violence in city schools. Principals are already dealing with eviscerated school budgets, and more cuts will be announced later this week.

“Often we say, ‘The SRC has cut everything there is, so what can we do?’” said Cary, “But the fact is we have to do it anyway.”

As a start, Cary announced the formation of a 14-member steering committee on safety, which includes both District officials and community members. The group plans to meet beginning in February.

Their first task will be to further review the Blue Ribbon Commission report, which outlines District failures ranging from the lack of adequate therapeutic counseling for students to “inconsistent reporting and tracking of serious incidents.” It also calls for a “public commitment” to building better relationships inside schools, collecting and reporting valid data on school violence, and implementing the report’s recommendations consistently across the District.

But the problems associated with school violence are no secret. In the past 24 months alone, the issue has spawned no fewer than six related reports, task forces, and commissions. In 2010, the District unveiled its Project Safe Schools, aimed at reducing the number of schools classified as persistently dangerous, increasing student attendance and reducing truancy, and decreasing the numbers of violent incidents and out-of-school suspensions in targeted schools.

Some progress has been made, officials said Tuesday.

Following a relaxing of the District’s zero-tolerance policy, there has been a significant drop in the number of student expulsions. Last year, the SRC voted on a total of 237 expulsion cases, but the commission has received only 11 cases so far this year.

“We have determined that it is a much more child-centered process [now], looking at the child in totality and all the circumstances that surrounded the incidents,” said District Deputy General Counsel Rachel Holzman.

There are also new procedures for reporting violent incidents and a new memorandum of understanding governing the relationship between the District and the Philadelphia Police Department. Eighty city officers are currently stationed in District schools, said Mayor Nutter, who was on hand Tuesday to lend his support to the initiative. 

“This entire city must be focused on the critical issue of education and the critical issue of public safety in and around our schools,” said Nutter.

But overall, the rate of violent incidents reported districtwide has actually gone up 2 percent since last year. There is no net change at the 38 schools the District is watching most closely. Decreases in the rate of violent incidents at 23 of the District’s most challenging schools were offset by worsening rates at 15 other such schools.

Cary said that maintaining a focus on relationships and respect will be a challenge.

“We have a much more articulate vocabulary for punishment and monitoring than we do for prevention and repair,” said the acclaimed writer and educator. 

The District also has a jumble of overlapping, often underutilized services. One exchange during the often-meandering audience discussion highlighted just how tricky it may prove to streamline and improve the District’s response to school violence.

After audience member Diana Casals suggested that the District implement school hotlines for reporting incidents and threats of violence, several District staff members responded that a citywide “bullying hotline” (215-400-SAFE) already exists.

New Safe Schools Advocate Kelley Hodge then added that her office also has a 24-hour hotline, though she couldn’t immediately remember the new phone number (1-877-730-6315). 

Confused, Cary asked why there were two different hotlines covering the same issue, prompting an extended conversation.

“Clearly, we need to do a better job,” concluded the commissioner.

The SRC will hold its January voting meeting Thursday evening. Future SRC committee meetings will take place on the third Monday of every month.

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Comments (27)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 5:19 am

Who writes these reports? Does anyone who wants answers walk into a school? Enough of the blue ribbon wastes...walk into Cayuga and see for yourself!! It's all a farce.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 7:59 am

You are so right about Cayuga Elementary School. It is a teacher's worst nightmare. Students have free reign and teachers are held hostage. Generally, when students fight (not only among themselves or but when they express violent behavior toward their teachers), the school administrator looks the "other way." The few times adminstration does intervene, teachers are the ones who are seen as the villians. How sad.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 8:03 am

In terms of school violence and student behavior, Cayuga Elementary is one of the worst schools within the School District of Philadelphia.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 6:05 pm

You said it right Cayuga Elementary is not a safe school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 4:07 pm

How sad it is that Cayuga Elementary was a good school but not any more because nothing gets done about the behavior problems with the students that are causing the problem that is occurring at Cayuga.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 4:50 pm

Who is the building administrator at Cayuga?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 8:38 am

What is happening at Cayuga Elementary? I have often heard that Cayuga's principal was a strong school administrator.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 18, 2012 9:01 am

What do we mean by strong? Do we mean good, supportive, nurturing, caring, collegial, inclusive, trustworthy, autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, collaborative, responsible, bossy, dictatorial, controlling, distributive, blaming, visible, engaging, open, closed, assertive, domineering, sensitive, creative, wisdomatic, strict, demanding, professional, responsive, judgmental, nonjudgmental, visionary, voice-giver, bottom-up representative, top-down-representative, bullying, understanding, effective, accessible, confrontational, non-confrontational, inspirational?

