Focus: Philadelphia Schools

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"Every decision we make is geared toward the students and instruction and making it better for them," said Britt Dickens, superintendent for Philadelphia Public Schools. "So that is our foremost challenge."

It's a challenge that Dickens said is being approached head on. First on the list is facilities. While Philadelphia Elementary School is only three years old and in good shape. The same cannot be said for the high school, built in 1938, and the elementary school built in 1958.

Dickens said improvements are on the way this year.

"To replace heating and air and drop ceilings and redo lighting and improve the environment for students," Dickens said.

The Philadelphia School District also faces the problem of overcrowding
with too many students, not enough classrooms or teachers.

In the long term plan, the district would like to add a 6th grade wing onto the middle school, but as with any school district this size, there simply isn't enough time or money to do it right now.

"Things like that add up to a lot of money or things we have to do to prioritize," said Dickens. "We say we can do this much this summer and then the next summer we say we are going to do this. We would like to be able to do it all, but the money simply isn't there."

Especially right now; the closing of two plants in town has lowered the tax base, while enrollment has increased, but there are things the school district can do right now, according to the superintendent. One of these is focusing on technology.

"We are behind, but one of our focuses is to catch up technology-wise," said Dickens.

And they are on the right track. The middle school, high school and some of the elementary school are equipped with wireless capability. Teachers are currently being trained to integrate technology in the classroom.

All of these improvements have one goal: to improve test scores, a challenge that every district faces.

Like with most things, money is the main constraint for this district, and as Dickens said, if the state legislature does not fully fund education next year, not only his district, but districts around the state will suffer.