PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the first time, Philadelphia public schools will be opening early this year before the Labor Day holiday. School starts on Monday and CBS3 got the chance to sit down with school superintendent Dr. William Hite to discuss a different, more optimistic energy he says students and staff should feel heading into this new year.
“For the first time I’m not talking about we can’t open if we don’t have $50 million, or we are going to have to layoff people, or going to have to close programs, or going to have to eliminate these things from schools,” said Hite.
The school year will be opening early on Monday Aug. 27. It’s the result of two years of preparing a new school calendar.
“That seeks to do two things: front load the instructional time so that more instructional time in the beginning of the year before Memorial Day and start with uninterrupted weeks of school,” explained Hite.
The district even started a social media campaign called #RingTheBellPHL to get kids and the community ready for the early start.
“At 8 a.m. on Monday, whether they’re in route, at home, at the office, or dropping their child off to school, we’re asking everyone to be part of a bell-ringing ceremony,” said Hite.
Before the bell rings on Monday, the district has been hard at work, preparing for its 200,000 public and charter school students by making investments in early literacy space and modernizing school buildings.
“Everything from developing teachers to do the work, to modernizing classrooms, so that students are in learning spaces that are more conducive to what they are trying to do,” said Hite.
Hite added that the numbers tout success on many levels.
“We now have 8 percentage-point increase in the number of children who are attending school 95 percent of the time. Over the past two years we’ve seen a 7 percentage-point increase in the number of children who read in on grade level or third grade, and we have the highest graduation rates now in Philadelphia that we’ve had in a decade,” he said.
The district has been targeting students in the 9th grade, steering them on the path to graduation. Officials have also been suspending fewer students as well and a new locally appointed school board will replace the now defunct School Reform Commission, opening a new dialogue between the community and the school district.
“With the new board, they are setting up committee structures that allow for conversation and dialogue about the rationale for why we are trying to do the things we are attempting to do,” said Hite.
The school district also addressed safety, saying for four years in a row they have had zero persistently dangerous school. Officials also say they have seen a dip in incidents and suspensions, but they say they will remain vigilant about safety and security throughout the school year.