So far, the financial crisis has generated a number of innovative ideas, proposals that offer unique opportunities for serious change and progress. One such idea, being pushed by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), is the creation of community schools.
According to PCAPS, Cincinnati launched an initiative in 2001 to create schools that would serve as hubs for community services and partnerships. Twelve years later, those community schools are a powerful tool for transforming urban public education. Thirty-four schools there provide services ranging from tutoring and after-school programs to health clinics and counseling.
Each school develops a unique program suited to its particular needs. Public agencies, hospitals, and universities, as well as a wide array of service and community organizations, partner with these schools. The operational costs are shared between the district and the nonprofit sector, with the United Way picking up the tab for school coordinators.
The success of community schools in Cincinnati is clear: high school graduation rates climbed from 51 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2009; the achievement gap between African American students and whites narrowed from 14.5 percent to 4.3 percent in 2009.
Locally, the University of Pennsylvania's Netter Center for Community Partnerships has brought Penn students and resources into 10 schools in West Philadelphia. The positive results include improved attendance, student engagement, and health services. This program should be expanded and duplicated in other schools.
While the reality of Philadelphia's financial crisis may limit its ability to expand some programs, I believe that once we get our financial house in order - and convince state lawmakers that we are trustworthy stewards of tax dollars - we will get our fair share of state money to fund our local schools.
With that in mind, I stand with PCAPS and support launching a community school initiative. We could use some of the schools targeted for closure, and partner community stakeholders with visionary leaders in our corporate, educational, and medical sectors to invest energy and resources in the neighborhood schools.
Our priority must always be what's best for the children. While money may provide a foundation for our schools, innovative ideas, coupled with parental support and the involvement and commitment of leaders in the public and private sectors, can help improve the quality of our children's education.
Jim Kenney, a Democrat, is a Philadelphia councilman at-large. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.