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Ronnie Polaneczky | Walking the walk on city schools

WHAT'S THE difference between the chicken and the pig when it comes to an eggs-and-bacon breakfast? The chicken is interested in the meal's creation.

WHAT'S THE difference between the chicken and the pig when it comes to an eggs-and-bacon breakfast?

The chicken is interested in the meal's creation.

The pig is committed to it.

Kevin Peter thinks a similar concept ought to apply to mayoral and City Council candidates who have school-age kids.

"If the candidates haven't committed to using the public schools, they're not in a position to really understand what's at stake for those of us who do," says Peter, a Mount Airy activist and public-school parent.

Right now, only a handful of candidates have committed to the city's public schools by actually sending their kids to them.

"They know what it means to have a report-card conference scheduled at 10:15 in the morning, to wonder what impact Paul Vallas' departure may have on their child's future," Peter notes in "Knowing Henry," the blog he writes about Mount Airy's C.W. Henry Elementary School, where his son is a third-grader.

"They know what it means to wonder what a $100 million deficit may mean to their child's daily life starting in September and what a new mayor and City Council needs to do to put our schools at the top of our city's agenda."

So he's been urging public-school parents to vote for candidates who, like them, have skin in the public-school game.

I have to say, as a voting guideline, it's as compelling as the others dominating this campaign season.

Maybe even more so.

After all, all the mayoral candidates invoke their working-class roots to let us know they came up poor.

Tom Knox talks about his brother's drug death, so we'll know that he has seen firsthand what addiction does to families. And Chaka Fattah tells us he understands the struggles of inner-city kids because, when he was young, his mother opened their home to gang members who needed love and mentoring.

But it's one thing to talk about how you triumphed over or learned from circumstances you didn't choose.

It's quite another to choose the circumstances of your own children's upbringing - like where they go to school.

Which, if you're a middle-class parent and send your child to a Philadelphia public school, your choice can seem imbued with a kind of Everyman nobility.

Except, of course, that luck is involved.

As in, you still need to be lucky enough to live near a wonderful public school - or to have the wherewithal to get your child across town to the wonderful one you've chosen for him or her to attend.

Or to have a child whose learning style isn't hampered by huge class size.

Or to have enough income to make up the gaps - in art, music and athletics, to name a few vital areas - your kid may encounter at some schools.

Or to have a spouse who's on the same page as you about where to educate your child in the first place.

So, yes, if you're a mayoral or Council candidate who happens to be a parent of school-age kids and also lucky in enough of these ways, your public-school choice might, conveniently, look more noble than it really is.

Still, I'm intrigued with the way Kevin Peter thinks about this. Especially when he imagines what it would be like if at least some of the people who will determine the future of our schools actually had their own children's welfare at stake when they discuss funding, school climate, teacher contracts and the search for a new CEO.

That's why it was so refreshing in January when Gov. Rendell appointed a public-school parent, Denise McGregor Armbrister, to replace departing School Reform Commission member Daniel Whelan.

At the time, some were upset that Rendell hadn't appointed a Hispanic SRC member. Me, I was thrilled we'd finally have a commissioner who'd not only understand what our schools are really like, but whose own children would have to live with the ramifications of the commission's stewardship.

Imagine how our schools might improve if at least some of our reps in City Hall had the same kind of skin in the game. *

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