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State focused on Philly school violence

Inquirer staff writer Brittany Talarico writes:

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak said this morning his department is on a constant mission to stem classroom violence in the Philadelphia School District.

There were more than 6,200 violations of the code of conduct committed by district students between the 2006 and 2007 school year.

"We want to get at the root of violence everywhere we can," Zahorchak said as he prepared to speak at the Pennsylvania's Governor's Forum at the Double Tree Hotel on South Broad Street.

About 200 members of the Pennsylvania education community attended the forum, which focused on preparing children for early childhood education.

"Today's program is probably the biggest prevention activity against violence that we can invest in," Zahorchak said. "If we make sure kids come to school ready and they achieve, it will help us quell violence in the classroom. Achieving students generally are not safety problems."

Other proactive measures the department has taken include emotional support strategies which promote positive thinking and routines in schools.

"We are calling this movement in Pennsylvania wellness or resiliency," Zahorchak said. "Resiliency training is going on across the state by the Department of Education getting at the root of the violence problem."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is also partnering with the Highmark Healthy High Five program to provide schools with $7,500 grants to fund an anti-bullying model, he said.

Along with violence, Zahorchak said performance in schools is one of the top priorities of his department.

He was proud to hear that one Philadelphia high school, Masterman, was recognized this week in the U.S News and World Report's latest ranking of the top 100 schools in the country. However, he was not surprised this was the only Pennsylvania school on the list.

"Our high schools are flat," Zahorchak said. "It's not a Philly problem, it's a commonwealth problem. It's in rural schools, in suburban schools and in city school and we have to recognize that...Our high school performance is something we need to make the highest priority in Pennsylvania in all sectors, the business community, the family, the schools, and the government."

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