Parents that are championing public schools in Philadelphia are not trying to keep up with the private schools but they are trying to show you that your neighborhood public schools are an option for your child. These parents are not denying it is an uphill battle but one of their biggest issues is simply getting you in the door.
Last Tuesday the parents of S.A. Moffet, Horatio Hackett, Alexander Adair and H.A. Brown put together a bus tour for press and real estate agents to show them what local schools in the River Wards has to offer their readers and perspective clients. During the tour a parent and the Principal from each school was available to go over the highlights of the school and answer questions. It is actually genius. The River Wards is one of the fastest growing sections of the city with homes and condos going up everywhere. Buildings are going up so fast that daily routes are constantly being redirected by construction vehicles and development. For families fighting to stay in the city chances are a good amount of you will be making your way over to Northern Liberties, Fishtown and Kensington (yes, Kensington is now a real option) to live in one of these brand new condos.
One of the reason I do these tours is to force myself to see schools that I have preconceived notions about. I would drive by and just assume the inside of these school was not suitable and not ever an option for my family. I don’t know what I expected to find on the tour… holes in the walls, screaming and swearing children, run down classrooms, kids with out paper and pencils? It turns out that although the hustle is harder and the dynamics are very different I saw that these schools lacked some of the same resources my son’s private school lacked. I saw busy classrooms with little ones that were just as quietly curious about me as I was about them. I saw very close relationships between parents and Principals and that the term Title 1 is a regular part of the conversation at public schools.
I am going to touch briefly on each school before giving you a grand overview. Please keep in mind that just because I call out a specific feature at one school that does not mean the other schools do not have it. If a school really interest you, you have to do more digging and take your own tour.
Henry Armitt Brown (H.A. Brown) K-8
Principal Connie Carnivale firstname.lastname@example.org
1946 E. Sergeant St. / Philadelphia PA 19125
Open House: October 27, 2015
Quietly tucked in the middle of a residential block is H.A. Brown Elementary School. I live in walking distance from this school and I never knew it existed. This section of the Kensington neighborhood has not experience their housing make over yet which only means it is next on the list.
The average class size in grades 1-4 is 16 children at H.A. Brown. Each classroom has a dedicated section for a mini lab and they have found ways to work art, music, choir, and physical education into any student’s schedule that wants it. One of the most impressive things about H.A. Brown to me was the student government for grades 3rd-8th. After elections these students take on many things but their favorite seems to be letter writing to local and national officials and getting them to visit H.A. Brown. Past year’s success of Mayor Nutter and Senator Smuckers has the current class thinking big and honestly I would not be surprised if they got some great visitors this year. According to Principal Carnivale these student don’t really take no for an answer. Out of all the schools on the tour this school seems the most focused on preparing the kids to compete in a professional environment. Where some school try to down play competition, H. A. Brown takes it on.
During the school day there are a variety of programs offered: Student Government: Grades 2-8; Choir: Grades 1-8; Art Enrichment: Grades 3-8; Gym Club: Grades 5-8; Yearbook: Grades 7-8; String or Percussion Instrument Lessons: Grades 3-8; Mentally Gifted club: Grades 2-8; Chromebook Lessons: Grades K-8; Smart Tables in Kindergarten.
Horatio B. Hackett K-5
Principal Todd Kimmel TKimmel@PhilaSD.org
2161 E. York Street, Philadelphia PA 19125
Open House: Spring 2016
Horatio B. Hackett (Hackett) is hard to miss at the corner of York Street with its giant mosaic across the exterior wall. The school boast one large gym and a huge caf-a-torium (cafeteria and auditorium). Hackett also has a large special education program which means the school always has a full-time school nurse, which is a rare at any Philadelphia school, public or private. Hackett did absorb students from local Bridesburg Elementary School so their kindergarten is temporary larger than normal. At the time of my tour the school was expecting the arrival of a 4th kindergarten teacher to help reduce class numbers. The schoolyard is just black top right now but the school has received a grant and is currently fundraising for a playground. Read more about Hackett’s Schoolyard Revitalization Project
Hackett has very active partnerships with community members to consistently aid student progress and learning. Critical partnerships include: Friends of Hackett, Home and School, Phila. Art Museum, PortSide Arts, Rock to the Future, Villanova, PhillyReads, SummerReads, and Cades Kids.
