The Philadelphia School Partnership, via the Great Schools Fund, has contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to a collaboration between educational institutions Samuel Powel Elementary, Science Leadership Academy and Drexel University — one that will simultaneously plan for the expansion of Powel and the creation of a new middle school to serve the University City community.
“The cornerstone of Drexel’s community revitalization effort is education and a commitment to improving public school options for families in the neighborhood,” said Lucy Kerman, Drexel University’s vice provost for University and Community Partnerships. “We look forward to working with our key partners on a more comprehensive approach to school improvement and the development of high-performing schools.”
Powel Elementary, located at 36th Street and Powelton Avenue, is a K–4 school that currently enrolls around 200 students, and there have been talks of Powel expanding to a fifth grade. However, some major logistical hurdles must be cleared in that effort, including establishing how many classrooms will be dedicated to fifth-graders, and how best to house them. As it is, Powel is set to become a receiver school for students who attend neighboring Charles R. Drew Elementary School, which is scheduled for closure after this school year.
Science Leadership Academy, located off 22nd Street near Market, is a high school that has continually outperformed other schools in the district in PSSA and AYP scores. SLA is an adoptive school of The Franklin Institute.
“This is really about identifying schools where something is working. Powel is one of the few non-magnet schools in the city that is generating great results,” said Philadelphia School Partnership Executive Director Mark Gleason. “So this is an opportunity to take something that’s really working and having a great impact to a higher level.”
Gleason said the $215,000 grant will fund a yearlong study into the feasibility of expanding Powel. The vision, according to Gleason, is to relocate Powel, while keeping it in the same community, with the overall idea of creating a Powel-middle school-Drexel University Pipeline. Middle Years Alternative, which operates out of the old Sulzberger Junior High school building on 48th Street near Aspen, currently serves as one of Powel’s de facto feeder schools.
The plan won applause from School District of Philadelphia officials.
“We are pleased to hear about the Philadelphia School Partnership’s investment in Samuel Powel School,” said district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “While there is no proposal before the district at this time, we welcome the opportunity to explore how to increase the educational opportunities at Powel.”
For its part, Powel sits on a tiny plot of land, and is forced to use two on-property trailers to house and educate the student overflow.
“We hope ultimately, if the plan is executed, it will have two effects: expand the number of students in elementary grades, and also giving families an option in the neighborhood for a middle school,” Gleason said. “Most of the parents leave the neighborhood after their child graduates Powel, because there’s no direct middle school.
“We want good schools everywhere,” Gleason continued. “We don’t want it to be that the only way to get to a good middle school is to leave the neighborhood. Families choose schools for lots of different reasons, but for many, location is important — and they don’t want to go halfway across the city for a good school.”
Samuel Powel Elementary School Principal Kimberly Ellerbee said she and other Powel officials have long “imagined an expansion of our current program to include a fifth grade,” along with providing an opportunity for Powel students to attend a middle school in close proximity to Powel.
“We know that serving more students in high-performing schools is critical, and we are excited to be a part of the overall effort to provide high quality education for every child in Philadelphia,” Ellerbee said. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Drexel University, and are grateful for the support of the Philadelphia School Partnership to help make this dream a reality.”