District to expand school choice in Northwest
Area students would have three more options, including
a new magnet high school modeled on Center City's Masterman
by MICHAEL J. MISHAK
Chestnut Hill Local
The Philadelphia School District unveiled an ambitious school choice plan last week to expand its current high school roster from 38 to 66, adding 28 college-preparatory options by 2008.
Focused on small enrollments, the "Small Schools Transition Project" would create nine new magnet high schools, including two in Northwest Philadelphia. The district currently operates 12 prestigious magnets, whose students are drawn from a select pool based on academic performance, attendance and other criteria. Each has a unique program focus.
Lankenau Motivation High School in Upper Roxborough, formerly a satellite branch of Germantown High School, would be modeled after Center City's Julia R. Masterman High School, which claims some of the highest standardized test scorers in the state. With Lankenau in its first year as an independent school, the transition to magnet status is expected by 2008. Also, the school is scheduled for $12 million in renovations, including an overhaul of its main building and the construction of an addition.
Most Masterman students are considered mentally gifted, and the school reports that 100 percent of its senior class attends college.
Parkway Northwest High School, currently operating on the New Covenant campus in Mt. Airy, would operate as a "Peace Academy." Partnering with Arcadia University, the school would teach leadership through conflict resolution. The idea was spurred by the creation of the district's first military school, the Philadelphia Military Academy in West Oak Lane, which welcomed more than 150 freshman cadets last fall. The "Peace Academy" is slated for magnet status this year, said district spokesman Joe Lyons.
Both Lankenau and the Peace Academy are labeled "small," which means they are among 34 high schools projected to enroll about 400 students by 2008. According to district estimates, 15 high schools would have populations of about 800 with the remainder educating more than 1,000.
Under the small schools plan, area students could also apply for admission to the New Media Technology Charter School. Still searching for a permanent location, the school currently operates at 7800 Ogontz Ave. in West Oak Lane. In compliance with its charter, which the district approved this school year, the school must draw its students from Northwest Philadelphia. According to Lyons, the district expects enrollment to reach 600 in five years.
"The reality is there's a lot of parents who will not send their kids to Germantown [High School] and they're looking for alternatives," said Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive, in a phone interview last Wednesday. "We're not just creating options for those parents, we're creating options for all parents ... The key is expanded school choice."
Vallas insisted the district was not turning its back on Germantown High School, citing recent partnerships with both the city's police and fire departments in developing youth programs. Vallas vowed to expand the school's gifted programs, and said district officials are debating the possibility of a magnet program within Germantown.
Currently, 76 students from the 19118 ZIP code attend 15 Philadelphia public high schools, with Central and Masterman -- both magnets -- claiming nearly half the group.
Only two attend Germantown High School, which logged a 14.9 percent dropout rate in the 2002-2003 school year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The School Reform Commission was scheduled to vote this week on a $1.65 million plan to hire four outside educational firms -- ResulTech, SchoolWorks, Princeton Review and Kaplan -- to manage the transition of 11 high schools.
The district also plans to boost its middle-grade preparatory programs in elementary schools, Vallas said, in order to increase students' chances of admission to the highly selective magnets.
Three area elementary schools -- John S. Jenks, Henry H. Houston and Charles W. Henry -- will see extended-day gifted programs next year and extended-day summer school this year, Vallas said.
"If we're going to expand the number of high-caliber programs in high schools, we need to put the prep programs in the elementary schools to prepare the kids," he said.
Future district budgets, Vallas said, would show additional investments in gifted, accelerated and enrichment programs.
According to current district enrollment records, nearly 26 percent (131) of Jenks students (508 total) reside in the 19118 ZIP code. An additional 47 live within the 19119 ZIP code.