Mayor Jim Kenney hosted a press conference on Monday to announce the first nine community schools, which the city hopes to transform from education-only facilities to multipurpose community services centers over the course of the next year.
The first nine schools are located in South, Southwest, North, and Northwest Philly. The Mayor’s Office of Education selected the first cohort of schools from a number of applications, using input from residents at community meetings and neighborhood health and safety data. Five of the schools in the first round exceed the citywide rates for child poverty, asthma, obesity, and diabetes. Five schools are also located in police districts with the highest rates of gun violence and four schools have 20 percent or more ESL students.
At the press conference, Kenney thanked City Council President Darrell Clarke, with whom he traveled to Cincinnati on a community schools fact-finding mission last November. Kenney gave Clarke credit for his early advocacy of the idea. Shortly after Kenney won the general election, he held a joint press conference with Clarke to announce that his administration planned to spend $8 million developing 25 community schools over his first term.
“Back in my day, schools were the heart of a neighborhood,” Clarke said at the mayor’s inauguration in January. “By focusing on the whole child — meaning, not just his educational opportunities, but job training for mom and dad, and health care for the entire family — we can make our neighborhood public schools central to communities once again.”
Since then, Kenney successfully got City Council to pass a soda tax — something his predecessor twice failed to do — in part by tying the soda-tax revenue to popular initiatives, including community schools. Clarke was deeply ambivalent about taxing soda, but ultimately voted for the tax. Monday’s press conference — which was also attended by School District officials, Council members, the entire School Reform Commission, and principals of the nine chosen schools — was an opportunity for Clarke and Kenney to put their cooperation on public display after the occasionally ugly soda-tax battle.
The city plans to hire and train community-school coordinators over the next few months, then spend the fall performing needs assessments and creating strategic plans for schools and neighborhoods. Implementation will start in the first half of next year, when the city will also begin accepting applications for the second cohort of community schools.