$6 million to aid three Phila. public schools

At alternative district school Sustainability Workshop, which will get a $1.6M grant, Sagar Peater, 17, and teacher Simon Hauger work on a modular home for Haitians. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
At alternative district school Sustainability Workshop, which will get a $1.6M grant, Sagar Peater, 17, and teacher Simon Hauger work on a modular home for Haitians. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 26, 2013

Three progressive Philadelphia public schools will expand in the fall as a result of a $6 million investment from a city nonprofit with growing clout, officials announced Wednesday.

Money from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) will expand the Hill-Freeman middle school in East Germantown into the high school grades; add a second campus of the Science Leadership Academy; and turn the Sustainability Workshop, now an alternative senior-year program, into its own high school.

PSP, which is more than halfway to its goal of raising $100 million to invest in strong charter, public, and nonpublic schools across the city, has also signaled its intent to pump an additional $2 million or so into schools affected by the district's move to shut 24 buildings in June.

That money will finance grants to schools receiving large numbers of students from closing schools.

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said the district would need to rely on its "ecosystem of external partners" to help fill in where it did not have the resources.

The $2 million from PSP is a start in aiding schools, Kihn said, adding, "I anticipate this is the first of many such announcements" over the next few months.

The grants announced Wednesday are a big deal for the three schools, which have earned praise for their strengths. One is an academically rigorous program with a full 30 percent of students with special needs; another is an inquiry-driven, technology-focused school; the third is a nontraditional school with projects instead of classes.

"This is an amazing moment for the district to stake its claim for nationally recognized, innovative models of public education," said Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy principal.

The investments are good news for at least 1,600 students even as the rest of the city's 140,000 young people brace for schools in the fall that might not have sports, counselors, adequate books, or much else in the wake of a $300-million-plus district deficit.

But filling gaps in the district's operating budget is not PSP's mission. To date, it has supported growth and turnarounds mostly in charter schools, though it has also given money to expand one successful district neighborhood school.

Mark Gleason, PSP executive director, said the organization has been "working really hard to identify great opportunities to invest in district schools. And we believe firmly that a citywide solution to education requires scaling up what's great in every sector - district, charter, nonpublic."

Gleason said that PSP was "absolutely supportive" of the district's request for additional city and state money, but that to prove it was worthy, the district has to show it's willing to spend funds differently. The expansions show that the district has been willing to do that, Gleason said, and should help the case for more cash.

Hill-Freedman, in East Germantown, is a magnet middle school serving 240 students, 70 percent of whom are enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program and 30 percent of whom have special needs. It will get $2.6 million to eventually expand as a school for grades six through 12, 20 percent of whom must be students with special needs.

Hill-Freedman's IB students are chosen through a traditional magnet-school process; its autistic and life-skills students are placed primarily by geography.

Principal Anthony Majewski said the school had "always been under the radar because we do our own thing and we do it well."

Majewski said Hill-Freedman has long wanted to expand, and hoped to stay in Northwest Philadelphia.

While he's excited, there's still a lot of dread. Based on recent budget numbers, he would have to cut three teachers, to say nothing of support staff or supplies.

"We can't technically run our IB program with the staff we have now," Majewski said. "We have all that, and now we have this amazing program that we're announcing. I just hope that the outrage, the desperation, the care all come together and just get settled."

SLA, a nationally renowned magnet high school in leased space in Center City, will get $1.9 million over three years to start a second high school campus of 500 students at the current Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia, which was just spared from closing. A seat at SLA is quickly becoming one of the city's most sought-after places; the school had more than 2,000 applications for 125 spots. The school partners with the Franklin Institute.

SLA-Beeber will give spots to 125 additional students now on the school's waiting list, Lehmann said.

"Every year, we have seen there are so many more kids in Philadelphia that were interested in an inquiry-driven and project-based approach to education than we had spaces for," Lehmann said.

The Sustainability Workshop draws 30 seniors from district schools across the city, and has attracted considerable national buzz in its second year of operation. It will get $1.6 million to eventually add 500 seats for students from across Philadelphia in grades nine through 12; it will add 60 ninth graders in the fall.

The workshop's founders first began tossing around the idea of a nontraditional high school a decade ago, said Simon Hauger, one of the founders. The plan was always to become a full school within a few years, he said, even if they had to go the charter route.

"We're thrilled" about becoming a district school, Hauger said. "That was always our first choice."

Hauger praised Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and Kihn, who he said "really get it. It's a depressing time with all the financial stuff that they've inherited, but it's a really exciting time - it's great to have leaders that have a vision of moving education forward in Philadelphia."

The workshop, housed at the Navy Yard, is exploring space in an existing district building either to colocate or to occupy an empty building by the fall.

The School Reform Commission must approve the grants and expansions.


Contact Kristen Graham

at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter

@newskag. Read her blog,

"Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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