It still doesn’t have a name, but the Penn-assisted public school opened in September. Here are some pictures, plus a talk with Principal—and Penn alumna—Sheila Sydnor.

Photography by Candace diCarlo

“I think it’s a principal’s dream to be the first administrator of a brand new school,” says Sheila Sydnor CW’74 GEd’97. “You get to see it from the beginning.”
      Sydnor’s dream—and that of a lot of other people on Penn’s campus and in West Philadelphia who’d been working toward it for three sometimes-contentious years—came true this fall when the University-Assisted Pre-K-8 Public School opened its doors to about 80 kindergarten and first-grade students.
      It was 1998 when the University announced a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia and the Federation of Teachers to create a new public school as a key element in efforts to revitalize West Philadelphia, pledging up to $700,000 in annual funding for 10 years. Though the plan enjoyed support in many quarters, there were disputes over the boundaries of the “catchment area” to be served and the potentially negative impacts on other local schools. Despite those issues, which were resolved last year [“The Community’s Schoolhouse,” September/October 2000], and construction delays, the school’s September 2001 opening was as originally scheduled.
      Plans call for starting a fifth-grade class next year, then adding classes each year as pupils progress to reach an enrollment of 700 students by 2005. For this year, the school is housed in the oldDivinity School building at 42nd and Locust streets, but by next September Sydnor expects to be in an adjacent new structure, currently under construction—by which time they also hope to have decided on a name.
      Sydnor, who was selected as principal of the school in late May after a national search, grew up in West Philadelphia and attended Hamilton Elementary, Sayre Junior High, and West Philadelphia High School. “I had a good schooling,” she recalls. “I had great teachers. I remember a lot of them. My experiences were very good and very rewarding.”
      After graduating from Penn with a major in education, Sydnor began teaching in Philadelphia public schools. In her 25 years as a teacher, she experienced both the move to “open” classrooms and more experimental educational methods and the reverse-pendulum swing in more recent years toward a “back-to-basics” approach—exemplified by the requirement that public-school students wear uniforms. At the Penn-assisted school, that means white shirts and navy-blue pants and skirts.
      “We never had uniforms when I came through, but there still was some type of dress code—there were certain things you could not wear,” such as jeans, Sydnor says. “I think the uniforms are great. It makes it easier for parents. It’s a little difficult at times when they’re all together to figure out who’s who because they all look alike now, but we don’t have the discussions or the conflicts about who has on what.”



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