The Graduate School of Education associate dean was a part of a groundbreaking collaboration to create a great neighborhood school.
Photo by Candace diCarlo
Three years ago, the University announced that it would help create a new public elementary school in University City. The school will open Sept. 6.
It is beginning small. Its first students will be three classes each of kindergarteners and first graders, but eventually, the school will serve 700 students from pre-kindergarten up to grade eight, phasing in the other grades by the 2005-2006 school year.
The classes also begin small, with kindergarten planned at up to 17 students per class, and the upper grades with 23 per class.
Three weeks before opening day, Nancy Streim, who has represented the Graduate School of Education (GSE) in overseeing the educational planning for the school, talked about seeing her three years of work become reality.
Streim, who came to Penn in 1988, is associate dean for graduate and professional education in the GSE.
Q. How many people do you have space for and how many have registered?
A. We have space this first year for 120 students and we have at this point, toward the end of the summer, registered close to 80. We understand that it is most typical for the bulk of public school registrations to occur right around the beginning of the school year.
And the students who are registering reflect a wonderful diversity that represent the diversity of West Philadelphia. Its diverse ethnically, and there are many international students. There are students from 16 or 18 different countries.
Q.Can you tell me about the selection of school Principal Sheila Sydnor?
A. We selected an outstanding principal who happens to be a West Philadelphia native. She happens also to be both a Penn graduate as well as a graduate of Temple and Beaver and other local institutions. Shes a very experienced principal whos been in the School District of Philadelphia for 25 years, and she brings just the most wonderful mix of experience and wisdom and sensitivities to the community and understanding of the instructional goals of the school.
Q. What school did she come from?
A. She came from M. Hall Stanton [elementary] School in North Philadelphia.
Q. Why did the selection process take so long?
A.We started the process of searching for a principal a little later than what we had anticipated. We certainly didnt experience a shortage of candidates. We had 60 applications from all over the country.
Q. How about your faculty? Is everyone on board?
A. Yes. Everyone is on board for this year. We have six classroom teachers, three kindergarten, three first grade, and then a couple of specialist teachers. Theres an art teacher and theres a computer teacher and theres a psychologist and a nurse.
The reason we chose to have a computer teacher as one of our first specialists really speaks to the importance that technology is going to play in the design of education at this school. So not only will this person be a teacher working directly with children, but she has the unique opportunity of helping to plan and design how technology is going to be integrated and implemented throughout the school once the new building us up.
Q. Is the school going to work?
A. We know what it takes to make a school work. What this school gives us is an opportunity to put it all in place, with a set of partners who are willing to cooperate, put aside some of their historic differences and make it work to demonstrate that it can work. What we know at the University across many fields about how children learn and what children ought to learn and how children develop and what is needed to become a productive citizen in a technological world, we know all that.
Q. Besides your role in the education planning, what else have you
done for this school?
A. During one period of this time, I chaired the Educational Programming Committee, planning the framework and the vision and the mission for the school. Now I also am involved in construction and facilities insofar as they are to serve the educational purposes of the school. And Im involved in the planning for community programs insofar as they are to serve the community of families and children attending the school.
Q. And did you have any idea that you would ever in your life get
to create a school like this?
A.Never in a million years would I have imagined myself in this place. And I couldnt be happier. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, to start a school, particularly one that is this very unique constellation of partners.
Universities do occasionally start schools or take over schools, but to have the University, at all levels were starting from the presidents office, with a vision from the presidents office team up with a major urban school district, and the teachers union, which is a powerful force in the educational community here and get creative together and put this school together and have it serve the community has really been a dream.
And then to involve the community in the planning. Im bowled over by the whole thing.
We have a lot in front of us. Weve planned very carefully, and weve done the best that we know how to do in bringing together all of the different partners that we know to bring together, but in many ways, when the rubber hits the road next month, when children show up, and were dealing with real kids and real education needs and goals, its very exciting.
Q. How about the political issues that have dogged the schools
A. Being on the inside of the process, I wish I could convince the community that all of the partners are really working to create the best school possible and strengthen the neighborhood, to celebrate its diversity, not to diminish its diversity, and I think thats visible in the way the catchment [enrollment eligibility] area cuts a broad swath across University City and represents a full range of diversities from ethnicity to socioeconomic to cultural. This is an entirely well-intentioned partnership to strengthen and solidify the community. And its hard sometimes to convince people that thats the case.
Q. Is the school going to get a name?
A. The partners have decided that the naming of the school ought to be a community activity so over the course of this first year there will be some kind of a process where the children and the families of the community will be able to weigh in on what the name of the school ought to be. So our thought is that by a year from now, when the building opens, it will also have a name.
On the cover: Streim at the building site for the new, Penn-assisted school slated to open Sept. 6.
Above: Streim in a classroom nearly ready for the Sept. 6 opening of the new school.
Call Ann Kreidle, planning coordinator for the Penn-assisted school, at 215-573-6122. She can help you determine if your child is eligible.
For more information about the school, visit www.upenn.edu/president/westphilly/education.htm.
Originally published on August 30, 2001