Students in the School District of Philadelphia officially start school Tuesday. The district expects about 135,000 students in public schools, 70,000 in charter schools and another 6,000 in alternative schools. 

“Naturally I’m excited about the school year starting because we’ve seen progress from the previous year,” said School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite. “While we have a long ways to go, we want to build on that progress moving forward. It’s important to maintain our focus and to strive to get better. We’re at the beginning of a new school year and there’s a lot of excitement.”

For the first day of school Hite and Mayor Jim Kenney will visit Joseph Pennell Elementary School at 1800 Nedro Ave., for a program that begins at 8:20 a.m., followed by a tour of the second grade literacy classroom.

Hite will later tour Juniata Park Academy at 801 E. Hunting Park at 10 a.m., then he and Kenney will eat lunch from at noon with ninth grade students at George Washington High School, 10175 Bustleton Ave., along with visiting a diversity mural made by students.

“As we open the school year I want every child and parent to know that our schools are safe welcoming places to learn where children and parents of all backgrounds can know they belong,” said Hite in his 2017-18 Back to School Message posted on the district’s website.

The district is happy to be entering the school year with contracts for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the Teamster’s Local 502 Commonwealth Association of School Administrators.

The district’s five-year investment plan has grown to $526 million and is reaching every school, Hite said.

“Improvements include everything from technology, to new classrooms, particularly for our early grades, to maintain our nurses and counselors in schools,” Hite said.

Additionally, the district has new psychologists, and also 22 new social workers thanks to a partnership the district has with the Department of Behavioral Health Intellectual disAbility/Community Behavioral Health and the city.

The district has approximately 600 new people who are filling vacancies.

Hite intends to build on early reading literacy and college and career readiness. Kindergarten through third grade teachers will have the support of an early literacy coach and level libraries.

Overall, Hite said the district is focused on attendance and would like to see children in school, every day and on time.

“We think attendance is important,” Hite said. “Attendance is an indicator of success and a lack of attendance is an indicator of failure. So we think that if we can get children to attend more than it is a greater outcome of success.”

Meanwhile, the city’s Chief Education Officer, Otis Hackney, will begin the day at 8:15 a.m. at James Logan Elementary School at 1700 Logan Ave., and will end the day at 3 p.m. at Samuel Gompers School at 5701 Wynnefield Ave.

Both schools are Community Schools, public schools where a coordinator aids the school, and offers support for students, families and neighbors through outreach and partnerships. There are 11 Community Schools, which are funded through the city’s sweetened beverage tax.

Some other first day events around the city include:

Universal Bluford Charter School’s “First Day of School Pep Rally” with Founder Kenny Gamble and David Fattah of the National Million Father March at 8:15 a.m. at the school located at 5720 Media St. Fathers will walk their children to the first day of school.

Real Men Speak, in conjunction with Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, will welcome students to school from 7 to 8 a.m. at the school 2150 Lehigh Ave. Alumni, parents, friends and the community is invited.

The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice presents “Suit Up, Show Up,” a community event taking place across 11 schools in the city, including at Overbrook High School, 5898 Lancaster Ave. Men will be on hand to cheer students as they enter their first day back to school. The event takes place from 6:45 to 8 a.m.


Ryanne Persinger Tribune Staff Writer