In wake of local school closure announcements, parents explore Mifflin Elementary option

By 6 p.m., the hallway outside of Thomas Mifflin Elementary’s auditorium was filled with prospective parents interested in getting a closer look at the East Falls school.

Toni Todd from Germantown came to Thursday night’s open house event to see if Mifflin might be a good fit for her three children, two of whom currently attend nearby St. Bridget Elementary School, a Catholic institution.

Citing declining enrollment and rising costs, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently decided to close the school following this academic year.

“I’m looking for a caring school, a school that will have all of the subjects and for it not to be too crowded,” said Todd as parents milled around sipping cups of coffee and students ate sandwiches.

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Todd, whose daughter is going into kindergarten, is also looking at private schools in the area, but would prefer to go the public school route if possible. She said she might as well use the system her tax dollars help support.

Plus, the price tag can’t be beat.

“We live in the city, if we could get education for free, it would be nice,” she said.

Todd was not the only member of the St. Bridget community looking into Mifflin for next year.

Chantel Smith recently moved to East Falls from Delaware County, in part, because she wanted to send her daughter to St. Bridget’s.

As the search for a new school gets underway, Smith said safety, curriculum and school atmosphere will go a long way in helping her make her selection.

Sending her daughter to a public school was not her first option, but Smith said she’s now open to the possibility.

“I’m looking to kind of combat the stereotypes you often hear about Philadelphia public schools,” said Smith shortly before the evening’s program got started. “From living in the suburbs you kind of hear that the schools are underperforming, but I’ve done some research online and the schools seem to be doing very well.”

She added that it would be “amazing” to be able to send her daughter to a school so close to her new home.

As parents headed to meet with individual teachers following a brief school overview, Mifflin Principal Leslie Mason said she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.

“This would never have happened years ago,” said Mason as she stood by a piano placed near the foot of the stage.

Mason, who took over the reins in 2009, said the school for years had a reputation for being dangerous. She said she’s been working hard since she came to Mifflin to flip that perception and that Thursday night’s attendance may be a sign that the larger community has caught on to the positive changes that have occurred inside the building.

“When schools have reputations and you have all this past history, it’s hard for people to let go of,” said Mason.

She attributes much of the turnaround to a new school climate inside the building, where positive behavior is championed among students.

“If a perception from a kid is ‘this is how we act’, then all the rest of the kids start to fall in line,” said Mason. “When it comes from them, it’s so much more effective.”

Asked about enrollment for next year, Mason said she expects an additional 100 students to enroll. The school currently has 249 students and could hold well over 500.  Students from Levering Elementary may also be joining the Conrad St. school, as the School Reform Commission recently voted to close the Ridge Ave. school after this school year. 

“When you’re used to being really small, it is a little scary to think ‘what if we double?’ But it’s also fun too,” she said.

Mason may already be able to count on at least a few more students for next year.

Both Todd and Smith were impressed with the school and said after the open house that they plan on sending their children to Mifflin next year.

“It just became obvious that they really wanted the community to come together around the school and I feel like we should do our part,” said Smith. “I’m excited.”

Todd, for her part, was equally pleased with her visit to the school and said she will likely register her children at Mifflin.

“Overall I thought it was a great school. They seem to have it together,” said Todd. ” They seem like they care about what the kids are getting.”

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