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Educating the Public

When our daughter “transitioned” into the Penguin room at her daycare center last spring, we realized that a moment that had seemed comfortably distant when we moved to Philadelphia three years ago was fast approaching. After the Penguins, only the Muffin room stood between Sarah and kindergarten. Pretty soon, we would have to start thinking seriously about schools for her. Not long ago, my wife was talking to a Muffin parent and asked what they were planning to do.
        “Oh, we’ll probably move to the suburbs,” she answered.
        The drain in talent—and taxes—resulting from inadequate public schools is one of the most intractable problems facing Philadelphia and many of the nation’s urban areas. Families who can afford it leaving for the suburbs or sending their kids to private schools has created a situation in big cities “where public education has largely become about the overwhelming majority paying for the education of the poorest portion of the community,” says Philadelphia school board president Pedro Ramos C’87, who is profiled in our cover story by assistant editor Susan Lonkevich.
        The youngest board president ever and the first Latino, Ramos attended public elementary schools in the city—sometimes getting chased home from them—and prestigious Central High before Penn, law school at the University of Michigan and a position with Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll. An activist since he was “in diapers,” Ramos marched for bilingual education at 13 and at Penn was a DP columnist and a leader in protesting the University’s investments in apartheid-era South Africa.
        In an environment rife with conflict, Ramos seems to have earned the regard of all sides as someone who is both committed and coolheaded, willing to collaborate to get things done. “I’ve developed a lot of positive relationships with people I’ve met while they were yelling at me because I represented an institution,” he says.
        Some of that yelling has been about the area to be served and other issues surrounding a Penn-assisted pre-K-8 public school proposed by the University as part of its program to attract more faculty and staff to live in West Philadelphia. The issues were resolved (to most parties’ satisfaction) this summer, and the school is scheduled to open next September. We offer an update on page 30.
        I’m glad I hadn’t heard about Dr. Stuart Levy M’65 when Sarah was younger, and suffering from a series of ear infections. If I had, I would have felt guilty about rushing her to the pediatrician for amoxycillin. Levy, who heads a research lab at Tufts University, has emerged as a leading voice warning of the dangers of antibiotics overuse for things like colds (which they don’t help) and children’s earaches (most of which go away on their own) in promoting drug-resistant strains of bacteria. In 1992, he wrote a popular book on the subject, The Antibiotic Paradox: How Miracle Drugs are Destroying the Miracle.
        Even after reading our article, “Resistance Fighter,” on page 44, I don’t know that I would have behaved any differently about Sarah’s earaches. When your child is in pain, it’s hard to take the long view. However, I did go home and throw away our anti-bacterial soap.
        Also in this issue is a photo essay on the just-completed renovations to Houston Hall and the new Wynn Commons, the final pieces in the Perelman Quadrangle project. And in “From College Hall,” President Rodin talks about the significance of the Perelman Quad to Penn and shares her memories of Houston Hall, including some benign plotting against “the establishment” then occupying College Hall.
        A farewell. This will be the last issue of the Gazette to list as publisher Martin Rapisarda, who left his position as director of alumni relations for a post at Vanderbilt University at the end of August (see page 15). All of us at the Gazette wish him the best.

—John Prendergast C’80


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