Neighborhoods just are not complete without high-quality schools

Poor Neighborhood

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For three years, as the Director of Education and Community Resources at Women’s Christian Alliance (WCA), I collaborated with Meade Elementary School to provide after-school and summer programs for many of its kindergarten through eighth-grade students. Dozens of the children transitioned into kindergarten upon leaving the Early Childcare Center at WCA so, I became very familiar with the children and their families.   

In December 2012, the district announced that it would close 37 schools and Meade was on the list.  An overwhelmingly, large number of school closures was proposed for North Philadelphia and the district announced plans to move students from Meade, Morris and Reynolds to the new, Vaux Elementary School. Thanks in part to recommendations from the North Philadelphia Collaboration, Meade and Reynolds remained opened and Vaux closed in June 2013. As an active participant in this piece of Philadelphia history, I was amused at the December 15, 2016 School Reform Commission meeting when I heard that the district and the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) have entered into an agreement to allow Big Picture Schools to open Vaux as a high school accepting graduating students from Meade and Morris Elementary Schools.

According to its website, Big Picture Schools Philadelphia was founded in 2008 after showing tremendous success with high school youth in Rhode Island “with a previous history of low academic achievement, poor behavior, and a troubled home-life.” This proposed innovation school has support and buy-in from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and appointed city officials.  Jerry Jordan “welcomed the opportunity to help build a strong school,” Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA CEO, feels the new Vaux would help transform Sharswood into a “neighborhood of choice” and PHA spokesperson, Kirk Dorn said, “The neighborhood just would not be complete without a high-quality school.”

Now that Sharswood is becoming a sought-after neighborhood, the city is finally doing something to improve its schools.  Families in other North Philly neighborhoods are watching and wondering how quickly PHA and/or elected and appointed officials will intervene to provide their children with an opportunity to attend high-quality schools.  Kenderton, Dr. Ethel Allen and E. Washington Rhodes Elementary Schools could all use similar interventions.  I must agree with Mr. Dorn, “The neighborhoods just are not complete without high-quality schools.”

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