This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Imagine a public high school in Philadelphia where class sizes are small, test scores are high, and violent incidents are almost non-existent.
Now imagine that the school – the week before school starts – is still begging for more students to enroll.
That’s the scenario at Hill-Freedman World Academy in Northwest Philadelphia, known to a few parents as one of the Philadelphia School District’s best-kept secrets.
Principal Anthony Majewski has been determined to turn the high-performing Hill-Freedman Middle School into a high school.
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, he got the go-ahead from the School District and $2.6 million in expansion cash from the Philadelphia School Partnership, but he faced a major hurdle. The existing Hill-Freedman building isn’t big enough to support a full slate of grades, from 6th through 12th.
So he’s spent much of the last year sweating about finding an alternative.
"I am a bit scared about, am I, is the community and the leadership team, able to pull this off?" Majewski said last October. "And that’s scary because we have a lot of kids who put their trust, we have a lot of parents who put their trust, in us."
Both then and now, the District’s financial constraints have made expansion extremely challenging.
In the meantime, Hill-Freedman’s inaugural freshman class squeezed into the existing building, trusting that another location would be secured by sophomore year.
But by last winter break, the District informed Majewski that the building he had hoped to adopt – the former Ada Lewis Middle School – would be too expensive to rehabilitate, at $15 million.
As the District sorted through other options, Majewski was again left to worry about how his students would react.
As a selective-admission magnet school, Hill-Freedman enrolls the sort of students who could get into the best schools in the city. With all the drama surrounding the building, kids and parents could easily think: Wouldn’t Central or Science Leadership Academy be a much safer choice?