Strong partnerships build strong schools and communities | Opinion

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Mayor Kenney speaks with a student after the ribbon-cutting for St. Malachy School in North Philadelphia last year.

Legendary aviator Amelia Earhart once acknowledged, “Mostly, my flying has been solo, but the preparation for it wasn’t.” She was speaking of the strong partnership she forged with her husband, their mutual help and encouragement, their consistent working together toward shared goals.

As members of the Independence Mission Schools network, we are mindful that strong partnerships have been critical to our growth and achievement over the last four years in opening doors to quality educational opportunities for Philadelphia schoolchildren while also helping them develop into responsible citizens ready to serve their communities and the world.

As leaders at two elementary schools — St. Malachy Catholic School in North Philadelphia and DePaul Catholic School in Germantown — dedicated to implementing that vision, we know we cannot soar to new heights solely on our own. We have been blessed to work with partners both within and outside our school communities to ensure our students succeed.

Both St. Malachy and DePaul have received funding from the Philadelphia School Partnership to support key initiatives, such as implementing a blended learning curriculum that leverages technology to allow students to work at their own level, while giving teachers real-time data to drive targeted small-group instruction that best meets each student’s particular needs.

The result of this teaching approach has been a gain of close to a year and a half of reading growth in a single school year for students at St. Malachy. The average eighth grader at DePaul performed more than 15 percentage points above the national average in reading last year on the Terra Nova, our nationally-normed summative assessment.

Both of our schools have benefited from partnerships with the Philadelphia Pathway to Leadership in Urban Schools (PhillyPLUS) program, leadership training for aspiring principals that helped us strengthen our evaluation of classroom lessons and give teachers concrete feedback to support improve. PhillyPLUS helps administrators partner with teachers to create thriving classrooms where students excel.

In addition to cultivating critical external partnerships, we believe in partnering with families and communities to work hand in hand toward common goals of success for every student. Our tradition of cultivating culture and community has always been at the heart of Catholic education. With this foundation, we welcome our neighbors into our schools at every opportunity to get acquainted with each other, learn from one another, and share why we believe in the value of a Catholic education.

During the first week of school at DePaul, teachers hold Welcome Conferences with all families to hear their thoughts on how best to serve each student throughout the school year. At New Family Orientation Day, students spent part of the day with their new teachers getting to know them and sharing about themselves. And we have teamed up with local vendors to host block parties to celebrate the start of school.

At St. Malachy, through generous philanthropic support, we have invested in developing a state-of-the-art outdoor complex that boasts a playground, basketball courts, and sports fields, which will be open for neighborhood children to enjoy.

Finally, our schools could not succeed without the strong partnerships among our faculty and staff — both within our individual schools and across the IMS network. St. Malachy and DePaul, like many Catholic schools, thrive on having a strong school culture. We spend time with our staff over the summer and throughout the year focusing on our mission, vision and core values.

At St. Malachy, our values are passion, purpose, and perseverance. At DePaul, they are faith, honor, initiative, perseverance, and community. We believe in incorporating these values into everything we do, and our faculty and staff model these values with one another and for our students each and every day.

We know that these values lay the foundation for success for our students and school communities. And thanks to supporters and investors, we can learn and grow alongside 13 other Independence Mission Schools across the city — working to provide a transformative Catholic education to 5,000 children of all faiths in low-income neighborhoods. Despite our unique communities and traditions, we are united in our determination to improve and learn from one another, for the betterment of our schools and the communities they serve.

For many decades, Catholic schools such as ours have played an important role in educating future leaders of Philadelphia, St. Malachy since 1860 and DePaul (dating back to the original St. Francis of Assisi school) since 1899. We are proud to carry on this tradition while recognizing that we cannot reach our fullest potential without collaboration.

Strong partnerships, with innovative organizations, with communities across the city, and among our IMS network of schools, will fuel us as we fly to greater heights — allowing us to give our students as much opportunity to succeed as the sky will limit.

Steve Janczewski is the principal of St. Malachy Catholic School. sjanczewski@stmalachyphila.org
Colleen McKenzie is the assistant principal at the DePaul Catholic School. cmckenzie@thedepaulcatholicschool.org