For the first time since the designation has been in place, zero Philadelphia School District schools have been deemed persistently dangerous by the Pennsylvania department of education.
The label has been used since the creation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
In each of the last four years, reported violent incidents in the district have been on the decline.
Between this year and last, the total number of violent incidents districtwide declined 9.9 percent, from 2,758 to 2,485.
Student enrollment dropped in that time from 149,535 to 135,149. Still, the rate of violent incidents per 100 students remained statistically unchanged, moving from 1.84 to 1.83.
“More students are making the right choices and our principals, teachers, and school staff members are providing the right supports and guidance,” said Superintendent William Hite, in an official release. “We are very proud of what our school communities continue to accomplish even with the limited resources they have.”
The news comes as schools last year were stripped of resources. Many schools shared nurses and guidance counselors and saw declines in their ranks of non-teaching aides.
Some teachers worry that staffing shortages cause some incidents to go unreported.
District police chief Carl Holmes doubted the veracity of that view.
“That can always be a possibility, however my philosophy and our practice is that anything that’s even ‘up-in-the-air,’ I want reported as a criminal activity,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to pursue an arrest, but we’re going to investigate it.”
Holmes said district police hold weekly meetings where officers discuss the 10 schools where the most violent incidents occurred. Officers then attempt to gain a better understanding, he says, of what’s driving consistent student offenders to inflict harm.
“We try and formulate solutions and interventions to address this,” he said. “Sometimes it is removal and expulsion … but we want to try and use rehabilitative prospects and techniques to try to hopefully save some of these students from entering the adult criminal justice system.”
Rachel Holzman, deputy chief of the office of student rights and responsibilities, said there was a districtwide push last year to create safer school climates.
Holzman attributed the district’s success to programs and partnerships that promote preventive and restorative student-based discipline tactics such as social and emotional learning and positive behavioral supports programming.
“Obviously, we have to change what it feels like to be in a building, and we don’t have a million people to do it,” she said. “So the people we have are working hard, and we’re using resources that we can garner from outside.”
The district has turned two of its schools into community hubs where agencies such as the Department of Human Services co-locate within the school.
“Everything we’re doing is to focus on what it feels like to be in a building, to have kids really be able to deal with conflict-resolution, to deal with kids in crisis in meaningful ways with the right intervention and to try to make the building a welcoming place,” she said.
The two schools removed from last year’s persistently dangerous list are Lincoln High School and Sayre HIgh School.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard warned that the news isn’t cause for celebration, but should push faculty members to continue the encouraging work.
Fifteen middle and high schools remain on the district’s “focus list.”
“It’s not one year and done,” he said. “This year there’s going to be a lot of work to be done also.”
As this school year is set to begin, 26 fewer elementary and middle schools will have a full-time school police officer – this the result of the district keeping police vacancies unfilled to save cash.
Violent Crime Index District Wide, Year-to-Year Comparison Report