Public school pays off for Philly family

At Stanton Elementary in Center City are the Scotts, (from left) Rhett, Henry, and parents Jill and Mark. Four years ago, they took a chance on public schools - and never looked back.

Reporter Kristen Graham and editor Yvette Ousley chatted live about this story and the reaction it received on Philly.com at noon on Wednesday, September 14. Read the transcript here.

Choosing to send their older son to a city public school four years ago was a leap of faith for Jill and Mark Scott.

Like so many young families, the Scotts were devoted to Philadelphia but not fully sold on its school system; from Henry's infancy, people warned them that they would have to move or spend big on private school.

Henry attended a charter for kindergarten; he even won a coveted spot at Independence Charter School for first grade. But his community-minded parents wanted to believe in their neighborhood school, so they passed on Independence and gave E.M. Stanton a shot.

The result?

Their boy "has done as well as we could have hoped for him anywhere; the education has been fantastic," Mark Scott said. Henry just entered fifth grade at prestigious Masterman, a district magnet, and Rhett, his younger brother, starts kindergarten at Stanton this week.

"We have no regrets," said Jill Scott.

In the years they took a chance on public school, the Scotts have become evangelists for the cause. Don't assume your neighborhood public school isn't an option, they tell families like theirs who toy with the idea of leaving the city or considering private or charter schools. Consider neighborhood schools, and not just the names everyone knows.

The Scotts have worked to dispel myths: No, they never worried about Henry's safety. He had great teachers. He made nice friends. Jill and Mark Scott believe that Henry thrived at Stanton in a way he wouldn't have elsewhere. He played violin and learned yoga and meditation. He joined a Lego robotics team, helped design a schoolyard, explored classes at University of the Arts, and experienced field trips that have shaped his world view.

Sending Henry to Stanton has caused the Scotts to feel more confident in letting the 10-year-old explore his Southwest Center City neighborhood.

"He knows everyone," Mark Scott said.

"He's learned to value community more than I did at his age," said Jill Scott.

Make no mistake - it wasn't always easy.

Stanton, at 17th and Christian, is a K-8 school that educates 330 students. It's not a top citywide performer academically, but is making progress.

It has fought back two attempts to close it and endured the same draconian budget cuts as every other Philadelphia public school, losing staff and relying on partnerships to sustain its strong arts program.

"Sadly," wise-beyond-his-years Henry said, "my teacher had to leave because of budget cuts."

That was last year, when Henry, mayor of his fourth-grade class, took it upon himself to write a petition to keep the teacher, gathered 300 signatures, and sent it to school district headquarters.

Stanton wasn't able to save Henry's teacher, but he learned a great deal.

"He's seeing civics in action because of the climate of public schools," said Jill, a social worker.

"He's had to learn how to advocate for himself and his peers," said Mark, who works in project management for a developer.

Jill Scott helped establish Stanton Community Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the school and public education generally - one of a number of such groups around the city springing up or getting new life from an infusion of young parents trying to make neighborhood schools work.

Jill and Mark Scott have pounded the pavement for donations and made them themselves. They have helped with teacher appreciation days and helped secure grants that will eventually yield a $735,000 playground at the school.

And more and more, Stanton is becoming a possibility for families in the gentrifying neighborhood near the old Graduate Hospital.

Henry himself would strongly recommend it.

"I had a lot of options," he said. "And it's a very diverse school."

The Scotts realize that Stanton has advantages other schools don't - a long-term principal who welcomes parents and partners into the school, a stable faculty, a history of cohesive community. They and others have a responsibility to all schools, the Scotts believe.

"We all have an obligation to try to improve experiences for our students - all of them," Jill Scott said.

Stacey Burnley, Stanton's principal, had tears in her eyes four years ago when Mark Scott told her Henry would attend Stanton.

And now, with the Scotts and a host of other neighbors invested in the school, in public schools, the school is thriving.

"Five years ago, I never could have anticipated where we would be today," Burnley said. "We're becoming smarter about how to get resources, and how to sustain them. It's pretty cool, right?"

kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146@newskag

www.philly.com/schoolfiles

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