Principal Leslie Mason cares about the reputation of Thomas Mifflin Elementary School in East Falls.
On Monday night, she spoke to the East Falls Community Council about the progress being made at the Condrad Street school.
“There are misconceptions about Mifflin School,” said Mason. “Once a school earns a bad reputation, it can be hard to shake, especially when only bad things get reported.”
Mason declined to comment on an earlier NewsWorks article, stating that the events in question occurred before her tenure. That article discussed four teachers who filed racial discrimination suits in federal court against a former Mifflin principal from incidents that occurred as far back as 2008.
Mason is more concerned with focusing on the future. She has now served as Mifflin’s principal for three years. Under her tenure, she says test scores have increased and the number of “serious incidents” have steeply declined. According to Mason, there were 57 serious incidents when she first started at the school.
“There were only two last year and they were accidents. One of them was someone who slipped on the sidewalk outside,” said Mason. “There was no violence.”
Mason pointed to the programs for gifted students who can read at a collegiate level and phonics-based programs to help support students who are deficient at reading, as signs of success.
“We do the everyday math that the whole school district does,” said Mason. “We don’t teach to the test. It’s the real deal. It’s work.”
Mifflin has partnered with various groups such as Experience Corps, which is made of mostly retired educators, to help with programs at the school. She says the Falls of Schuylkill Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia has been a convenient resource, as well. East Falls Tree Tenders (EFTT) has also led programs for students.
“I was speaking at a first grade class,” said Cynthia Kishinchand, of EFTT. “At first, I was worried that I might be too advanced for them but they understood me immediately. “
On the subject of discipline, Mason said that she likes to take a proactive approach.
Mason feels that a suspension from school is a day lost from learning. Mason said that she tries to use in-house suspensions for infractions, where students are given assignments by their teachers in a supervised classroom.
“But I haven’t had to use that much. The one time I did, it wasn’t for a violent act. A student gave the finger to someone else whose back was turned.”
While Mason said things were improving academically, she noted that progress still needs to be made. Currently, the computer teacher doubles as the librarian. The music teacher just retired, leaving a gap in arts programming. Mason said sports programs were also “another of those big cuts.” Mifflin has a Parent-Teacher Association but lacks a School Advisory Board.
“When educators talk about their bare bones budget; they’re not lying to you,” said Mason.
Mason also discussed the possibility of higher student enrollment after the closure of Levering Elementary School. Levering was one of a number of schools recently listed for possible closure. Mason urged the community to get involved in the upcoming School District meetings. The first is on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Roxborough High School.
“These meetings are about closings, grade configurations. There are big changes happening right now,” said Mason.
Mason did lament that if Levering does close, the School District would lose a school with a good autism support program. Mifflin has a small special education population. If Levering closes, and enough students from Levering transfer to Mifflin, Mason said she would lobby the school district to reconfigure Mifflin from a K through 8 to a K through 5 school.
“It’s going to be an interesting change,” said Mason.
Many members of the EFCC showed support for Mason and her efforts. A few testified on her behalf that positive change was taking place at the school and urged the East Falls community at large to get involved.
“When we invest time and effort, we can make it work,” said Keith Williams. “This school is a good school.”