Youth United for Change presents plan for Olney

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Youth United for Change (YUC), a student organization with a history of education reform activism, presented their plan for dividing troubled Olney High School into six small schools at a community meeting in April. Last fall, the school was divided into two separate schools by constructing a wall; each opened the school year with about 1000 students.

YUC’s plan, presented by students from the group’s Olney chapter, is based on published research that suggests that to realize major academic and behavioral gains, small schools should be no larger than 400 students.

The proposal calls for the partition of the existing building into four autonomous schools with a second building holding two additional schools. The schools would share some facilities and have joint extracurricular activities.

Along with a three-year history of pressing for small schools at Olney, YUC has led a community-based effort to implement a small school model at Kensington High School.

Students have visited successful small schools in New York and Oakland and have interviewed educators with expertise in this area.

A “design team” of community members and parents is being formed to further develop and promote the plan for Olney. School District officials have indicated that they are open to proposals for improving the school, which continues to suffer from high absenteeism, a high dropout rate, and low test scores.

But District CEO Paul Vallas said in a May interview that there are no plans to create more than two schools at Olney. He said student enrollment at the two existing schools will be reduced significantly due to a new charter high school opening in the neighborhood next year. Vallas also said the District lacks the funds to construct a new Olney High School – a project that had been included in the District’s two most recent annual capital budget plans.

YUC member Anthony Warrick, an 11th grader at Olney, said YUC’s plan can be achieved with “a commitment from the community to create small schools at Olney and money from the School District.”

For more information on YUC’s work at Olney High School, call 215-423-9588.