What’s Up in Philadelphia? A Guide for College Students Involved in Philadelphia Schools

Posted on June 28, 2012

Introductory Note from Aine Sheehan, PHENND Summer Intern 2012

Hey everyone!
I hope you are enjoying your summer and are taking a well deserved break from the daily hustle and bustle of a college student.

PHENND is launching a pilot blog this summer targeted for College students who are interested and devoted to helping Philadelphia public school students succeed. The blog will include, updates on what is going on with the District, fun summer activities, professional tips for future internships, events regarding learning/kids/education, and volunteer opportunities. We hope to in the future include feedback and experiences of young adults working in Philadelphia Schools.

My name is Aine Sheehan, I am a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Political Science. I am interested in college access initiatives and learning how K-12 students benefit from strong relationships with college students through service learning, volunteering, and mentoring. I am interning with PHENND this summer and will be the one responsible for this project. I will be asking for  feedback and contributions from young people in each post. Our goal is that eventually this becomes a collaborative effort and develop a strong following of students who are active volunteers and forces in Philadelphia schools.

Thank you and have a fun summer! (See the end of the post for other activities and events!)

Future Superintendents for Philadelphia?

Philadelphia’s two finalists for superintendent answered questions earlier this week from community members about what they hope to achieve if hired by the School Reform Commission. Both events were open to the public and held at 440 Broad Street.

I was interested in learning more about the superintendent search because I believe it gives a good glimpse of  what I am learning to be the complex system of Philadelphia education. I also thought students who work in Philadelphia schools might be interested in learning more about who might be making the decisions about the schools they work in during the school year.

Check out the information below. As young people working in Philly schools, I would like to know what you think about these candidates, and how you think they will impact the schools you work with on a day-to-day basis? Can they handle the needs of Philadelphia?

The Candidates

I could not attend the forums in person, but they were streamed live through a Ustream channel set up by the District and broadcast on PS-TV, making the process accessible to people interested who could not attend. The candidates in question are Pedro Martinez of Clark County, Nevada (which includes Las Vegas)  and William Hite of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Pedro Martinez is currently the deputy superintendent of Clark County, home to 311,000 students. He has no previous teaching experience and comes from an accounting background. He is 42 years old,  was born in Mexico, grew up in Chicago, and is the first in his family to graduate high school. He worked under now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Chicago as the Chief Financial officer of Chicago Public Schools and  dealt with budget deficits said to be caused by lack of state support, as reported by The Inquirer. Martinez is also up for superintendent in Washoe County, Nevada (Reno).

Part of his platform as deputy superintendent in Clark County, Martinez led a reorganization plan grouping schools into performance zones, including an “autonomous zone” for  high performing schools and a “turnaround zone” for consistently low performing schools. He also focused on increasing graduation rates and worked on improving student achievement rates through introducing Common Core Standards district wide and tracking student improvement through programs like the Nevada Growth Model.

During the questioning , Martinez answered all the questions he was allotted, going over the 8:30 suggested end time by about 20 minutes. He stressed his dedication to work with families and the community in order to give students the education they deserve. He mentioned trying to implement a tracking system for students to measure their progress throughout their school career (like the one on Nevada) so that teachers know where students should be academically and parents can check their child’s progress compared to other students in the same grade.

He stresses that whatever plan comes forth for the district if he is hired will be his and the SRC’s plan, saying “It is not his or their plan but our plan”.  Martinez is not worried about the $300 million budget deficit in Philadelphia, having faced similar shortfalls when working in Chicago and Nevada.

He countered accusations of not having a teacher background by saying that as deputy superintendent in Clark county he has been in hundreds of schools and thousands of classrooms and has talked to principals and teachers on numerous occasions about what they think works best.

The second person up for the position is William Hite, who is the current Superintendent of Prince George’s County Maryland and serves 135,000 students. Hite has been in Prince George’s County since 2006, when he was hired as deputy superintendent and has held the position of Superintendent since 2009. As deputy superintendent, he oversaw district reorganization plans that decentralized resources to regional school zones to reduce costs and give more autonomy to high performing schools. As superintendent, he focused on strengthening the principal leadership pipeline, oversaw the implementation or the district’s pay-for-performance program, and on the school level extended the school day for middle schools and reorganized the structure of high schools for best performance. He is 52 years old, has a twitter account, and is a father of two children.

