For All of the City's Kids

Through my dear colleague David Oh, I scored an invite to a gathering of about 80 local leaders last night to meet with Dr. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District. You would think I would be more up on all things educational here in Philly, but I must confess to being a bit out of the loop. So it was nice to connect in such an intimate setting. A few observations from my time with Dr. Ackerman:

* Some of the statistics Dr. Ackerman quoted to us concerning the challenges we face in our schools were sobering, especially as it relates to our young men: 49 percent of our African American high schoolers and 59 percent of our Hispanic high schoolers will not graduate.

* It was painful to see how few Asian Americans were in attendance. I have no idea whether this was due to the invite list, lack of follow-through by the event organizers, and/or apathy on the part of Asian Americans. But in light of recent incidents at South Philadelphia High School, in which Asian students have been picked on and beaten up, and the School District and Dr. Ackerman accused of not acting forcefully enough, it was unfortunate there weren't more Asians there to hear from and speak to Dr. Ackerman.

* I had to cut out early last night, and as a result I almost missed the best question and the best answer during Q&A. Someone asked about the "blockers," who can also sometimes be referred to as "haters" or "naysayers." Dr. Ackerman correctly noted that some people benefit from the current broken system, and why wouldn't they then work hard to entrench the dysfunction and repel any progress? Alas, this is the challenge of true reform: it takes looking beyond one's own self-interest, as well as taking lumps from others whose interests you are actively coming up against in your struggle for progress.

* On that note, as I am preparing to register my daughter for kindergarten later this morning, with my son's turn coming in two years, it occurs to me that I may have an intimate relationship with the Philadelphia public schools for 15 years. So perhaps I should get myself more informed and involved. For if a Christian can't look beyond what's good for his own kids to make sure there's good available for all kids, who can?

Much more to say, but I'll leave it at this: I was thankful to David for helping me gain access to this gathering, and thankful to Dr. Ackerman for hosting it. And now let us indeed do what we can, not only for our own kids, but for all of the city's kids.

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