$6 million awarded to grow district schools

2011 file photo: Among the 28 students who took a leap of faith by leaving their neighborhood high schools are Kenrick Tan (left) and (from right) Rasheed Bonds, Angelina Rementer, and Allen Robinson. (April Saul / Staff Photographer)

     A city nonprofit with growing clout will spend $6 million to expand two successful public schools and turn another Philadelphia School District program into a full-fledged high school, officials announced Wednesday.

    The Philadelphia School Partnership’s money will grow the Hill-Freeman magnet middle school in East Germantown into the high school grades; add a second campus of the Science Leadership Academy; and turn the Workshop School, now in its second year as an alternative senior-year project, into its own high school.

    Philadelphia School Partnership, which is well on its way to raising $100 million to invest in strong charter, public and nonpublic schools across the city, has also signaled its intent to give away another roughly $2 million to district schools affected by the School Reform Commission’s move to shut 24 buildings. That money will fund grants to schools receiving large numbers of students from closing schools.

    The investments are good news for at least 1,600 students, even as the rest of the city’s 140,000 young people brace for schools in the fall that might not have sports, counselors, librarians, support staff, adequate books or much else, in the wake of a $300 million-plus deficit.

    But filling gaps in the district’s operating budget is not PSP’s mission.  To date, it has supported growth and turnarounds mostly in charter schools, though it has also given money to expand one successful district neighborhood school.

    Mark Gleason, PSP executive director, said that the organization has been “working really hard to identify great opportunities to invest in district schools.  And we believe firmly that a citywide solution to education requires scaling up what’s great in every sector - district, charter, nonpublic.”

    Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the PSP money would have a significant impact on the district.

    “We are 100 percent committed to giving every child in Philadelphia access to a high-performing school, and the opportunity to graduate ready for college or the work world,” Hite said in a statement.  “This expansion of schools with measurable track records of success will get us 1,600 students closer to that day.”

    The three schools were chosen because they each fill a “unique niche,” Gleason said, and have strong leaders.

    Hill-Freedman, on Crittenden Street in East Germantown, is now a magnet middle school serving 240 students, 70 percent of whom are enrolled in the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program and 30 percent of whom have special needs and participate in a program to help them transition to high school. It will get $2.6 million to eventually turn into school for grades six through 12, 20 percent of whom must be students with special needs.

    Science Leadership Academy, a nationally-renowned, inquiry-based magnet high school in Center City, gets $1.9 million over three years to start a second high school campus of 500 students at the current Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia, which was just spared from closing. A spot at SLA is quickly becoming one of the city’s most sought-after places; it had over 2,000 applications for 125 spots.  The school, which has a partnership with the Franklin Institute, will add 125 seats in the fall.

    The Workshop School, or Sustainability Workshop, currently draws 30 students from high schools across the city, and has drawn considerable national buzz in its second year of operation.  It’s a school without traditional classes - students work on real-world projects that have measurable outcomes.  It gets $1.6 million to eventually add 500 seats for students from across Philadelphia in grades 9 through 12; it will grow to 60 seats in the fall.

    This is a developing story; check tomorrow’s Inquirer for more details.