Editor’s Note: School Talk is an occasional feature that will look at education and parenting issues in South Philly. If you have concerns, ideas, suggested topics or other thoughts about the state of schools and ways to keep improving them, email us at email@example.com.
Weighing in this time is Rachel Howe, president of the South Philly Parents Resource Center. She teaches writing at Temple and Rowan Universities and is the mother of three and step-mom of one. The SPPRC is holding an education forum Oct. 10 called “Understanding the Education Landscape.”
It’s been a hectic first month for Principal Eileen Coutts at Childs Elementary School at 1599 Wharton St. This is only her second year at the school and now she’s got the results of major budget cuts to deal with.
But even as Coutts is up to her neck orienting many new staff and faculty because of severe cutbacks and retirements, community support has managed to ease the pain. Unfortunately, though, there is some pain.
“It’s really, really hard and I don’t have an assistant principal and or the administrative staff necessary to try to manage 47 teachers, support staff and students,” Coutts said in an interview with Passyunk Post. “You can just imagine!”
Now add about 140 new students to that mix. This year, Childs absorbed half the students from Smith Elementary School, which was shuttered at the end of the last school year, bringing the student body up to about 740. Although Coutts says the absorption went well and that the students are “taking it all in stride,” she still had people coming in to register their children for school during the second week of classes.
The large influx creates logistical as well as learning problems. “Right now my biggest challenge is that I have two lunchrooms on two separate floors,” she said. “And I have consecutive lunches for three periods for 45 minutes each.” Coutts said that’s something an assistant principal would normally manage, so without one, she has to regularly run up and down the stairs to check on them. She says her staff is doing an excellent job with the lunches, but “I would feel more comfortable if there were more people to manage that unstructured time, because that is when things happen, during unstructured times.”
Having a second in command to handle administrative tasks would also free her up to assure quality of instruction. “If you’re not vising the classes, you can’t be assured that the children are getting the best education that they can,” Coutts said.
But Coutts said many new and returning programs are worthy of getting excited about. NICE, which stands for Neighbors Invested in Childs Elementary, helped form a school advisory board and fixed up the library, which previously was “basically a storage closet.” It now has new paint, furniture and curtains, as well as a librarian, who Coutts hired as one of her prep teachers.
Meanwhile, Title I funds have brought the school seven new supportive services staff to help first- through fifth-graders who are falling behind or are ready to move ahead more quickly. And City Year has placed eight recent graduates at the school for tutoring and afterschool programming.
Coutts is also working with several outside organizations for tutoring and enrichment programs, including building social skills and problem solving, technology and math, and healthy living skills. The Dream Academy works with 80 Childs students on leadership skills, tutoring and widening their horizons through mentorship with a college student and trips, like a visit downtown last year to shadow local executives.
“It’s a busy, fun, crazy school,” gushes Coutts. “If you come in, you are surprised that there are 700 kids here, because it’s quiet. You go into the classrooms and the kids are just working. People are pleasantly surprised when they visit.”