Back to feature: The
Education of Pedro Ramos
The Communitys Schoolhouse
will be diverse, class sizes small and public
spaces generous at the Penn-assisted school that's soon
to be under construction.
By Susan Lonkevich
shovels havent hit the dirt yet, but plans to open a new, Penn-assisted
public school in West Philadelphia next fall are moving forward. And as
part of this project, the University recently announced an expanded set
of initiatives to aid existing schools in the neighborhood.
July the Philadelphia Board of Education approved a racially and economically
diverse enrollment area for the new pre-K-8 school, ending months of debate
about who will attend. Construction begins this fall for the $21 million,
100,000-square-foot facility, which will feature smaller class sizes and
serve as a hub for teachers professional development as well as a community
is quite clear that no catchment area can ever please everyone, notes
Stephen Schutt L83, vice president and chief of staff for University
president Dr. Judith Rodin CW66. But I do think this one is thoughtful
and well-considered by the school board. Its truly about as diverse an
area as one can imagine. What Penn didnt want, he says, was for
enrollment to be determined by lottery. We didnt feel that was a fair
or appropriate way to build community in University City.
September three classes each of kindergartners and first-graders will
start school on the site, at 42nd and Locust streets, using existing,
renovated buildings. The new school should be complete around February
2002, and it will reach full enrollment over the next few years. (Penn
will build the facility under whats known as a turnkey developer arrangement,
getting repaid by the district when the keys are turned over upon completion.)
an agreement with the school district, Penn will provide $700,000 a year
for 10 years for its operation, and the Graduate School of Education will
contribute academic support and training.
under the latest plan for the schools development, the University also
will give $1.5 million over three years to the aging Lea Elementary Schooljust
four blocks awayto help reduce its class sizes, support its new library
and make other improvements.
addition, Penn has secured commitments from two other institutions to
assist local schools. Drexel University has agreed to work with Powel
Elementary School and the University of the Sciences will work with Wilson
following through on an earlier pledge, Penn reached an agreement with
the University City Science Center to provide land at 38th and Market
streets for the construction, starting in the fall of 2002, of a new facility
for George Washington Carver High School for Engineering and Science.
whos been involved in this project agreed from the very beginning that
we did not want to create a single, isolated, privileged school, explains
Schutt, who serves on the projects coordinating committee. We wanted
to introduce a new school into the neighborhood that could become part
of the network of existing schools and provide broader enhancements and
improvements to public education throughout University City. As planning
progressed, he says, It became apparent that the existing schools needed
significant help themselves.
a 700-student limit for the new school, many local residents were worried
that the enrollment issue would divide the community and put neighbors
children in starkly different learning environments from one another.
Amy Williams, a West Philadelphia resident speaking on behalf of the University
City Community Council Committee on Education, said the new plan significantly
addresses our concerns, but warned the group will continue to monitor
its progress. We expect to see all of the commitments which are stated
in this proposal implemented in a timely fashion, she said during the
school board meeting at which the plan was announced.
the school-age children in the attendance zone, 55.9 percent are African
American, 19.8 percent are Asian, 18.3 percent are white, 5 percent are
Hispanic and 1 percent are Native American. The median household income
for the total area is about $25,000.
its northern boundary at Sansom Street, the enrollment area goes up as
far west as 47th and as far east as 40th, then zigzags past Baltimore
Avenue for up to several blocks on the southern end. School district officials
say the plan achieves the diversity both the district and Penn were looking
for, and alleviates some of the overcrowding in other West Philadelphia
of Education President Pedro Ramos C87 says the project is significant
on a number of levelsnot the least of which is Penns choice to build
a public rather than a private school. In addition, he says, Penns investment
gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that, with some additional resources,
public schools could do a lot more.
was scheduled to start in March, but got delayed, Schutt explains, when
it became apparent the original design would be too expensive, due to
rising construction costs. So we had to go back to the drawing board,
he says, and I think we did it incredibly successfully, preserving the
important elements of the original design.
for the new school has been an intensive process, involving the recommendations
of three planning committees composed of University and school district
staff members, parents and neighborhood residents, as well as more informal
input by the public.
