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The Real Lesson Being Taught at Penn Alexander
With so much attention and coverage being given to the school district’s handling of the admission process for Penn Alexander, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger lesson this situation teaches us.
1/24/2013

This isn’t about how, when or if the school district should have suddenly imposed a lottery system for a school in the middle of an active first come, first served enrollment process. I think most would agree this process could have been managed more effectively.

We can also agree that Penn Alexander is an excellent neighborhood public school, and therein lies the most important lesson. Thirteen years ago, the school district, University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers collaborated to design the curriculum and select the first staff and leadership of the school. This collaboration, along with additional University-provided funding, helped to create one of the shining examples of what public education in Philadelphia can—and should—look like.

When nearly every conversation about Philadelphia's schools is focused on how save money, Penn Alexander stands as an example of the dialog we should be engaged in: how to make great schools. The extra $1,300 per student made possible by the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates that money does matter. It’s also money well-spent. Despite higher home prices, Penn Alexander is one of the primary reasons the neighborhood is so desirable to families who want to stay in Philadelphia.

It’s a school that was created with input from the community, the school district and teachers. A vision for a great public school, a commitment to collaboration between stakeholders and the investment of necessary resources has created a school that people are willing to fight for.

This may come as news to the SRC, but closing schools for a one percent cost savings will not yield another Penn Alexander. If we’re serious about replicating the success of this neighborhood school, we must replicate the process that created it.

Penn Alexander can be credited for teaching thousands of its students many invaluable lessons for the past 13 years.  Let’s not squander the opportunity to learn what this school can teach us about creating a great public education system.


Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 3, AFL-CIO. All rights reserved. Photographs and illustrations, as well as text, cannot be used without permission from the PFT.