I, for one, prefer the term "good principal" because the words "strong principal" often implies or connotes the negative adjectives in the list above which we so often see in so many of our not so effective principals and there is so much misunderstanding about the qualities of "good principals" and "good leadership" which, of course, is necessary for "effective principals."

I have an article on my desk at this very moment entitled "The Myth of the Great Principal." I would someday like to write an article called the "The Myth of the Strong Principal."

The principal at the High School of the Future, Ros Chivis, calls herself the "Lead Learner." Now that's leadership for the future -- strong stuff.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 5:04 pm

HSF-- is a corporate bought and paid for drone, willing to hide everything humanly possible for the money. The High School of The Future is a laughable place, no better than the worst aspects of Overbrook, just covered up better---with the help of the pols, of course.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 7:36 pm

Well she is not a good principal.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 2:46 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 6:23 am

"The SRC has cut everything there is ... but the fact is we have to do it anyway."

Welcome to the world of every classroom teacher in Philadelphia. We have to do everything with no support, no resources, and no help from the district but the gotcha teams.

But most of us do it anyway. Just a hint for the new commissioners-- the SDP is working as well as it does because of the teachers and in spite of the administration.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 8:46 am

Still, this SRC is a breath of fresh air compared to the past. There will be tough unpopular decisions that they will be forced to make. But these are not political hacks. I just hope this job doesn't destroy them...

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on January 18, 2012 9:19 am

I agree. I watched the community discussion last evening and I was very impressed with Lorene Cary, the leadership team and the way it was facilitated. The participants put forth some really good points and ideas. Props to the new SRC!

They give us hope for the rebuilding and rebirth of our school community.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 5:44 pm

How about feedback about the Denver trip???? Gee, I wonder why they're holding back? They were told what to say, when to say it and how best to foist the charter farce on the Public. You and I know it to be true.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 2:03 pm

The kids at Cayuga Elementary can do what ever they want and nothing gets done about.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 18, 2012 3:59 pm

How can we restore order and structure to our schools? Cayuga is a perfect example of a school that needs help.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 11:57 am

I can't believe that Mr. Masch and the SRC would even consider cutting in the schools again during the school year. It is so disruptive to the schools and this affects all of the students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 2:25 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 4:45 pm

Cayuga Elementary needs a new principal she's in denial about the well being of her students and staff no support for them when a problem occurs with the behavior caused by the violent students. Please get her out Cayuga needs a change.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 6:15 pm

Agreed. And, while we are cleaning house, the school needs a new secretary as well...The secretary at Cayuga is crude, rude and mean. She should have been gone a long time ago.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2012 7:37 pm

Who ever voted Cayuga Elementary as a blue ribbon school made a bad choice because they don't know what goes on at Cayuga.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 22, 2012 6:48 pm

I agree with what you all are saying about Cayuga. Someone needs to speak up and confess all of the PSSA cheating that goes on. She covers it all up and still gets to keep her job. Oh and that mean old secretary. All she does is get people do the work for her.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 23, 2012 9:53 pm

The district covers her dirty work up about the cheating on the PSSA test. That's why she is still the principal at Cayuga the school district got her back.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 24, 2012 6:20 am

As a parent i would like to know if anyone has looked into this alleged cheating and why hasn't it been reported to those who can investigate it?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 13, 2012 9:40 pm

Parents..ask the teachers to tell the state investigators.

Report to the hotline the state has set-up..they have lawyers who will listen to people away from school..they are for real and are already talking to teachers and getting names of those who cheat.

Here's what the Inquirer put online ...

The Inspector General's Office has set up a hotline for teachers with information about cheating to call. It is 888-448-2435. Information may be provided anonymously.

Submitted by H. Steve (not verified) on July 10, 2012 11:00 am

Helping our kids to survive school violence is pivotal to saving them from the many acts of violence they may encounter in and outside of the classroom. Because school violence occurs at any school and any age we believe we need to teach survival skills at an early age. Let us prepare our kids to win and survive if violence does occur at their school. In response to this need to teach our young kids, my wife, Dr. Natalie Johnson-Leslie and I wrote a book to help kids survive. You may find more information at

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