Principal raises the bar of excellence at Pennypacker

Principal Michelle Lutz, right, and computer teacher Chris Curtis talk in a classroom. — PHOTOS BY ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER

Michelle Lutz is raising the bar of excellence at Pennypacker Elementary School. Entering her first year as principal, Lutz has already set up a plan to enhance the academic curriculum, expand the school’s partnerships and help prepare her students for success beyond elementary school.

“My experience at Pennypacker has been really great,” Lutz said. “We have a really good team and we’re working on making some improvements for the students. We’ve already done a lot of different changes that have really helped calm the environment and get the focus back on instruction.

“This school year, we’re really looking at providing interventions for the students,” she added. “We have a lot of students who aren’t performing on their grade level. We give them every tool that we have to get their reading levels to increase. One of the other goals is to get as much parent involvement as possible.”

At the heart of Pennypacker’s success is its great teachers. Lutz said she will continue to raise the standard of excellence by giving students opportunities to succeed in the classroom.

“We have an initiative where every teacher is doing guided reading five days a week to make sure kids are increasing their reading levels,” Lutz said. “We’re also looking at high order questioning and making sure kids can construct responses to written questions. We’re really looking into those academic portions to make sure kids are really prepared, so not only do they do well on the test, but when they get to middle school they are prepared and its not a learning curve for them. The teachers and staff really do a good job of making sure all students’ needs are met as well as making sure they are prepared for the next level.”

One of the newest additions at the school is the parent resource center. Lutz said the center is a place where parents can use the computers, communicate with teachers and have meetings.

“The parents’ resource center is a place for parents to feel welcomed,” Lutz said. “If they need to use the computers they can do so. They can check their email, get onto the district website, communicate with teachers and check up on their child’s progress. We also have a data wall in there so the parents can see how different classrooms are doing. We just want the parents to feel welcomed and feel a part of the process of preparing their kids’ for their future.”

Pennypacker has numerous partnerships within the neighborhood. Pennypacker has a key partnership with Calvary Church. The church not only assists the school with its time, but it also mentors the students.

“We have a huge partnership with Calvary Church and pastor John Holt,” Lutz said. “They do Saturday reading programs and they also do our Hope for Philly program in our backyard once a year. Hope for Philly is a great way to get the community out and involved with each other, as well as get to see what we’re doing as a school.

“Calvary Church also donates a lot of supplies and they are currently getting volunteers to come in and read to the kids during the day,” she added. “They’ve really done a great job — to adopt us as a school community and making sure we get what we really need. I truly appreciate everything [they] have done for the school and the students.”

Some points of pride at Pennypacker include making AYP seven of the last 10 years, being City Reading Olympics Champions (2011-2013) and ranking second in the region for First in Math in 2012-2013. Lutz said while the school has accomplished a lot of great things over the years, her main focus is to make sure each of her students is prepared for middle school and beyond.

“I want the students to leave this school knowing that people care about them,” said Lutz. “This whole school community is pulling for them and we want them to succeed.”

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