The School District of Philadelphia has a positive statistic to talk about this week. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has announced that only two schools are part of the state’s persistently dangerous list.
Lincoln High School in Northeast Philadelphia remains on the list. Sayre High School in West Philadelphia was added this school year.
The total means the district can say it has reduced the number of schools on the list by 40 percent or more for each of the last three years.
“Our principals and school-based staff have worked extremely hard to improve school culture, safety and climate,” said district Superintendent William Hite in a statement.
“We know that much work remains, which is why we are increasing the use of restorative practices and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. Safety remains a high priority, and we will continue working to ensure positive and safe environments for learning.”
Five schools that appeared on the 2011-12 school year’s list were removed from the 2012-13 school year’s list:
Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia
Frankford High School
Kensington Business High School
Strawberry Mansion High School
Douglas High School (closed in June)
Vigilance, trust and respect
“We were elated,” Beeber Principal Joseph Starinieri said of the news. “We’ve done a lot of things last year to get us off this list.”
Among them, Starinieri highlights the staffers and a network of volunteers who were strategically posted in the hallways.
He said students got the message that there were adults keeping an eye on things.
“When they see people, they’re going to know that, ‘Hey, look, I’m not going to start anything, because I’m going to be caught.’ I mean it’s just that simple,” said Starinieri.
For Kensington Business Principal Eileen Weissman, building trust between students and staff was key.
“It’s about being respectful of each other and of us. And it’s about us being respectful of our students. Kids need to know that you care about them,” she said.
Sophomore Nadia Watson said, before starting at Kensington Business last year, she heard rumors about the school having disciplinary problems. But when she arrived, she said, there was little truth to back them up.
“It wasn’t what I suspected,” said Waston. “It wasn’t bad at all. We barely had any problems at all.”
Fears of reversing progress
District-wide, the number of reported violent incidents declined by 32 percent last school year, from 4,059 to 2,756, according to the district.
Violent incidents include assaults, abductions, robberies and offenses involving drugs and alcohol, among other things.
Maintaining the dip in dangerous schools may be more challenging this school year as many schools are doing without key support staffers.
It’s a real concern for public education advocates in the city.
“I’m very worried that we’re creating a situation in which we’re going to lose significant progress that’s been made, that’s been incredibly important to the health and well-being of our students,” said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania.