This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Mayor Kenney has lobbied hard for community schools, even pledging a chunk of the revenue from his hard-fought sweetened-drinks tax to seed the initiative. That fight played out in public, defined by the fierce debate that so often attaches itself to big policy showdowns.
The community school selection process has been less public, partly by design. The mayor’s office doesn’t want the process to turn into a political frenzy.
It’s also indicative of the fact that the mayor’s office doesn’t have a set of rigid criteria for picking community schools. There’s no formula or set of weights that city officials are using to narrow the pool of candidates. And that’s not unique to Philadelphia. Across the country, there’s no real consensus on how cities should select community schools
“There really aren’t existing best practices out there,” said Della Jenkins, an analyst at Research for Action who recently co-wrote a report on community schools in practice.
Philadelphia’s selection process began late last year, before Kenney even took office. The School District of Philadelphia took a straw poll to see which District schools might be interested in becoming community schools. Roughly 50 expressed interest, said Susan Gobreski, director of community schools in the Mayor’s Office of Education.
In early spring, the School District invited schools for informational meetings on the initiative. By late May, 31 schools had formally applied.
Who applied? We don’t know
The mayor’s office hasn’t released the formal list of applicants, but it’s offered some hints. Most are elementary schools, and most are located near the Broad Street corridor. North Philadelphia is well-represented, as is South Philly. There are a small handful of schools in Southwest Philadelphia and the Greater Northeast. Northwest Philadelphia has no representatives in the applicant pool.