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Live from the SRC: a new HS for North Philly

North Philadelphia is getting a new high school in 2017, and the Philadelphia Housing Authority will spend millions to make it happen.

On Thursday night, the School Reform Commission is expected to approve a plan that would sell the old Vaux High School to PHA for $2 million. The Philadelphia School District will re-open Vaux as a neighborhood high school in September, with education company Big Picture Learning running the school. (The school will be staffed by district educators, represented by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.)

PHA has said it will commit up to $15 million into renovating the building. It will also provide the district with up to $500 per student annually.

Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA CEO, said the move would help transform Sharswood into a "neighborhood of choice." The housing authority is dedicating significant resources to redevelopment in that section of North Philadelphia, which was hard hit by school closings over the past decade.

"We and our partners are building hundreds of homes, creating a commerical corridor and moving our headquarters to the neighborhood, but this innovative school will provide the glue that binds the community together," Jeremiah said in a release.

The school will serve 500 students, with automatic admission offered to students who now attend Morris and Meade Elementary Schools, and the remainder of the student body populated by a lottery among other students in North Philadelphia. If seats remain after North Philadelphia students enroll, a citywide lottery will be offered.

The new Vaux will be a part of the district's innovation network.

"High school students often travel across the city to find high-quality schools that meet their needs and interests," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in the statement. "As we work toward our goal of great schools close to where children live, the district is proud to provide more educational opportunities in the growing Sharswood neighborhood."

Big Picture, which has operated alternative programs in Philadelphia, is well-known and respected in national education circles. It focuses on small classes, strong relationships among students and staff, and learning centered on students' interests. Vaux students will have internships, engage in project-based learning, and stay with the same advisory group for four years.

The school will also have social services - a health and dental clinic, student counseling, financial counseling, and human services.

Thursday's SRC meeting, at which the Vaux resolution will be considered, promises to be a busy one. Also on the agenda is consideration of a second school for the Folk-Arts Cultural Treasures charter school. The charter is scheduled to be denied, a decision that has raised ire in some circles. State Rep. Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House, has made his displeasure known, firing off a letter to the SRC extolling the virtues of FACTs and reminding the commission of their duty to consider new charters.

Turzai said the concerns about FACTS "are ostensibly 'technical' in nature but really may be designed to just prevent approval of this charter school and a policy of slowing down or preventing the approval of charter schools going forward. We hope that this is not the case, but the decision at hand here raises such a question."

FACTS' leaders have attempted to discuss barriers to a new charter with district staff, but have been blocked from scheduling a meeting, Turzai wrote.

There's plenty more on the agenda, too, including consideration of two new school calendars. Follow along here, or on Twitter, for live coverage of the meeting.