It’s a goal that’s simple to say, but mighty hard to achieve.

Let’s make sure more of our youth every year graduate ready for work, lifelong learning and civic life.
Here’s good news on that front.  The rate of on-time graduation in Philadelphia schools is inching up.   The bad news: The rate still hovers at just above 60 percent.

With that backdrop, WHYY gathered a diverse group of stakeholders and leaders in education recently for a series of dialogues about how to do better at meeting the graduation goal. The forums were part of American Graduate, a national initiative of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.   

The sessions brought together people from city and suburb, superintendents, teachers, parents, advocates.   We challenged them to go beyond the usual complaints. We asked them to name all the assets in the community we could deploy to support the goal of more graduates.

We got enthusiastic and wide-ranging answers. I was struck by how often people with hands-on experience in public schools say that parents who care are a plentiful and largely untapped resource.  People eagerly ticked off assets the schools could benefit from, if only we got our act together: colleges, hospitals and entrepreneurial non-profits, caring police officers, corporate leaders who get it.  They then brainstormed practical steps to bring those assets more into play.

We also tied these sessions into the Philadelphia schools' search for a new superintendent. The School Reform Commission’s search criteria CEO clearly favor managerial ability over strictly academic background. This bothered some participants, while delighting others.

On one point, consensus emerged: Philadelphians are weary of the superintendent as superstar, the hyped man (or woman) with a plan who sweeps in, changes and renames everything, then sweeps out inside three years. Lively debate greeted the question of whether the next CEO should come from Philly.  Some feel it’s vital to get someone who gets this city, its neighborhood quirks and matrix of power.  Others thought credentials should be paramount.

I liked this suggestion for bridging that gap: a key credential for any outsider should be a demonstrated zest for outreach and deftness in navigating politics.

The SRC has a tough task.  But these forums suggest its new pick will begin with more assets at hand and more public good will than you might expect.

This article is part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Learn more about WHYY's work with "American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen" 

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