Five Philadelphia schools were named “community schools” Monday, earning them extra resources from the city’s Office of Education — paid for with the city’s controversial sweetened beverage tax.
The new cohort, announced by Mayor Jim Kenney and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. at Richard Wright Elementary, are the first new community schools named since 2017. They were chosen from among a pool of 28 applicants.
— Wright, a K-5 school enrolling 500 students in North Philadelphia.
— Alexander K. McClure, a K-5 school serving 651 students in Hunting Park.
— Overbrook Educational Center, a K-8 school in West Philadelphia enrolling 300.
— John H. Webster Elementary, a K-5 school educating 750 children in Kensington.
— Hamilton Disston School, a K-8 school serving 900 students in Tacony.
The five join 12 existing community schools, which with the additions will have a proposed five-year budget of $36.4 million. (The current community schools are Cramp, F.S. Edmonds, Gideon, Gompers, Locke, Logan, and Southwark Elementary Schools; Tilden Middle School; and Dobbins, Kensington Health Sciences, and South Philadelphia and George Washington High Schools.)
Community schools are a signature initiative of the Kenney administration; they embed social services and other supports inside Philadelphia School District buildings in an effort to remove barriers to learning. Each school gets a city-paid staffer to assess the school and community’s needs and to build and maintain partnerships based on those needs.
Each community school has a different focus. For example, George Washington High School focuses on college and career exploration, cultural and social opportunities for students, and supports for immigrants. Logan Elementary’s priorities are mental and behavioral health supports for students, after-school activities, and access to healthy foods.
Community schools were a campaign promise from Kenney’s first mayoral race. He initially pledged 25 community schools by 2020; a lengthy court battle over the legality of the sweetened beverage tax scaled back those ambitions. The administration now promises 20 by 2020.
Attendance at current community schools has improved 13 percent on average, and the schools have expanded after-school programs for hundreds of elementary students and connected hundreds of adults to job training and adult education classes, officials said.
A recent study by Research for Action, a nonpartisan nonprofit, concluded that the effort’s results have been mixed. Community schools have netted some victories, but have not yet been transformed, the study said. It also said the initiative has been held back by lacks of standardized systems, stronger central leadership and more collaboration across sectors.
“I am encouraged by the early signs of success” at community schools, Kenney said Monday at a news conference announcing the new schools.
Principals of the chosen schools said they were eager to begin work. Five new community school coordinators will be hired this summer, and needs assessments will be completed for each school and community.
Jeannine Payne, Wright’s principal, said she’s hoping to be able to strengthen work already being done around nutrition. Wright could also use more after-school programs and parent-education courses, she said.
And Alyson Cohen, a teacher at Overbrook Education Center who helped write the school’s application for the city program, sees benefits for her students, third through fifth graders with special needs. Overbrook is the only Philadelphia public school that educates children with visual impairments, and its children come from all over the city.