Hite helps ring in new Philadelphia school year

Posted: September 08, 2012

There have been first days in a building on what is now Ridge Avenue since 1748, when a one-room schoolhouse opened there.

But Friday's was special - it was the first day for AMY Northwest, a district middle school, in the old William Levering School building. It was also the first day for William R. Hite Jr., the incoming Philadelphia schools chief.

In a crowded schoolyard, under a blazing sun, Hite, AMY Northwest principal Marco Zanoni, and a clutch of school and city officials rang big brass bells, ceremonially marking the beginning of the 2012-13 year for the Philadelphia School District.

"The first day of any new school year gives you the thought that you can accomplish anything," said Hite, who will start in Philadelphia full-time on Sept. 19.

It was a busy day. Hite arrived at the home of AMY Northwest seventh grader Benjamin Frazier early, eating breakfast with his family. (Ben had French toast, bacon and eggs; Hite drank coffee.)

Ben and the superintendent then rode the Route 65 SEPTA bus to the Roxborough school. Hite quizzed students on their favorite subjects.

Ben, 12, likes math and science. He wants to be a meteorologist.

Summer was fun, Ben said, but he isn't looking back.

"I'm most excited to learn new things," he said.

Early read on Hite?

"He seems," Ben said, "like he's on the right track."

Zanoni, the principal, implored the audience to think of the teachers and students who first used the school hundreds of years ago.

They "believed in public education and a better way of life," Zanoni said.

Zanoni was thrilled with his new digs. The Academy for the Middle Years Northwest program was established as a district magnet school about 30 years ago, but has moved multiple times since its establishment.

Most recently, it was located in rented space in Mount Airy, but the building at 6000 Ridge Avenue became available when the old Levering School closed in June. Levering students now attend either AMY Northwest, Cook-Wissahickon, Dobson, or Mifflin.

School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos admitted feeling a little sentimental on the first day of the 2012-13 school year.

It was the first first day since 1996 that he wasn't sending a child to Philadelphia public schools. His younger daughter graduated from high school in June.

Since he couldn't take a picture of his children on their way to school, Ramos asked for the audience's indulgence, taking his iPhone out of his pocket and snapping a photo of the audience - all the AMY Northwest students and teachers, and 100 parents and community members sitting in chairs and standing in the schoolyard.

Ramos acknowledged the turmoil in the district - massive financial problems, big changes in the way schools are organized and run, coming school closings.

But "if we all put our young people first, we can build one of the best school systems in the country," Ramos said.

Anita Day, a parent and member of the Home and School Association at AMY Northwest, agreed. The district may be struggling, Day said, but it's up to everyone to make sure it turns around.

"I have a very vested interest in this school district," said Day, who also has a child at F.S. Edmonds Elementary in East Mount Airy and a 4-year-old who will enter the district next year. "I believe in public schools."

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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