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Phila. Corporations Join Forces To Support City's Public Schools

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Philadelphia--Following examples set in Boston, Dallas, and New York, the corporate community in Philadelphia has accepted the challenge of grappling with the problems of a large urban school system.

Last week, leaders of Philadelphia's largest corporations and universities announced the formation of the "Committee to Support Philadelphia Public Schools." A spokesman says the group expects to provide ideas, experience, and, when needed, money to the city's public schools.

"All of the businesses in the city have great stakes in the quality of the school system," said Ralph S. Saul, chairman of the cigna Corporation and also of the new committee. "We're major employers of graduates of the school system. And the universities take its graduates and many times have to go through the basics [the students] should have gotten in high school."

That businesses can benefit from an investment in public schools is a concept that is gaining acceptance in communities across the country. But until recently, Philadelphia seemed an unlikely place for it to take hold.

For years, the School District of Philadelphia was plagued with bud-get deficits, labor strikes, and community distrust of former Superintendent of Schools Michael P. Marcase.

But last summer, Mr. Marcase stepped down, and in October he was replaced by Constance E. Clayton, who became the city's first black and first woman superintendent. The formation of the Committee to Support Philadelphia Public Schools is largely "a vote of confidence" in Ms. Clayton, according to a spokesman for the group. It also may be a lesson in the simple power of an honest request.

"She has reached out and asked for help from the private sector," said the spokesman, Richard H. De Lone. "She's gone to groups like the Chamber of Commerce ... and said, 'I need your help,' in specific areas."

First Success

Ms. Clayton's first success was getting the Sun Company, a major oil concern in the city, to "lend" her a top executive to run the district's business operations for two years while Sun paid his salary.

Other successes followed: A committee of personnel executives formed to study how the district selects and trains school principals; the Work in America Institute, a New York-based non-profit corporation that conducts job-training pro-grams for youths, awarded the district a million-dollar job-search training grant; and the William Penn Foundation recently granted the district $1.7 million for a project to improve the 30 lowest-achieving schools.

"With all the various efforts underway, it made sense to pull them together," said Mr. De Lone. The new committee's nine corporate members include Henry Wendt 3rd, chairman of the SmithKline Beckman Corporation; Vincent L. Gregory Jr., chairman of the Rohm and Haas Company; and Joseph Neubauer, chairman of ara Services.

From the higher-education community, there is the University of Pennsylvania's president, F. Sheldon Hackney; Temple University's president, Peter J. Liacouras; and La Salle College's president, Brother Patrick Ellis.

Also, two major foundations--the William Penn Foundation and the Glenmede Trust--are represented.

As its first major effort, the committee has proposed a three-year, $3.6-million grant to improve instruction in the humanities. The money would be used to provide teacher training and curriculum development as well as "mini-grants" to be awarded as incentives to teachers and schools.

Although most of the funding is being sought from foundation grants, the committee's corporate members will be counted on for some money and the universities will be called on for expertise, according to preliminary plans of the organization.

Brother Ellis expects La Salle College to play a key role when the first program, emphasizing writing, begins this spring.

"We have always had a very great interest in teacher training--we have 500 alumni teaching in Philadelphia public schools--but especially the teaching of writing," said the La Salle president. "We place an un-usually heavy emphasis on writing at La Salle and we are all ready to collaborate with public-school teachers."

Brother Ellis noted that this will not be his first involvement with Philadelphia's public schools. He is co-chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Partnership, an association of business and community leaders that also has a schools committee.

"Over the years, we'd meet off and on, usually because there was labor trouble or budget trouble," said Brother Ellis. "This time, happily, [our involvement] is in curriculum. It's a lot more promising."

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