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Kensington to get a fourth small school with urban education theme

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

I am very pleased to report that a fourth Kensington small school will open next year.

At a meeting of the Kensington School and Community Coalition last week, School District Chief of Staff Tomas Hanna announced that in the fall when Kensington CAPA moves into its new building, a new small school will open in KCAPA’s place in the old building.

This is great news for many in the Kensington community who had been concerned that the District might decide to use the space created by KCAPA’s move to make Kensington Business into a large school again.

In 2005, more than 140 students, parents, teachers, and community members participated in creating a plan for Kensington that called for creating four small schools. That process was initiated by students from Youth United for Change and organized by the Philadelphia Education Fund.

That plan called for the fourth school to have a social justice theme. Mr. Hanna announced that the fourth small school would have an urban education theme. The creation of a school that would prepare students to become teachers is part of Dr. Ackerman’s strategic plan.

There seemed to be a consensus at the meeting that a social justice philosophy could be incorporated into the urban education theme. As one community leader said, “any good urban education school would have to include social justice.”

Mr. Hanna also announced that the District intends to hire the principal for the new school soon to allow time for planning before the school opens. Members of the Kensington community have been concerned about the discrepancy between the planning time allowed for small schools in Center City and those in Kensington, which existed under the Vallas administration.

The creation of this fourth small school is the result of years of organizing by students and community members. That work made a fortuitous match between the community’s desire for a new small school and Dr. Ackerman’s desire for an urban education school. It would be a leap to say that this development means that the administration is supportive of the concept of small neighborhood high schools, but folks in the Kensington community are not concerned about that today.

I am interested to see how this urban education themed school plays out. Mr. Hanna talked about the need for more teachers of color in the District, and that those future teachers are probably our current students.

Given the great need for teachers from our communities, and that the District has career themed schools and programs, an urban education school seems to make a lot of sense. I doubt that the school will produce a lot of new teachers from Kensington anytime soon. Helping people from our neighborhoods become teachers would require the addition of an intensive grow-your-own program the way Chicago has done. Something I hope the District will consider in the future.

That, however, is not the point here. The idea of career themed academies is not to put people on to a career track at the age of 14, but rather to provide a hook that engages students in learning.

Urban Education seems like a perfectly good hook and a great way of encouraging students into an important field with good jobs. The focus also helps meet the community’s goal of a new small school with a social justice philosophy, which should be viewed as a victory for everyone.