AMY Northwest middle school prepares to move to Roxborough

Walking the halls of AMY Northwest’s East Mt. Airy campus, it’s not blatantly obvious that a big move is in store.

Uniformed students still fill the middle school’s classrooms. Their artwork and lesson-based projects still adorn the walls.

In a few select corners of the school’s Ardleigh Street building, though, sit physical signals of what’s to come: boxes.

Citing needs to cut plant capacity, address declines in student enrollment and an ongoing budget crisis, officials with the School District of Philadelphia recommended in November that nine schools be closed by 2014 as part of its Facilities Master Plan.

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AMY Northwest wasn’t on that list. William Levering Elementary in Roxborough – a neighborhood, K-8 school with a student population accounting for only a third of its building capacity and few students coming from inside the school’s catchment area – was.

At the end of March, the city’s School Reform Commission unanimously voted to shutter the school and seven others.

The decision meant that AMY Northwest, a well-regarded 6-8 special admissions school, would move into Levering’s four-story building along Ridge Avenue, per the District’s suggestion.

It now means that, as the school calendar winds down, Principal Marco Zanoni is busier than ever.


AMY Northwest rented space in Mt. Airy

For the past seven years, AMY Northwest has been housed inside a small building owned by St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

Translation: there’s a lot to pack up by June 30, when the District’s lease with the church runs out.

“It’s a daunting task. It really is,” said Zanoni, who’s only drinking de-caffeinated coffee along the way.

While the physical part of the move is still a few weeks away, Zanoni has already delved deep into logistics.

Oversized sheets of white paper hang inside his office to help him keep track of all of the tasks and building materials he needs to account for.

Keys “In”; clocks “Out,” reads one with “Facilities” heading the page.

Zanoni is also coordinating the delivery of new school supplies for next year, two pallets of paper chief among them. “These are things that would probably fill this room,” he said.

Student and teacher interviews too.

More than a 1,000 applications have come across Zanoni’s desk since mid-October.

Countless parents have made an appointment or simply popped in to check out the school nearly every day of the week.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re like the mall,” quipped Zanoni.


AMY Northwest attracting more students

As a result, the school’s enrollment numbers for next year have increased by about 50 percent over the past month or so to around 310 students. A number of new slots have been filled by exiting Levering students.

The school currently has 211 on the books.

 The increased enrollment, which Zanoni hopes is the ceiling, means that the school will have an additional sixth and seventh grade section next year.

Those two grades will have four sections. Eighth grade will continue to have three sections.

The change has naturally triggered the need for more teachers. And more interviews.

Zanoni is currently in the process of making five new hires – four core teachers and an art teacher.

And the list goes on.

At the end of this week, Zanoni will start handing out boxes so teachers can begin packing up their classrooms.

He wanted to hold off on the distribution for as long as possible, not wanting to further accelerate the end-of-the-year anticipation.


A fresh start for AMY Northwest

Lauren Beal, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher, hasn’t started packing yet. It’s too hard to teach at the same time.

“I’m mentally figuring out what to take and what to recycle,” said Beal, who still has two boxes that were never unpacked from that last move from New Covenant Church of Philadelphia in West Mount Airy.

The school has moved six times in its 30-plus year history.

While it’s tough to juggle curriculum and choosing what to pack, Beal predicts the move to Roxborough will be good for the school overall.

“It forces us to think about the things that we do and the way we do them and how to improve them,” said Beal. “It forces you to have that self-reflection. In that way I think it will be very beneficial.”

Most staff, Beal noted, have repeatedly emphasized in development meetings that they would like to “continue that small school feeling” that has been a hallmark of the AMY experience for most of its existence.

Her colleague, Mark Zeserman isn’t so hopeful on that front.

Zeserman, a school-based teacher leader, has been with the school since 1981, two years after it was formed. He’s been through every single one of the school’s moves.

“It’s not going to have the same feel,” said Zeserman when asked about the school’s increased enrollment. “It’s a sense that everybody knows everybody well. It’s like a family. Once you get too large, you don’t have that.”


Leaving Mt. Airy

The move to Roxborough, while somewhat sad, is not particularly heartbreaking for either Beal or Zeserman.

For Zanoni, it’ll be a slightly bittersweet moment, but one he’s looking forward to despite all of the stress that it’s already produced.

“It’s been a great ride for me,” said Zanoni of the school’s time at St. Therese. “Moving to Roxborough is just going to open the doors for us. It’s going to give us an opportunity to grow and expand the program.”

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