This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Plans for a new K-8 school in the Feltonville neighborhood designed by a group of about 50 parents, school staff members, and community activists are moving forward, as School District staff have proposed the planned school’s inclusion in the District’s capital budget.
Local residents and school staff members started their campaign for the school five years ago, when they came together through the Feltonville Education Focus Group in search of a solution to overcrowding in the neighborhood’s schools. The need for a new school was clear to Focus Group members, many of whom had been instrumental in the creation of the Central East Middle School 12 years ago.
Community members were upset that over 300 students who are assigned to Feltonville Elementary School are bused to another school several miles away because Feltonville does not have enough space to accommodate all of the neighborhood’s children. Many of these students (who begin to be bused in the second grade) speak little or no English, making the trip more unsettling for them.
The new K-8 school would allow all of the neighborhood’s students to come together in one common school. Currently, most students are either bused or attend Feltonville, Barton Elementary, and Central East Middle Schools.
The community has proposed that the school be a campus of three free-standing school buildings within a one-block radius. The community’s plan uses the existing Barton and Central East facilities, and includes the construction of a new school for upper grades on adjacent land. The group proposes that the Feltonville/Horn facilities be used for early childhood education programs.
Even identifying the land for the new school building was a community-led effort. Community members spotted it five years ago and then pursued approval for its purchase from the School District.
Despite operating in three separate buildings, the campus would be run as a single school – with one principal, one Home and School Council, a consistent curriculum across grades, and an opportunity for teachers to work together across grades.
Cindy Engst, a teacher at Central East Middle School since its creation and member of the Feltonville Education Focus Group, sees strong benefits to this approach.
“Portfolios will follow students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Teachers will have a lot more information about students,” she explains. “Students will understand which way their education will be moving.”
The Feltonville Education Focus Group members say they are aiming for a fall 2004 opening for the new school.