June 19 — 11:05 am, 2015

10 things that are necessary for school nursing to work

After 25 years in the District, a school nurse signs off.

I’ve removed my family pictures from the wall and taken home my nameplate. As much as I’ve loved my job, it is clearly time for me to go. As I head into retirement, I thought I’d take a page from David Letterman’s playbook. I present to you my own "Top 10 Things Necessary for School Nursing to Work," based upon my 25 years as a nurse in the School District of Philadelphia.


A superintendent like former boots-on-the-ground leader, fellow Philadelphian, and educator par excellence Dr. Constance Clayton, who was driven by the needs of children rather than by data. Data, as you know, can prove whatever you want it to prove.


A safe place to park your car.


A large enough health room to run your program, one that I hope gets cleaned periodically, has windows that open, heat that works properly, might have an air conditioner for asthmatics, and doesn’t have mouse droppings on your desk when you arrive each morning.


A staff and principal who understand what you do.


A helpful, understanding, and competent secretary who refers improperly vaccinated students to you before they enroll.


A helpful, understanding, and capable principal who is smart, hard-working, socially competent, and who knows education — like my current principal, Dana Jenkins. She should be considered a model for what makes a school work for everyone in spite of painful yearly cutbacks in a school that clearly works.


The Department of Human Services, when it works, which sadly is not often.


Parents who meet with you in person to discuss their child’s health problems rather than assuming that you know. Parents who send in health forms and pick up their children when they are sick or injured.


Fellow school nurses who work under the most stressful conditions, who understand how nursing functions in a school, and who see children as people rather than as billable incidents.


Our children, whom my principal refers to as “our babies."

* * *

It’s been a great 25 years. I’ve learned so much, especially from children who have, on occasion, told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The kids taught me humility and they taught me to listen, even when their stories lasted for hours, or days, or in some cases, years. The little children led me. This is how education really works, from the bottom up.

Although I won’t be working every day in a school, you can be assured that I will be working to improve the lot of our children, who deserve what children in suburban public schools get: school nurses who are competent, helpful, kind, and who understand how public education works.

For those who know my constant presence at demonstrations and School Reform Commission meetings, I will continue to be someone who won’t go away. Our children are not experiments or a potential gold mine for investors. They are our hearts.

Sadly, I leave a dysfunctional organization that has lost its way in a maze of markets and buzzwords that name churn and choice as an unmitigated good. It is time for the people to rise up and refuse to be hornswaggled by hedge fund hucksters who promise the world and, instead, deliver dividends to their investors.

I will miss my school. I will miss the staff at Roxborough High. Most of all, I’ll miss the kids. However, I won’t miss the state and local politicians and the administration which have, essentially, run the once great Philadelphia public school system right into the ground.


Eileen M. DiFranco, R.N., is a certified school nurse who has proudly served the schoolchildren of Philadelphia for 25 years. She is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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