19 high-performing District schools to expand

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

by Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

The District will add 2,272 seats across 19 high-performing traditional public schools beginning next September, officials announced Tuesday.

“This lets the city of Philadelphia know that the District is investing in the growth of high-quality, high-performing school options,” said Penny Nixon, chief academic officer.

A total of 1,802 seats will be added in 11 high schools, all of which are either special admission or citywide admission schools. In six elementary and two middle schools, 470 seats will be added. All of the schools are highly rated, with scores of 3 or better on the District’s 10-point School Performance Index (SPI) scale. On that scale, 1 is the top score.

Under the District’s plan, the Philadelphia High School for Girls will experience the single largest expansion, adding 334 students.

“We are more than ready for the challenge,” said Girls’ High principal Parthenia Moore, who hosted Tuesday’s announcement.

“The rigor that we have at our school will not be watered down in any way, shape, or form.”

E.M. Stanton Elementary, recently spared from closure after a vigorous advocacy effort by parents and supporters, will add 60 students. AMY Northwest, a special admission middle school, and Middle Years Academy Alternative, a citywide admission middle school, will each add 100 students.

Nixon said the cash-strapped District expects the expansion to be revenue-neutral, but exact costs won’t be known until next year’s school enrollments are finalized in October.

Because school budgets are tied to student enrollment, the 19 schools slated for expansion will receive additional resources. Girls’ High, for example, could add as many as 15 new teachers, Moore said.

Processes for selecting and enrolling new students will remain the same at the special admission and citywide admission schools involved. For next year, these schools will seek to pull extra students from their current crop of applicants, although Nixon said the application process could be opened back up if necessary.

The elementary school seats will be filled by highlighting these schools as available to families through the little-used school-choice provision under No Child Left Behind. This allows students in schools flagged for low achievement to transfer to better schools. Parents of eligible students will be notified by mail.

“The commitment is to make sure we fill every seat,” Nixon said.

She said she had been pushing for months to make Tuesday’s announcement a reality. The idea began in response to the District’s facilities master plan, through which officials hope to shed 40,000 “excess seats.” It gained steam with the School Reform Commission’s participation in the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, which has set a goal of replacing or transforming 50,000 “low-performing seats” over the next five years.

“The [SRC] is clear that we want to focus on quality,” said Nixon. “This is just one of the steps.”

By comparison, the latest round of the District’s Renaissance Schools Initiative calls for shifting roughly 3,000 seats in low-performing traditional public schools over to outside management through conversion to charters.

Both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Philadelphia School Partnership have recently given money to support the expansion of high-quality school options in Philadelphia, with more funds possible in the near future.

But Nixon said there was no external funding to support Tuesday’s announcement.

“This is a District initiative,” she stressed.

Schools that will add seats

Elementary and middle schools

  1. AMY Northwest (100 seats)
  2. Middle Years Academy Alternative (100)
  3. Nebinger (75)
  4. E.M. Stanton (60)
  5. Greenfield (50)
  6. Fox Chase (30)
  7. Greenberg (30)
  8. Fell (25)

High schools

  1. Girls’ High (334 seats)
  2. Randolph Skills Center (300)
  3. Philadelphia Military Academy @ Leeds (265)
  4. Lankenau (163)
  5. Saul (151)
  6. Parkway Center City (152)
  7. Academy at Palumbo (111)
  8. Arts Academy at Rush (98)
  9. Franklin Learning Center (98)
  10. Carver High School of Engineering & Science (88)
  11. CAPA (42)