SO MY WIFE and I made the notorious Philly "fifth-year decision" a few weeks back.
In reality, it was made a long time ago, but we confirmed it with the $100 registration deposit. Most new residents of Philadelphia, like those settling into mini-boomtowns that are undergoing an upscale transformation, like ours in Fishtown, won't have to make the decision right away.
They'll live it up in our exploding entertainment scene and enjoy life with few constraints until they get ready to reproduce.
But for the rest of us, the decision looms. It's always in the back of your mind if you have a child in our city.
It's decision time when your kid hits that magical age when all they do is ask questions. They're ready to learn, and it's up to us parents to decide where best to do it.
Unfortunately, for a shamefully large, perpetually ignored percentage of our city's children, there will be no options and no decision to be made. Those who can will hightail it on out to a town near one of those soon-to-be-renamed "R"-train stops or even east across the river.
The rest of us with choices are left to review our options. When we do, a large portion who can will decide that the public schools aren't one of them.
Our family's decision comes more from a commitment of faith and personal choices rather than a "best options for our kids" approach. We made the choice for Catholic school despite being involved in education initiatives in our community and beyond, many involving our local public schools. Regardless of the reasons for the decision, it's an easy one, and that ease keeps Philadelphia from advancing.
I'm not here to bash the school district or public education. The pages of this paper feature daily reminders that the system exists in an alternate universe with little discipline, confounding rules and a glaring lack accountability.
The incidents, the policies that defy logic and the counterintuitive administrative decisions speak for themselves.
For some, the decision is fueled by personal views that parents, taxpayers, students, teachers, principals have no influence on the direction of the system. If faith and commitment had nothing to do with our Catholic-school choice, we still would have gone that way because, above all, we have no confidence in the district's ability to deal with the kids that it must educate who would be negatively affecting our child's learning.
Add to the mix a school administration that has thus far offered up consistently inconsistent excuses, for a nationally embarrassing and locally shameful series of riots and other failings, and the decision to go another route with your kids makes itself.
This is the calculus that went on in our house and in thousands of others across the city.
Newborns come home in this city with a figurative countdown clock to decision time stamped on their foreheads. This is where the SRC, the school district, the Nutter administration, City Council and others must look to achieve the real reform that they seek.
And they need to start influencing the decision right now.
They have to reach out to all the parents bringing their babies home from the hospital this year.
Make a commitment to them that the school district of Philadelphia will be a real option for them, whether or not that family has the means to send them to private school, as those without the means to choose a private school can now look for salvation outside of the regular public schools through charters.
Send these parents letters, engage them in the neighborhood school that they could send their kids to when that fifth-year decision is made.
Call it Project 2015-2016. Make a commitment to make that decision a lot less easy. Set a goal for X percent of Philadelphia's newborns to go to public school here.
Make it a broad-based effort to involve entities outside the school district and SRC, which to many parents seem like nebulous entities that no one can really understand.
INVOLVE city government, and the communities where parents demonstrate an investment in their schools.
Have a Council-district challenge to see which one can keep the highest percentage of its students in public schools. Sprouts of this idea are already shooting up in some of the city's burgeoning neighborhoods where parents are getting involved in schools where they plan to send their children in a few years.
This kind of grassroots investment is the true path to sustained reform, the true path to a better school district and the best way that Philadelphia can change its shameful status as most uneducated big-city, highest percentage of poverty.
Reach A.J. Thomson at