Philadelphia schools get safety watchdog position filled

Kelley Hodge worked in the D.A.'s Office's juvenile unit.
Kelley Hodge worked in the D.A.'s Office's juvenile unit.
Posted: December 02, 2011

The Philadelphia School District has its independent safety watchdog back.

Kelley Hodge, assistant chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office's juvenile unit, was named Philadelphia's safe schools advocate on Thursday.

The safe-schools position, a job funded and appointed by the state, has been vacant for more than two years.

The advocate is charged with assisting victims of violence, monitoring how the district reports crime to the city and state, and compiling an annual report detailing the level of violence in the school system and how the district is handling it.

When the job was established by state law in 2000, it was the first of its kind in the country. It was designed by legislators who felt the district was not properly handling violence.

The job was first held by lawyer Harvey Rice, then by Jack Stollsteimer, a former assistant U.S. attorney and an outspoken critic of the way the district handled violence.

State officials cited budget woes when they closed the office in 2009, but the shutdown came amid criticism of Stollsteimer for spending too much time attacking the district and not enough time helping victims.

The push to revive the office came after the seven-part Inquirer series "Assault on Learning" documented thousands of assaults committed in Philadelphia schools each year. The series found widespread underreporting of violence.

It also followed calls from State Auditor Jack Wagner and others to reinstitute the office.

Legislation pushed by State Reps. John Taylor (R., Phila.) and William F. Keller (D., Phila.) reactivated the office over the summer, gave it dedicated funding, and moved it from the state Department of Education to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Hodge will have a staff of two, an annual budget of $400,000, and an office on the first floor of the district's North Broad Street headquarters. Her office will monitor a telephone hotline where parents and students can report violence.

Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II said Hodge can look for "a lot more cooperation from us."

Nunery said he saw Hodge's appointment as "another potential positive element in how we're addressing school climate" and the issues raised in The Inquirer's violence series.

"We're going to have some hard stuff to talk about," Nunery said, but the district and Hodge's office will "keep the lines of communication open so there isn't a sense of always having to do battle over each issue."

Hodge, 40, who has worked both as a prosecutor and as a public defender, was recommended for the job by John Delaney, a deputy in the District Attorney's Office.

Former juvenile unit chief Leslie Gomez worked closely with Hodge, who was her assistant chief.

"Kelley is one of those truly genuine people, good hearted, good spirited. She's down to earth and very commonsense oriented. She'll be a great advocate," said Gomez, who now works in private practice at the Ballard Spahr law firm.

Hodge supervised 17 assistant district attorneys and was liaison between the District Attorney's Office and the juvenile court judiciary.

Before going to the juvenile unit, she was a supervisor in the municipal court unit, where she taught young assistant district attorneys how to be prosecutors.

A native of the Philadelphia area, Hodge lives in the city and is a graduate of the University of Virginia. She earned her law degree at the University of Richmond and worked in the Richmond public defender's office for six years.

Her experience as prosecutor and defender will help Hodge in her new role, where she needs to advocate for the victims but also to be mindful of due process for the accused, Gomez said.

Gomez was pleased to hear that the position was being filled and that Hodge got the job.

"Our school environment is so beleaguered," Gomez said.

Rice, now first deputy city controller, was pleased to hear the position was being filled again, especially by a former prosecutor.

"They're sending a strong message that they're bringing a former prosecutor in here and they mean business," Rice said. "The victims, it looks like they're going to come first."


Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com, or @newskag on Twitter. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

 

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