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Let's talk about what really makes for a successful school

By Guest blogger on Jun 8, 2012 01:25 PM

This guest blog post comes from Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter's chief education officer and executive adviser to the School District.

From the time I was Home and School co-president at Jenks Elementary to now, in my current position, it has been clear to me that there are key priorities that really matter at schools: 

  • Each child should feel safe and cared for by the adults in the building;

  • All the adults in the building, both District employees and community members, should feel that they are a team working toward the same goal;

  • Each student should get what he or she needs to be successful; and

  • Enough resources should exist so that no decision is based solely on what can be afforded at that time. 

In his 2008 inaugural speech, the mayor spoke of increasing the high school graduation rate to 80 percent by 2015 and doubling the percentage of residents with four-year college degrees to 36 percent by 2018. There aren’t many ways to reach these goals except by pursuing the key priorities.

As concerned citizens, our charge must be to keep our eye on the classroom and make sure that the important triangle of teacher-student-curriculum is strong and productive. We need to make sure that students, no matter where they started, are reading or doing math at a higher level than when they arrived and that they are set on a track toward graduating ready for college and career.

With the huge “command and control from a central office” model we have now, ensuring that is pretty difficult. As a parent, I made it my business to know the good teachers, to put my two cents in about how we spent that tiny bit of discretionary money, to organize fund-raising to fix the art teacher’s clay kiln so kids could do engaging art projects. 

I understood the need for these changes better than anyone in the central administration because I was on the ground at the school. That’s why I strongly believe that more decision-making authority should be at the school. 

Current discussions on these issues in Philadelphia are robust, and I hope that this level of passion and engagement sparks an unprecedented level of interest by Philadelphians about how they can be part of a local school’s success. That’s the game-changer this city needs. We need to start talking about public education in these terms – how many successful classrooms and schools do we still need to serve all of this city’s children?

But this healthy debate and conversation about who should and shouldn’t run schools might very well be a moot point if the money issue isn’t dealt with swiftly and responsibly by those who oversee state and local public budgets. This is not only an issue for this year, but for years to come. 

The projected $1.1 billion five-year deficit facing the District is not just a scare tactic. It’s what is around the corner on the long road we all face together. It’s a sobering glimpse at what the policy implications are for the many decisions we have all made together through the years: administrators, elected officials, unions, parents and charter operators. All of these things have led us to this point. We now either knowingly go down the status quo road or collectively build a new one.

How simple it would be if there were just a bad guy to blame. But it is more complicated than that.

The reality is that we have to change together by making the classroom the centerpiece and putting everything else on the back burner. Ideology, status, history, jobs, loved and feared organization structures — all of these pale in comparison to funding properly and supporting 40,000-plus high-quality classrooms every day. 

I am deeply concerned about national and state threats to public education. Let’s have those conversations and how they may or may not apply to different aspects of the changes we are contemplating. But those conversations cannot and must not be a substitute for making sure we have enough money to at least operate schools. Those talks should not take the place of encouraging all adults to do all they can to transform classrooms into the caring, effective places we need them to be as we prepare coming generations to build a safer, healthier, more productive Philadelphia able to compete in this century of change.  

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Comments (10)

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on June 8, 2012 3:50 pm

If Ms. Shorr believes "more decision-making authority should be at the school (level)," then why bring in outside entities to run "achievement networks?" If we are in such financial straights, why allow Universal Corp. to get away with theft and then hand them another school?

Submitted by Disgusted Democrat (not verified) on June 8, 2012 4:27 pm

You don't think any of that deficit has anything to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars a year billed by charter schools, do you? Sorry, Ms. Shorr, but you and your boss, the mayor, are really coming up small in this battle over public education.

Submitted by bekim (not verified) on June 8, 2012 5:24 pm

Please support us

Submitted by I Teach in Philly on June 8, 2012 5:20 pm

Item #4 is interesting: "that enough resources exist so that no decision is based solely on what can be afforded at that time."

How about resources like nurses, security, classroom aides, copy paper or essential classroom supplies? what about after-school activities and art education?

Gov. Corbett and his henchmen on the SRC have made that decision for us: they say those items are *not* to be provided for the children in Philadelphia Public Schools.

Submitted by A Touch of Sense (not verified) on June 8, 2012 6:54 pm

Yes, Lori says some of the right things but at the same time she is a driving force behind the privatization which is being imposed upon the district by outsiders.

So far I have heard nothing come from anyone on the leadership team that has anything to do with how we are going to improve the education of our children or fund schools properly. I have just heard who is going to profit from the man made crisis that we are in.

Leaders are judged by what they do Lori. When that is different than what they profess, they lose credibility.

So far I just see you trying to sell privatization to the public which clearly does not want it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 9, 2012 7:40 pm

Ms. Shorr,
If you live what you say then step up and stop the corrupt actions by Universall Company.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 10, 2012 11:38 pm

I have created a petition, to help get the vote repealed for Creighton Elementary, this is one of the schools that will be run by Universal companies, and many people have signed our petition, hopefully many more can sign it, we urge the public to help us by signing the petition to get the the decision reversed, and have the teachers of Creighton Elementary implement their plan to teach their students the proper way, because they know better than anyone how to teach, and get dramatic results.

