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Three Philly schools get grants to expand

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

Three of Philadelphia’s most innovative traditional public schools are set to expand, thanks to $6 million in grants from the nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership.

All told, Center City’s Science Leadership Academy, Germantown’s Hill-Freedman Middle School, and the Navy Yard’s Sustainability Workshop are expected to add 1,600 new students over the next three years. The hugely popular SLA, a project-based high school known for its use of technology and its partnership with the Franklin Institute, will expand into a second campus inside Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia.

Beeber was recently given a last-minute reprieve from closure.

PSP executive director Mark Gleason praised his group’s newest grantees.

"These are schools that prepare students of all backgrounds to succeed in college," Gleason said in a statement. "Schools with visionary leaders who have the ability to build outstanding teams of educators, and schools where leaders and teachers believe that all students can achieve at high levels."

In the coming year, PSP is also planning to make an additional $2 million in grants to "receiving schools" — those schools that have been identified to receive an influx of new students after the shuttering of 24 District schools this summer.

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite called the funds "a valuable opportunity for us to work with principals to provide schools with the supplementary resources needed to serve incoming students and replicate our most successful schools and programs."

Grants for receiving schools will be "contingent upon school leaders with strong track records making it through PSP’s grant-approval process with compelling school turnaround plans," according to a statement from the District.

Since being formed in 2010, PSP has given $19.2 million to support the creation of more than 10,000 "high-quality seats" in city schools. All but one of the group’s previous grants had gone to charter or Catholic schools, prompting criticism from some defenders of traditional public schools.

Plans for three schools

At SLA, the plan is for 125 9th graders to form a new class at a second campus to be created inside Beeber Middle School, located in the city’s Wynnefield section. Beeber, which is three-quarters empty, had been recommended for closure before District officials suddenly reversed course last week.

SLA, a selective school that takes students from all over the city, now operates in a leased building at 22nd and Arch streets. The lease, which will cost the District $1.4 million next year, is set to expire in 2016.

SLAMedia, the school’s student-run online news site, reported that the school will maintain a single admissions process and that the new 9th-grade class will be made up of students from the school’s current waiting list.

"This represents an amazing moment in time for the School District to put a stake in the ground and say these are the kinds of schools we value," SLA principal Chris Lehmann told the site.

The PSP grant for SLA is for $1.9 million over three years, with an expectation that 500 new seats will be added.

Hill-Freedman, meanwhile, will receive $2.6 million over three years to add 600 new students and expand to include a high school.

And the Sustainability Workshop, now a pilot project, will expand into a full high school, to be known as the Workshop School. An inaugural class of 60 students is expected to start at the school next fall, at a location to be determined. The school will receive $1.5 million over three years.

The moves to expand three District schools come on the heels of the SRC’s recent decision to close eight others, part of an unprecedented downsizing effort.

Acceptance of the grants and at least some of the expansion plans are contingent on the approval of the School Reform Commission.

PSP’s goal is to give $100 million to "transform or replace" the worst-performing schools in the city and provide 50,000 students with better options. The group has raised more than $50 million to date.

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Notebook.

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