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Students continue push for smaller schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A local campaign for small schools continues, with student organizing groups Youth United for Change (YUC) and Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) pushing to convert their large high schools into small, autonomous schools as part of the District’s school
construction plan.

At Kensington High School, a design team for the new high school has met, with representation from YUC and several Latino community groups in the surrounding neighborhood.

Kenneth Ramos, a YUC member and sophomore at Kensington, said that the process has been one of "compromise and negotiation" but said he is encouraged that the concept of small schools is on the negotiating table.

At West Philadelphia High School, PSU members are still unsure about what their role will be in the design process for the new high school. Although PSU members have received the backing for their small schools plan from all of the neighborhood associations in the area and a unanimous vote of support from the local school council, Executive Director Eric Braxton voiced concern that the student group was "being left out of the process" and that "inside players" were making decisions about the school’s future.

In May, District CEO Paul Vallas invited small schools supporters to submit a proposal to establish a "small schools office" within the central administration. Some advocates say such an office would help to institutionalize the administration’s commitment to small schools. Several other large urban districts have offices dedicated to small schools, including Chicago, where Vallas was formerly District CEO.

Kensington sophomore Ramos was tentatively supportive of the concept. "I think it’s a good idea as long as there’s community involvement," he said.

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