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School district to open three schools in North Philly

Schools will draw students from community, citywide selection.

The school district of Philadelphia will be opening three new public high schools in Fall 2014 with $6 million in grants to change secondary education in inner-city high schools.

Two of the schools, the U school and Building 21 will be opening in the old Ferguson Elementary School on North Franklin Street in North Philadelphia.

The U school, Building 21 and the LINC school will have more than 300 seats in the fall for students in ninth grade and will be adding grades 10, 11 and 12 in a period of three years reaching a maximum enrollment of 475-600 students.

Building 21 will be backed by a $2 million grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership to be dispersed over 4 years. The U School and LINC schools are being funded by a $3 million grant set to be dispersed over a period of three years by the Carnegie Corporation in New York. The grant is a part of their Opportunity by Design Initiative for New High School Models For Student Success.

“We felt like districts in particular needed some investment or they needed some resources to engage in new school creation work and they also needed some support,” said Leah Hamilton, program director of New Design for School, Colleges and Systems at the Carnegie Corporation.

The U school will be opening on the second floor of the Ferguson building and Building 21 will open on the first. Both schools will act as separate entities while sharing the basement area for the cafeteria and other school functions. The schools will be based on competency level and “design thinking” using workshops with interdisciplinary courses with a small student to teacher ratio.

“We’re required by law to teach a lot of the same courses but again they won’t mirror what’s found in traditional schools,” Neil Geyette School Design Leader for the U School, said.

Both schools will be filling 50 percent of seats with kids in the surrounding neighborhood, with the other 50 percent allotted for students throughout the city and no admissions criteria. The applications for the new schools were opened March 24 and will be closing April 25.

Pearly Johnson, a school crossing guard for 17 years on Franklin and North 8th streets, just steps away from the Ferguson building, said she is hopeful that schools could change the neighborhood.

“Kids need to get an education and that’s good. The kids need it though especially the neighborhood,” Johnson said.

The U school will have five core teachers, a special educator and counselor. The salaries will be paid for by the school district as the grant will be covering the one month training for teachers chosen for the fall taught by outside consultants. Applications for these positions being accepted until mid-May.

Kathleen Robbins, a resident on North 8th Street for 17 years and former volunteer at the Ferguson building was doubtful.

“We will see, I just hope that the people that come in our neighborhoods respect us,” Robbins said.

The new schools will be opening this fall as design leaders will transition to principles for the schools. Although the new schools are being backed by grants, the operational costs of the schools will be footed by the school district.

Philly Urban Creators, a youth led organization that works with urban sustainability will be the U School’s community partner, teaching students sustainability, agriculture and landscape design.

The School Reform Commission and Building 21 school leader did not respond to several requests for comment.

Sarai Flores can be reached at sarai.abisag.flores@temple.edu.

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