Alexander Adaire K-8
Principal Mrs. Anna Jenkins ajenkins@PhilaSD.org
1300 E. Palmer St, Philadelphia PA 19125
Alexander Adaire (Adaire) is located in the heart of Fishtown. Adaire seems to be the school that parents in and out of catchment gravitate to the most. I have to admit the school does seem to have a special vibe about it. Like Hackett, Adaire has new playground plans that will hopefully start soon. Adaire is a little different since it is a K-8 school. While most school have a mass exit at 5th grade Principal Jenkins said very few students leave. The school is working on getting smartboards in every class room and will be adding a second computer lab.
Adaire has built strong relationships with organizations such as Friends of Adaire (leading schoolyard transformation, fundraising for auditorium overhaul & providing STEM support); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Portside Arts, and Young Playwrights (arts education); the Food Trust (nutrition education); Temple University (student teachers); Hetzell’s Sports Field (outdoor play space across the street); GearUp (college readiness program); and Girl Scouts (environmental awareness and community service)
John Moffet K-5
Principal Ms. Carmen Navarro email@example.com
127 W. Oxford Street, Philadelphia PA 19122
John Moffet is tucked away on the Kensington side of Front Street. Now this school I see all the time and remember it because of their Eagle’s sponsored playground that my boys always ask if they can play in. This school seemed the smallest out of the four but the number on their School District of Philadelphia page would put them as one of the largest. Principal Navarro has been with the school for 5 years. She seems to be one of the newest at the school considering the music teacher has been with the school for 29 years and the majority of the staff is not that far off. At the time of my visit we were able to sneak in on a music class. The school is known for its Arabic drumming program which has performed at the Kimmel Center.
I did make my local neighborhood school apart of my search when I was looking for my oldest when we lived in Northern Liberties. However the idea of looking in the Fishtown direction never even entered my mind. This tour has changed my mind about the schools in my new neighborhood. I really think parents in the River Wards area have some real options for their children. These schools are pulling their weight and doing amazing things for their students body but because it is in a less afluent area you never hear about it.
Here are the main things I took away:
Budget cuts have clearly left their schools with constraints but you will be hard pressed to find them apologetic about it. Every school Principal was genuinely proud of their school, students and the ways they were helping children succeed with grants, fundraising and whatever else they could wrangle from the Philadelphia School District. You could tell that to be a Philadelphia School District Principal you have to be able to hustle. Each Principal was generous with their time and loved to talk about their school but it was easy to see that their wheels were always turning and that they has student’s needs to get back to.
My personal view point on technology in schools has changed but if it is on your check list every school we visited has done everything they can for grants that allow them to have smartboards, smarttables, Chromebook carts and Mac labs. I was curious about the high priority for every classroom to have a smartboard since they are insanely expensive. Based on comments I got from the teachers in the city they love their smartboards but only if all the other resources kids need are present. Mostly it sounded like the convenience of the smartboard is what teachers really liked.
Parent Association: a.k.a. “Friends”
If you are going into a public school get ready for the Parent Associations which these days are called “Friends of…” Friends of Adaire, Friends of Hackett, Friends of H.A. Brown and the newly established Friends of Moffet can be the power houses behind the schools that make things happen. This is where your playground fundraising, school clean ups and volunteer support comes from. These parents are passionate and pushy because the Philadelphia School District has trained them to understand that if they want something chances are they have to make it happen themselves. It all depends on your personality but having the ability to really make a difference at your child’s school sounds exciting to me. Most of, if not all of, these groups are run by parents whose children do not even go to the actual school yet. These parents are so type-A, getter’done, “action Jackson” that they are making sure as many improvements are being made to the school as possible before their children even go there. Proving once again that our children will have no idea how hard we fight for them.
I had to laugh went I saw another write-up from a “reporter” on the tour. The comment was made that these schools operate without glossy brochures, fancy tables at school fairs and slick PR teams. I always give you the benefit of the doubt that you are looking deeper than that when it comes to picking a school for your child. No parent is fooled by that stuff. That is not the issue on the hypothetical “fancy” table.
I was surprised with what I found at the public schools around my neighborhood. If you have some preconceived notions about a school just call them and set up a tour. These Principals and teachers want you to come in. If you decide it is not for you that is fine but they are just asking you to give them the same chance you are giving the other schools. It warms my heart the direction these schools are heading in and to watch moms and dads in the community be the ones to make it happen. They will never win Philadelphian of the year in Philly Mag because let’s face it that is clearly a place for the Philly Phanatic and baseball players that pass through our city so the smiles that come from little kiddos and changing a neighborhood school by school will just have to due.
As always I want to be clear. I think picking a school is a personal choice for each family. I don’t take a hard-line on any type of school. My job is to share options out there with you.
Finding Your Catchment: