When the High School of the Future opened amid the rolling green grass of Fairmount Park four years ago, many parents eagerly sought a place there for their children.
On its first day, Sept. 7, 2006, former school district superintendent Paul Vallas and former Mayor John Street rang bells outside the school in Parkside to start the new year.
It was an expansive, space-age-looking facility - dubbed the "Microsoft School" because the company helped design it - where every student was issued laptops and textbooks weren't required.
Now, Ivy Dixon, whose daughter Soleil is among the first group of seniors to graduate after spending four years there, said she and her daughter feel cheated.
"There are too many learners at the school whose college options are limited due to the lack of solid foundations in core subject matters delivered by the majority of inexperienced educators," Dixon told the School Reform Commission yesterday.
Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman told Dixon that other parents had come to her this spring with similar concerns about students' lacking "foundational skills" as teens began getting the results of their SAT scores and applying to colleges.
"This is not the first time I've heard this," Ackerman said. "We are looking at the curriculum at High School of the Future. We'll definitely be making some changes."
Later, senior class president Quetta Fairy said students were told earlier this year that only 48 of the 120 members of the senior class would be eligible to graduate.
"Now, we can't seem to get any answers on how many will actually graduate," Fairy said.
But she said a number of students feel that low SAT scores have meant they will have to go to a community college.
According to Dixon, and several students who accompanied her yesterday, the school's focus on computer-based learning may have left some students struggling with the basics.
"We don't have any textbooks there, and we need them," Dixon told the commission.
Fairy added later, "It's hard to sketch out a math problem on a laptop."
Two students did speak in favor of the "project-based learning" curriculum in use at the school.
Mahcaiyah Wearing-Gooden said she was happy with the school and was going to Green Mountain College in Vermont in the fall.
Lorenzo Bridges said some students complaining about the school "didn't do so well; now they are looking for an excuse."
Dixon said she sent her daughter Soleil to Catholic school though eighth grade and is now sorry she didn't transfer her back when Soleil told her she wanted to leave the School of the Future.
"I wanted my daughter to be able to go to schools like Howard or Spelman," Dixon said in an interview.
But her SAT scores were not high enough, Soleil said.