Hite has a background as an educator and has served as either a deputy superintendent or superintendent for the last six years. Prince George’s County, where he is currently superintendent, is a high poverty suburb of Washington D.C. and is showing a fair amount of success for a system that still needs improvement.

He is focused on starting a “listening campaign” in order to engage families students, and the community in seeing the changes they want in their schools. He commented on all the plans that the district has put forth saying, “they all seem sort of disconnected”  and he would hope to change that problem, wanting to come up with a plan that will unify all those plans.

Both candidates seem to be inline with the current plans for reorganization put forth by Penny Nixon to decentralize the district and give principals in schools performing well more autonomy over their schools. Nixon’s plan also calls for Principal Leadership Team system in order  to get Principals from a variety of different Philadelphia Schools(k-12) together and find solutions to problems in their schools. There is also an emphasis on creating partnerships with other community organizations, which some schools have already in place. The two candidates seem to have experience in decentralization and creating systems where high performing schools are rewarded for their performance.

Interpreting the Candidates
I’m not sure what to think about Martinez yet. He seems to have all the right answers, bringing it back to the “children” and family support. But I wasn’t fully convinced . His answers seemed kind of lofty and full of rhetoric, not showing solid solutions and plans that he could enact. Community members asked questions about specifics, but he didn’t give them. Maybe this is just the “political game” he has to play to get the job, but it  seems like I see the same kind of talk in all kinds of town hall like settings, as seen in political debates large and small.

I will give him credit on keeping calm and giving everyone who asked a question the respect and poise they deserved. He held his own in that room, no matter what his answers were.

I wasn’t able to watch the live stream of community members asking Hite questions, so I am forming my reaction from articles and radio broadcasts that I heard the day after the event.

Hite  seems to be very much loved by Prince George’s County, with Prince George’s County Education Association releasing a statement about how they would be disappointed if he left. There seems to be a disconnect between his success in Maryland and his possible future in Philadelphia. He seems to have a good support team where he is currently, and is able to get things done. It seems odd, to me, that he would leave a district where success looks to be possible, and start all over again in Philadelphia.

The question I have is if these candidates, if they are appointed, going to actually be proponents for real reform in Philadelphia and demand results that matter?

With Philadelphia’s turbulent history of unsuccessful superintendents, the odds are stacked against whoever is chosen to run the District, if only because everyone watching in Philadelphia is watching this process waiting for the next shoe to drop, and questioning every move the future superintendent makes.

Learned Out? Relax at One of These Events!

Super Scooper All-You-Can-Eat Ice Cream Festival

When? Sun, July 1, 12pm – 5pm

Where? Walnut West Parking Lot, at Columbus Blvd. and Walnut Street (map)

Description: All. You. Can. Eat. Ice. Cream. We could go on, but we think we’ve made our point.  $7 (proceeds go to Joshua Kahan Fund, fighting to cure pediatric cancer.)
Visit the website for complete event details.

Mural Arts Paint Day

When? Tue, July 3, 2pm – 5pm

Where? Independence Mall at Independence National Historical Park (map)

Description: Join the Mural Arts crew and help them paint the newest addition to the city’s mural collections- a design honoring ever sassy and fabulous local superstars The Roots.
Visit the
website for complete event details.

Party on the Parkway and 4th of July Jam

When? Wed, July 4, 12pm – 11pm

Where? Benjamin Franklin Parkway (map)

Description: Celebrate the 4th of July in America’s most historic city, with blocks and blocks of exciting and educational activities, games, entertainment and food for the whole family, followed by “the Largest Free Concert in America” with music from The Roots, Joe Jonas, Queen Latifah, and more. And then when you think there couldn’t possibly be any  more coming, the fireworks start.
Visit the
website for complete event details

Philly Roller Girls Roller Derby Double Header

When? Wed, July 11, 6:00pm – 9:30pm

Where? The Liacouras Center (map)

Description? Re-live the days of “Whip It” with local roller derby team Philly Roller Girls and watch as the Philthy Britches challenge the Heavy Metal Hookers (these are legitimate, we swear). Expect a lot of girl power.
$10 Gen. Admission
Visit the website for complete event details

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