When Principal Stephen Brandt learned last month that Roxborough High was part of the Philadelphia School District’s Facilities Master Plan, he wasn’t at all surprised. The ever-analytical administrator had figured as much long ago.
Given the school’s enrollment and quality of the building, it seemed like a natural move.
“The writing was on the wall,” Brandt told NewsWorks this week.
Roxborough has 483 students. Its Ridge Avenue building could comfortably hold twice as many.
And while state test scores are still relatively low, the school has gone a long way to boost its academic rigor.
Under the citywide plan – an effort, aimed, in part, at helping a severely cash-strapped district stay afloat – nearby Lankenau High School would co-locate at Roxborough at the end of this academic year. The special admissions high school, currently located on Spring Lane in Roxborough, has just over 300 students.
Students from Germantown High School are also, potentially, part of the equation.
The district has recommended that the near century-old institution close. If approved, students would have the option of transferring to Roxborough or Martin Luther King High.
The district has recommended that a total of 37 schools close and that dozens more relocate, reconfigure or merge.
The city’s five-member School Reform Commission has the final say on the district’s latest round of rightsizing suggestions and is scheduled to vote in March.
Room for growth
Brandt, for his part, isn’t too concerned with either element of the district’s recommendation. Roxborough, he said, is in a great place both academically and school culture-wise as a result of a series of classroom and discipline-based initiatives.
He said he doesn’t expect the district’s recommendation to compromise those efforts, if approved.
“We certainly have a clear vision and anyone coming into this building needs to assimilate into that culture and into that vision to join us as a unified body,” said Brandt. “I don’t see any reason why that can’t happen and won’t happen.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to get everyone on the same page,” he said.
Brandt added that Lankenau students, likely to make up the majority of an expanded student body, have very “similar aspirations and goals” as Roxborough students.
He said he also thinks having a special admissions program inside the building could help secure the school as a neighborhood pillar, as the location could serve an even wider range of academic levels.
Roxborough currently offers three criteria-based programs – business, cinematography and web-design – in addition to its general academic program.
“There’s a lot of room for growth and a lot left of the blueprint to design and build,” said Brandt.
‘Fear of the unknown’
One concern that Brandt has with the recommendation is that he is going to have to wait a bit longer before he can provide any concrete answers to the Roxborough community.
“The fact that I don’t have all of the answers yet and kind of a clear picture to wrap my head around is certainly a concern because obviously I wanted to start planning three months ago for this. I like to be ahead of the curve,” said Brandt.
He noted that some concerns have been raised about bringing two neighborhood high school communities together – Roxborough and Germantown. School climate issues have been part of those conversations.
“You never know what’s going to be created when you take two mixtures or two elements and mix them together,” said Brandt. “It’s that fear of the unknown.”
As a series of nine district-led meetings about the Facilities Master Plan gets underway – the first was held Tuesday – Brandt is adopting a wait-and-see attitude. “What can ya do?” he said.