Philly School District Principals Speak Out on Gun Violence, Call for Solutions


In two years as principal of Vaux Big Picture High School in North Philadelphia, Shavonne McMillan can cite statistics that make her proud: 80% of children do internships, 90% graduate, 60% enter college. .

But there are numbers that keep her awake at night: three students from Vaux died from gun violence, three others injured and several others arrested for weapons.

“There is war on these streets,” McMillan said, “and none of us are safe.”

As gun violence increasingly encroaches on Philadelphia schools – four shootings near schools this year as children enter or leave classes – McMillan and dozens of other principals, politicians, clergy, members of the the community and students gathered on Wednesday to insist: enough.

Earlier Wednesday, in a separate virtual press conference from the Principals’ Gathering, Philadelphia Police announced plans to increase their morning and afternoon presence in 25 school zones starting next week. Deputy Commissioner Joel Dales said authorities are establishing the “zones” after noticing that in the first few weeks of the school year officers were stationed at schools – but conflicts have arisen a few blocks away. houses, affecting students traveling to and returning from buildings.

Growing up, McMillan was familiar with gun violence, she said. But it was “never near our schools; schools were a haven of peace.

In Philadelphia, that’s no longer the case, directors said.

Thirty-five young people aged 18 and under have been gunned down since school started, city officials said. It was Monday when the last shooting took place outside Lincoln High School, and a 66-year-old man was killed by a stray bullet. A 16-year-old is still in critical condition.

At around 9 a.m. on October 8, 13-year-old Marcus Stokes was shot dead in North Philadelphia. He was about five blocks from EW Rhodes Elementary School, where he was in seventh grade.

Dales did not identify areas that would see additional resources soon, saying police are still communicating the new strategy to managers. He said police and district officials chose areas that include 35 schools in communities at risk of violence. Senior police officers and district officials are expected to meet again on Thursday to finalize the staffing plan, which includes both Philadelphia Police and district security officers.

Dales added that an additional challenge is that the district lacks volunteers for its Safe Corridors program, which mobilizes community members to help students get to and from school. Schools that are not in the 25 identified areas, Dales said, are still periodically checked by patrol officers.

At the principals’ rally, City Council member Helen Gym said the news from the police was “welcome, but let’s be clear – it is long overdue and our students need more”. Gym called for a “youth-powered anti-violence program,” with not only safe hallways, but plenty of after-school and summer opportunities for young people and guaranteed jobs for young people.

Vacancies for school workers – some schools in the city have open positions for teachers and double-digit climate staff – must be considered, and mental health services must also be a priority, the member said. advice. The school district is providing increased mental health and trauma support services to schools heavily affected by gun violence, but in general such help is “always promised but never seems to make its way into people’s lives,” he said. declared Gym.

One by one, principals in Philadelphia approached a microphone set up to give a dark and powerful account of how violence has affected the city’s youth and their schools.

McMillan pointed out that students do not feel safe when they come to school and some do not come to school because they are unsure of getting there safe and sound. Principals and parents live in fear of receiving phone calls indicating that their children have been shot.

And at school, COVID-19 is eclipsed by another outbreak that “permeates our hallways with grief,” said McMillan, who fears for her own safety when standing outside Vaux in 23rd and Masters , where she was close to armed shooters. “I want to ensure the safety of all my staff and students, and ensure that my three biological babies are also at home. “

Le’Yondo Dunn, principal of Simon Gratz Mastery Charter School, pulled out his phone to read a text message one of his students sent him Wednesday morning after another friend died of gun violence, and she felt lost.

“I’m so sad,” the young woman wrote to Dunn. “I just lost four friends in a month. Why do we just live to die? It’s like there is no way out.

Dunn would have liked to talk to his student about his post-secondary plans or even mundane school matters, but that is not the reality in Philadelphia. And it is impossible to expect children who experience daily trauma to enter school and adapt easily to learning.

“They had to fight for their lives to get into the building,” Dunn said. “And that shouldn’t be their experience.”

Dunn and others called for action – politicians, educators, community members, parents.

“The cost of doing nothing is that we are losing more young people,” Dunn said. Philadelphians should ask, “Have I done all I can to protect black and brown youth?” “

Keisha Wilkins, principal of Martin Luther King High School, urged parents and the wider community to watch children more closely.

“Let’s all come together,” Wilkins said, “to make sure we’re doing what we need to do for our community.” She says King’s 30 students were shot or killed during her seven years there.

Bishop Dwayne Royster, pastor of Philadelphia and leader of the POWER activism faith group, said the outbreak of gun violence in the city is the result of shortcomings stretching back decades.

“Parents, check your kids,” Royster said. “Mayor, City Council, it’s time for us to have bold and creative legislation that addresses these issues in the city of Philadelphia. “

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