is going to be a school where the teachers are learners, says Dr. Susan
Fuhrman, dean of the Graduate School of Education and another member of
the coordinating committee. This should be happening at all schools, she
adds, but here it will be emphasized at every turn.
might come together in a video lab at the school to watch a taped or live
broadcast of a classroom demonstration given by one of their peers. Or
a less-experienced teacher could spend several weeks working with a mentor
on a problem area. Educators throughout West Philadelphia will come on-site
for workshops or spend time in residencies there to bring back ideas for
their own schools.
development is going to be woven into the very fabric of this school,
adds Dr. Nancy Streim, associate dean of the Graduate School of Education
and chair of the educational-program committee. Professionals in all
fields need opportunities to keep up with the current literature and techniques,
and to collaborate with their colleagues and peers, she says. But there
have not been as many opportunities for educators to do that.
envisions the new school as a place which will use the community as a
laboratory for learning, provide students with a technology-rich environment
and possibly group students in a couple of grades together for better
continuity in instruction. Rather than sending kids on a field trip twice
a year, were imagining the children using resources in the community
on a regular basis, whether its University facilities, parks or cultural
institutions, Streim says. She also expects members of the community
to come into the school regularly. One could imagine that a small-business
owner in West Philadelphia might work with a group of middle-school students
on applied math and basic economics issues, or the University City Arts
League might offer some of their activities to children in the school.
concept of multiple-age groupings, she says, recognizes the fact that
children learn at different paces, and it allows individual learning to
occur at its own trajectory. Because they would be with the same small
group of children for two years, teachers could get to know their students
break down some of the traditional boundaries of learning, Streims committee
also advocates extended-day and year-round schooling. Just as valid as
the math lesson held during school hours, she points out, may be the time
students spend at 4 p.m. in the studio with resident artists.
search for a school principal will begin this fall and core staff will
be hired after that. Streim says theyll be looking for candidates who
are not just well-qualified in their content areas, but who also have
experience with using technology or leading professional-
development programs for their peers.
and education, says Stephen Schutt, have truly driven the process of
school design. The architectural plans are the work of Tony Atkin GAr74,
an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Fine Arts who is with the
Philadelphia firm Atkin Olshin Lawson-Bell.
Lussenhop, managing director of institutional real estate for the University
and a co-chair of the new schools facility/site committee, notes some
of the highlights, which include places for teachers to retire to discuss
professional development; more classrooms than in a typical school to
accommodate the lower student-teacher ratio; and generous-sized classrooms
to permit an easy flow of professionals in and out of the room in a way
that doesnt interrupt the class.
features will be retained where possible on the school property, providing
both recreational outlets and opportunities for the occasional outdoor
biology lesson, he says. There is not just one playground. There are
multiple outdoor spaces that the building opens up onto.
contrast to what one might find in a traditional school, this building
also will feature a mix of assembly spacessort of public squares, if
you willwithin the school, Lussenhop says. Flexibility is the key word
in all of this. An atrium at the front of the building, a large
seminar room on the third floor, a cafeteria, and a combined gym/auditorium
will provide places for students, staff and the community to gather.
envision that the new school will offer a range of recreational opportunities
and services to the community, from computer training and arts classes
to day-care, parent-education programs and home-ownership workshops. It
could also be a venue for civic forums, musical presentations and club
close as we can get to this, we really would like this to be a 24-hour-a-day
facility, says Schutt. The idea of a school that is a center for community
activity has been a driving force for this project from the start.
Parent-Infant Center, which currently operates day care on the school
site, will continue to do so and will likely expand its services. (Another
tenant on the site, the Penn Childrens Center, has been relocated.)
been part of a vision of University-community relations that Judith Rodin
brought to the University when she came here in 1995 that we establish
a place of this sort, Schutt says.
I think the benefits of that for the University will be a stronger, more
vibrant community at our doorstep, and I think the benefit to the community
will be a more engaged university participating in its affairs and activities.
And I think everyone is going to benefit as a result of that.
to feature: The
Education of Pedro Ramos