Smith: Can we help our public schools?

Temple’s new scholarships should help local students.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith“Death throes” are defined as being the final stages before something fails or ends, the sudden violent movements and twitches made by the dying in a very painful and unpleasant process.

This is also the term the nation is applying to describe the status of Philadelphia public schools.

In a system that has long been spiraling downward, students wondered all summer if they’d be returning on time in September, or if they were returning at all.

The latest blow came in Mayor Nutter’s last-ditch effort to keep schools opening on time by agreeing to a $50 million borrowing plea on Aug. 15. The pledge from City Hall allowed the district to keep their promised Sept. 9 open date by rehiring 1,000 employees that were laid off at the end of the previous school year.

The city plans on selling municipal bonds to borrow money from investors, promising an additional $60 million. Meanwhile, state lawmakers have pledged $120 million in state aid.

Superintendent William Hite cited safety concerns in an interview with ABC Action News while discussing the plans for the loaned money that included hiring back about 900 noontime aides.

“It’s the bare minimum of what we need in order to have adequate schools,” Hite said. “All classrooms will have a teacher, all buildings will have principals [and] all buildings will have individuals to monitor students in the hall and cafeteria.”

Amidst all of this, Temple prides itself on being “Philadelphia’s public university.” But how many students are actual products of Philadelphia’s education? The answer is too few.

While this fiasco was taking place, more than 45,000 donors were contributing to Temple’s record-breaking, $65.8 million summer of fundraising, the majority of which is set to go towards their $100 million scholarship campaign. The pool of donors included more than 3,000 alumni who received degrees in the last decade.

On one hand, the public school system is abandoning students who can barely look forward to their high school graduations, let alone college. The act of operating with bare-bones faculty, a lack of teachers and an unacceptably low number of guidance counselors, who actually facilitate the college application process, is leaving many students unable or unwilling to realize their full potential.

On the other hand, “Philadelphia’s public university” may be raising money to make itself more affordable, but the prestige of upper-level education is still cruelly out of reach to the very students that this university was founded to educate.

The situation cannot continue to be ignored, even by the comfortable Temple students who are products of the suburbs.

Temple students need to keep in mind that there are potential Owls out there being denied their basic right to education because of circumstances wholly out of the children’s control. Let’s hope that the promise of new scholarships brings the promise of new life to those trapped in this awful situation.

With every small motion made to help, the barely breathing system moves closer to maintaining a steady pulse.

Jessica Smith can be reached at

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