Keeping middle-class families in Philadelphia public schools

For the first time in decades, Center City has an opportunity to keep families with young children in Philadelphia instead of watching them flee to the suburbs.

So says the Center City District, which on Monday issued a report challenging the city’s leaders and residents to capitalize on the stunning growth of young people in Center City and beyond.

(Read the full report here.)

Many of those new people are starting to have children, creating a baby boom in such neighborhoods in Bella Vista and Fairmount.

That boom could reenergize some local public schools, said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, which works to improve the climate for living and working in the affluent neighborhood at the heart of Philadelphia.

“If you look forward at the demographic wave that is coming, you’ve got a lot of opportunity,” Levy said.

In the area from Tasker Street to Girard Avenue and between the two rivers, the number of children under the age of 5 has grown 42 percent in the last decade, to 5,287.

Many of those children belong to families that can’t afford private school. If more of those parents see their local public school as an option, they might stay in the city, Levy said.

That would help maintain neighborhoods and feed the city’s tax base.

He acknowledged that the timing of the report was complicated for the School District of Philadelphia because superintendent Arlene Ackerman just resigned.

New leadership, however, also provides a chance to pursue fresh ideas, Levy said.

He pointed to Meredith elementary in Queen Village as an example of how local parents, backed by a strong principal, can create a public school with strong academics and a diverse population. About 87 percent of the children in Meredith’s neighborhood go to school there.