Popular Central High president to retire

Dr. Sheldon S. Pavel, longtime president of Central High, is retiring in July. Pavel is shown here in a file photo with a student, posing outside Central's library.

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.

It's been an emotional day for Sheldon S. Pavel, who recently announced his retirement as president of Central High at the end of the school year.  News began leaking out this morning, and by mid-afternoon, every student in the large school knew.

"I've really been blessed," Pavel said of his time at Central.  "I've had the opportunity to serve young people over the years, and they are the most extraordinary group of young people that come anywhere.  They come in all shapes and sizes and genders and neighborhoods and incomes and religions and politics and ethnicities.  It's been one hell of a ride to try and help mix that all together."

Central, he said, "is the way the world should be - people respect difference, they appreciate it, they learn from it."

The best part of his job?

"The kids," he said.  "That's easy."

The hardest part?

"Not having all the tools that I'd like to have to be able to do everything that I'd want to do," Pavel said.

Central remains a hugely popular choice for Philadelphia students.  This year, the school received 4,450 applications for its freshman class.  It will accept 1,000 of them, and Pavel expects a freshman class of between 650 and 700.


Sheldon S. Pavel, the popular principal of Philadelphia's Central High School, is retiring at the end of July, district officials confirm.

Pavel is known as Central's "president," a nod to that school's long history and its unique role - it is the only high school in the nation authorized to grant graduates degrees, not simply diplomas. The school is one of the country's oldest, established in 1838; it remains one of the city's premier magnet schools.

Pavel is a district veteran who came to Central as its 13th president in 1984, shortly after a judge ordered the school to admit female students.  There were protests; it was an uncomfortable environment.

"Shelly means a lot to the school," said Alan Budman, a former Central Alumni Association president. "He came in at a difficult time, a very tumultous time, and he handled it very, very well."

Pavel welcomed female students, helped build the school's enrollment - it is now the second-largest school in the city, with over 2,000 students - and raised its standards, Budman said.

"He's done a tremendous job," Budman said.  "He's worked tirelessly."

Under Pavel's supervision, the school has won national honors, including being recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2011.  Last year, Pavel also won a prestigious Lindback Award for excellence in administration. 

In an e-mail announcing his retirement, Pavel said he told his staff the news on Wednesday.  Last night, he told alumni.

"I started with the SDP in 1969 and at Central in January of 1984.  I have been at Central longer than 13 of my teachers have been alive," Pavel wrote.

The time to leave the school was right, Pavel said.

Central folks - what's your favorite Dr. Pavel memory? Share in the comments.