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 Tom Wyatt, education committee chair for the Passyunk Square Civic Association. Tom caught up with Dion Betts, the assistant superintendent for all South Philly public schools.
Dion Betts, the newly minted assistant superintendent who started overseeing all of South and Southwest Philly’s public schools this year, says he knows the secret to tackling the latest belt-tightening in the school district.
“There has and always will be scarcity in public education,” Betts told Passyunk Post in an interview. “So in most respects I would be doing the same things – working hard to deliver quality education to every student in the most cost efficient means possible.”
Tasked with 20,000 students in 32 schools (including every one in South Philly: Jackson, Kirkbride, Southwark, Childs, Jenks, Southern, etc.), Betts recently begun his first year as assistant superintendent of what is called “Learning Network One.” He comes to the post with significant experience in the classroom as well as in school administration.
His first teaching position was with the Philadelphia School District in 1989, when he taught sixth grade special education at what is now DeBurgos Elementary School in North Philadelphia. Seeing his zeal and leadership abilities, Principal Jose LeBron put him in charge of the special education department of 13 teachers. He went on to complete multiple master’s degrees and a doctorate from Widener University.
He has held several high-level administrative posts, including a stint as superintendent of the Boyertown Area School District, which has 7,100 students. While superintendent, he oversaw the creation of the K-12 Virtual Program and implemented several high performing schools practices.
Betts said he is keenly interested in ensuring that each student feels that they “belong” and are appreciated at school, drawing his passion from his personal experience. He overcame his own challenges in feeling he didn’t “belong” at school and struggled early on with studying, test taking, and other “doing school” type skills. He overcame those hurdles and said he chose a career in education to drive schools to do a better job of engaging students on an individual level. He said that often when he visits schools, he sees students who are much like he was. The solution is to ensure that all students are invested in their learning, including by properly assessing student learning styles and learning needs.
The primary focus for Dion is providing for evidence-based school leadership and effective management at Learning Network One schools that deliver tangible and positive outcomes for every student in every classroom. Specifically, principals are expected to use several practices, including using individual student performance data to drive instructional decisions, setting a clear collaborative mission and culture in the school. Each classroom is expected to evidence instructional practices that drive student engagement in each lesson by setting a clear lesson objective and effectively assessing student learning during each lesson. Parent engagement is also high on his list of successful tactics. To that end, you can feel free to reach out to him with questions or concerns about your kids’ schools (firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dionbetts).
What will we be saying about Network One a year from now? Dion predicts progress, evidenced by an increase of student achievement in each Network One school, an increased public awareness of Network One as a network of schools that has a culture of continuous improvement, and increased opportunities for students in the arts and sciences. Dion cited one new initiative in the arts, “CAPA Across the Network,” where seniors from the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) will receive credit for working with students in other schools in Network One in exploring fine arts experiences (e.g., dance, musical instruments, etc.).
– Tom Wyatt