Submitted by Sharon Newman Ehrlich (not verified) on June 25, 2012 12:14 am

Why is it that when teachers want to be involved in the decision making process of Education..AND attempt to make some suggestions.....THEY ARE EITHER IGNORED...WRITTEN UP...

Ms. Shorr, I have emailed you, left you messages and response??? Have you been told not to answer me?? Several people have at the SDP...I am a tax paying citizen, not a criminal.

Do I have to bring up the Race Card???? Perhaps we need to take a look at people running programs and see if EQUITY exists???

Well, my students ( over 1250+) on FB will tell you "I don't play"


Money??? Some schools get 13+ million and some get 1??? Both urban...both same enrollment???

13+ million= political pull???? 1 million= not kissing up enough

In the long run of it all..I am afraid that we are ruining our cities kids futures.... The ones who have no where to go?? perhaps a learning disability, temper issues, assault issues???? They need more Mental Health support.


Dog and Pony show is over Ms. Schorr. Federal misspending will be uncovered...parents are speaking matter what..the city will be in trouble....Mayor Nutter....we all know that actions speak louder than words.

YOU..ONLY YOU... RUN THE SRC**!!!! I think it's about time you attend meetings, address the questions and take some heat too.

We are in trouble..Privatization will NOT BE ANY BETTER...Leaving the responsibility to private the COWARDS WAY OUT.

This City is the HUB of our nations beginnings...Will it be the HUB of Educational Failure???
Your choice Mr. Mayor!!!

** The Mayor has placed more individuals on the SRC, so he is in CHARGE... Got this from the GOVERNORS OFFICE!!!

Wake up People!!! Ask for info you have a RTK!! :-)

Submitted by Mary (not verified) on June 25, 2012 6:34 pm

School need to develop Parent Engagement And Teacher Standards as guide line for accountability. Here some Parent Engagement Standards:

Parent-U-Turn Standards for Parents, Caregivers and Parent Leaders.

Standards for Parent Engagement, seven standards are delineated. These standards fall under three larger organizers, as shown below, and include:
The Focus of Parents Rights and Advocacy The Conditions for Parent rights and Advocacy Parent as a Advocate

Standard 1: ParentsAccess to information and Data collection:
• Access to information: The school/ district inform parents of testing results and the statistics of the area/school/subject matter.
 Information of results/statistics available via handouts or on-line
 The results would be printed in multiple languages
 Alert system to inform parents that the information is available
 Contact person that parents can ask to help them read and understand results-how readily available is this person.
 Parents understand and use varied assessments to inform instruction, evaluate and ensure student learning.

• Collection and Analyzing data:
o The school welcome parents on campus for research or just to observe.
 How easy or hard is it for a parent to come on campus for these purposes?
 Some type of procedure should be in place and strictly abided by, by all involved as to accommodate the parent as well as not to cause too much classroom disruption.
 There a person who is readily available to provide the parent support to conduct research.
Standards 2: Parents in Decision-Making Roles
 Parents must be representative of school population, for example 1 parent for 3,000 students is not acceptable
 Space for parents to have access to administrators.
 The attitude of administration generally open to parent collaboration.
 Parents treated as reflective thinkers with possible solutions.
 Expanding roles of existing modes of parent representation, for example the PTA
 Parents can carry out research for the school, conduct trainings for other parents or even teachers on various subjects

Step 3: Parents as Student Advocates:
 Teachers are open to have parents contact/participate within their classes
 The school is informing parents on how to contact people within the power map
o For example: A handout which lists, “If you have a problem with _________ then you would contact _________ at number and office.”
 This can be in a handout that was sent home but is readily available at school functions, front office, and maybe even in the classroom.
 Trainings provided for the parent and school personnel which include power-mapping.
 Provide a list of common school-used terms complete with the definition of the term and the context it is most commonly used is readily available and sent home.
 Parents collaborate and communicate with students, parents, other educators, administrators and the community to support student learning

Standards 4: Parent Leaders at Home and in the School-Community
 Information being passed out to parents to inform them of the college process and resources available to their child and family.
o Handouts
 A process for reserving space at the school to facilitating easy meeting space for parents and the community.
 Assigned a person to be able to go to for trainings
 Parents assume responsibility for professional growth, performance, and involvement as individuals and as members of a learning community

Standards 5: Parents Effective Two-Way Communication:
 Efficient amount of translators readily available for all languages spoken by parents at school functions
o Handouts in multiple languages
o “Efficient” would be at least 90% of the teachers who need translators have them
 For any type of communication home, teleparent or phone calls home, are the comments balanced between positive comments and things that the student needs improvement on.
 Teacher respond to e-mail of phone messages within a timely manner.
 Ongoing evaluation of effectiveness of the parent liaison.

Standards 6: Parent District Level Support
 The district have a point-person whom the parent representative, the administrator who is the point-person at the school, and any other relevant persons could go to for support and resources. How available is this person?
o This person could even run the parent-district meetings and act like the liaison for the district.
 An effect program that supports parent participation, may have minimum of 25 parent.

Standards 7: Friendly School Atmosphere
 Is the school clean?
o Trash
o Tagging
o Paint: Dingy? Peeling?
 Welcome signs
 Office personnel and Teachers maintain professionalism, have an understanding of and practices good customer service.
 Parents understand student learning and development, and respect the diversity of the students.

Submitted by Donn Diers (not verified) on November 1, 2012 7:32 am
Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates. I've been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates. Donn Diers

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