Vallas school plans are fit for a King Revealed as city touts MLK 'Day of Service' events

Posted: January 09, 2003

Imagine city schools that look like educational parks or small college campuses.

Broken pavements, littered lots and hunched fences replaced by library gardens, ampitheaters and outdoor classrooms.

Outdoor classrooms?

Yes, all of those and more are the latest visions new public schools CEO Paul Vallas announced as near realities.

Groundbreaking at Martin Luther King High, the first of 13 schools targeted for such treatment this year, is set for Jan. 20, the holiday also bearing the name of the slain civil-rights leader.

Vallas announced the initiative yesterday as the city touted Day of Service events this year. Organizers again want to put the rest of the nation to shame with the Philadelphia area's goal of 35,000 volunteers working on more than 500 projects.

The Campus Parks Program is separate from the $1.5 billion Capital Improvement Plan Vallas announced last month that will repair buildings, consolodate some schools and build 11 more.

"It will not only bring value to the school itself but it will bring value to the community," Vallas said of the parks program.

Architect Michael Gladnick worked pro bono with a committee of about two dozen students, faculty and community members, and came up with a King campus design in a speedy two weeks so the groundbreaking could coincide with the King holiday. He said one purpose was "to create a variety of outdoor spaces to fit their curriculum," such as ecological studies.

Separately, sources have told the Daily News that Foundations Inc., a New Jersey-based education organization, has presented a proposal to take over management of King.

In the first year of the Campus Parks Program, the district will spend $2.6 million on enhancements for King and these other schools: McKinley, Meade, Duckrey, Mitchell, Mifflin, Longstreth, Fell and Ethel Allen elementary schools; and Wilson, Turner, Sayre and Thomas middle schools.

Also at the City Hall press conference yesterday, Mayor Street presented the Mural Arts Program with the fifth annual Harris Wofford Active Citizenship Award "for outstanding support of the King Day of Service and an ongoing commitment to active citizenship."

Todd Bernstein, director of the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, likened public service on King Day to patriotism.

"When I think about homeland security, I think of all of you, all of the volunteer soldiers and generals and the thousands more on Jan. 20, defending our nation against a different kind of enemy: illiteracy, substandard housing, homelessness and apathy." *

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