Mayor Michael Nutter was in Northwest Philadelphia on Friday to share in the success of a regional Catholic high school and speak about sustainable options for the education of Philadelphia students.
Nutter met with the students, faculty, and administrators of Mercy Vocational High School to speak about a recent initiative for public, private, Archdiocesan and independent schools to work collectively in addressing educational matters.
Known as the “Great Schools Compact,” the plan would work to provide alternatives to low-performing educational offerings. Earlier this week, it was announced that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has agreed to enter the compact, thus providing city students and families with more schooling options.
According to the mayor, 95-percent of schools in Philadelphia are now signatories to the plan.
More important, said Nutter on Friday, is the “breaking down of traditional barriers” which, to him, had interfered with the ability of children to get a high quality education.
Nutter suggested that in addition to providing more choice, the compact would offer a forum for the exchange of ideas – and solutions.
“If the different schools and the different systems have ideas that can help each other, then that’s what we should be doing,” he said.
Asked if there was an infrastructure in place to facilitate this exchange, Nutter said that it is in the process of being built.
A ‘national model’
Mayor Nutter is no stranger to Catholic education himself. Growing up in West Philadelphia, he attended two such institutions, Transfiguration of Our Lord Elementary and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.
He pointed to Mercy Vocational as an example for the entire city.
“We have the national model right here,” said Nutter. “The school district should be learning from Mercy what it takes to put in place a premier system.”
Mercy Vocational High School is the nation’s only private Catholic co-ed vocational school in the United States, according to the school’s website. It is located at the five-point intersection of Hunting Park, Allegheny, and Henry avenues, and has operated since 1950.
Plaguing both the city and the school district are the troubling statistics highlighted by Nutter in his speech.
In Philadelphia, 26-percent of the residents are below the federal poverty rate, the highest of the top 10 cities in the U.S.
In the Philadelphia School District, 15,000 students are absent on any given day – more than 10-percent of the district’s 146,000 total students.
At present, the PSD has a 61-percent graduation rate. This is up from when Nutter first took office, but far from his stated goal of “80-plus percent.”
“These are solvable problems,” he said, proposing that a partnership between the city and parents could address education – and perhaps more.
“I submit that education is at the heart and soul of solving many of the problems of this city,” he said.
By way of contrast, Sister Rosemary Herron, president of Mercy Vocational, spoke with pride about the school’s 97-percent daily attendance rate and 99-percent graduation rate.
In response to Nutter’s plans for school partnerships, Sr. Herron had two words.
“We’re in,” she said.
Motivation and encouragement
Mayor Nutter also opened up the floor to questions from students. Initially shy, the students asked questions pertaining to both policy and quality of life issues in the city.
Related to education, one student asked how the Mayor had words of encouragement to students not motivated to go to school.
Relating the short-term possibilities of street life, Nutter said that he often asks students to think of the future – “because there is [one],” he said.
While he admitted that the desire for learning and success comes from within, he said adults must continue to inspire and motivate.
By way of analogy, Nutter referenced his personal history, stating that nothing in his background would indicate that he would be the 98th Mayor of Philadelphia.
“Any one of you can be successful,” he said. “Don’t let anybody keep you down.”