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Presentation of the School District of Philadelphia
"Kids Killing Kids: Addressing Escalating Youth Violence"
June 13, 2005
Good morning Senator Specter and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thank you for allowing me to make brief comments on youth violence. In my five minutes, I will discuss the initiatives undertaken by the District that I feel have been most beneficial in reducing violence. In addition, I will discuss policy principles that will assist in further reducing violence.
Prior to beginning my comments, I want to thank Senator Specter for his invaluable support to the School District of Philadelphia. His leadership and support have allowed for the District to establish and fund a 40,000 student summer program and valuable after school academic programs for three straight years. His efforts have directly led to increasing the number of schools that have made Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind legislation from 22 to 160. His support has provided countless young people with a safe environment and I think we can all agree that giving kids a place to go after school and in the summer is a very important tool in our anti-violence tool box. The District and our 200,000 students, their parents and families owe Senator Specter a debt of gratitude, and we appreciate his continued support.
Schools are often the safest place in a community. However, violence continues to persist in many of our communities and neighborhoods.
In 2004, like many Philadelphians I was heartbroken by the shooting of Faheem Thomas Childs in front of Pierce Elementary School. Faheem was going about his day as he always did traveling to school when he was caught in the crossfire of rival drug gangs and shot. The tragic death of Faheem is something that will always stay with me and is a reminder that the role of schools has changed dramatically in that they are no longer confined to instruction. Rather, the tragic death of Faheem is a reminder that schools can and should play a much larger role in guaranteeing the safety of students, both in their schools and communities, as well as in the reduction of violence in the lives of young people.
The protective factors highlighted by the Public / Private Ventures report are at the cornerstone of the District's violence prevention and reduction initiatives. By working with partners ranging from the city to faith based institutions, the District has implemented several programs that we believe will assist us in continuing to reduce youth violence through the protective factors discussed in the YVRP Report. These programs include:
? Communities of Faith Partnership. Recognizing that Communities of faith can have an enormous impact on children and in preventing violence, in 2004, the District launched a Faith Based Partnership to collaborate with communities of faith to improve the quality of life for our children. The $3.0 million program partners with faith based institutions to organize parent patrols in schools, organize voluntary after-school clubs, coordinate after school gospel choirs, implement mentoring programs, and assist with crisis intervention.
The strength of the District's parent involvement program was recently recognized by the William Penn Foundation. The foundation awarded the District almost $750,000 to establish a pilot program at Bok High School in the South Region, Austin Meehan Middle School in the East Region and Benjamin Franklin High School in the Central Region. Grant funds will be used to inform parents on District programs, parenting skills, and the leadership skills necessary to allow parents to assume a leadership role in the schools and in the community.
? Juvenile Justice Curriculum. We have also worked with the District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, to establish a juvenile justice curriculum to instruct all middle school children about juvenile justice and criminal justice. The curriculum will instruct young people to make responsible, law abiding choices and the value of non-violence in addition to teaching the value of crime-free behavior and constitutional law.
? After School Programs. The District also conducts an after-school extended-day program in every elementary school. The $15.0 million program is conducted Monday through Thursday. The first one-hour and fifteen minutes of the program is dedicated to mathematics and literacy and the remaining forty-five minutes of the program is dedicated to enrichment programs such as art and music. The program currently serves an estimated 28,000 children in grades K-8.
? Special Programs. In addition to our long-term programs, the District also provides special programs from time to time to remind students of the value of non-violence. During my tenure at the District we have implemented several such programs including:
As CEO of the District, it is not enough for me to talk about these programs and their statistical results; I am also an active participant in them. You will find me and my staff at many of the events and programs mentioned in my testimony. On any given day or night, my Chief of Staff might be coordinating an anti-violence event at a high school, while my Government Relations team is coordinating a peer mediation event at a local elementary school. In short, to me they are more than programs, they are a governing philosophy.
Before finishing my statement, I would like to offer a few brief policy principles that I feel will assist in further developing the successes found in our programs:
o To be successful violence prevention must be coordinated. We support looking at programs and equipment that will allow for greater coordination among local agencies in tracking and dealing with chronically and habitually disruptive students. According to the Public / Private Ventures Report, one of the keys to the success of YVRP has been the coordination among the many participating groups and agencies. That coordination could be even further enhanced through technology.
Finally, we have included additional information about many of the items discussed in my testimony in the binders that you have received. The binders also include information on successful programs in Boston and Chicago.
Thank you for allowing me to testify. I will be glad to answer any questions that you may have and I look forward to continuing to work with the committee on this important issue.