High schools: What's our best bet
by Paul Socolar
What's the most promising and important strategic focus for the District to go about turning its high schools into producers of graduates rather than producers of dropouts?
To reduce the dropout rate, the School District needs to focus on caring about its students. Dropouts come from neighborhood schools, which are the most underfunded and most lacking schools. I graduated from West Philadelphia High and it has over 1,000 students. There was a lack of resources, challenging classes, counselors, qualified and experienced teachers who actually care, to name a few things. Students need teachers who care about them because they might not have anyone else. Students also need the tools to be able to graduate, go to college, and graduate from there. Worksheets and boring lectures won't help. Students need classes to be interactive and hands on. And probably most of all, the District needs to LISTEN! Students have been saying what they need in many different ways and if the District doesn't listen to them, the problem will grow until it's too late to turn back.
2008 graduate, West Philadelphia Automotive Academy
Board member, Philadelphia Student Union
The key to solving the dropout crisis is figuring out what to do with our neighborhood high schools. They need to be fundamentally redesigned to promote excellence and equity. Here are some suggested principles for H.S. transformation:
1. Shared Vision. Engage students, parents, staff, and community members in creating and implementing a shared vision for improving teaching and learning in their school.
2. Personalization. Students are more likely to succeed when staff knows every student. For this reason, large schools should be broken into clusters of smaller learning units on a shared campus.
3. Flexibility, Accountability, and Equity. We must unleash the talent in our schools. Give staff the flexibility to craft scheduling, staffing, budget, and to adjust curriculum to meet students’ needs. Central administration should provide strong support and accountability.
With these principles the District CAN build the capacity to fundamentally transform neighborhood high schools while serving the same population of students without special admission requirements.
Executive director, Philadelphia Education Fund
Communities In Schools of Philadelphia has spent 25 years addressing the Philadelphia dropout epidemic, and it is apparent that the students who succeed and stay in school are those who have choices. Improved strategies must provide exposure to best practices and new alternatives in education, which in turn impact the way students see themselves, their current situations and their futures.
We are no longer dealing with cookie-cutter situations or cookie-cutter students. The right strategy should entail a plethora of alternatives for students, so that each child is serviced and educated to meet their needs. Then we will see a positive shift to the currently bleak dropout situation.
President, Communities in Schools of Philadelphia
Choice in education inside the public school system and in the community. Parents must have the option of finding the best school or combination of schools for their children. We have to recognize that what is best for one child at any grade level isn’t necessarily the best for another child. Beyond that, we have to commit the resources to our schools, and not just for students, but for teachers, too. We can’t expect educators to produce graduates when we fail to give them the support they need in terms of mentoring, training, instructional materials, additional classroom help, and safety.
State Representative (PA-203)
The District should duplicate best practices at high performing public schools to decrease the dropout rate. These schools have a strong parent engagement component and consistent, experienced staff in administrative positions, in support roles, and in core subjects. They offer a variety of class options that meet student needs. Administrators understand that teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders must work together to create academically enriching environments. We must raise the level of expectations and reinforce to parents, staff, and administrators that our children can and will be successful, life-long learners.
My son was struggling academically in the 9th grade. His Individualized Education Plan wasn't being followed and he was exhibiting behavioral problems as a result. By 10th grade, and his second high school placement, he had become so frustrated in his special education classes that he dropped out. His job prospects for the next 10 years were dismal. Only when he was offered a job opportunity last year that required him to obtain his GED did he finally feel he had a future.