Philly’s community schools moving forward

Mayor Jim Kenney puts in an appearance at Southwark School in South Philadelphia

Mayor Jim Kenney puts in an appearance at Southwark School in South Philadelphia

Fresh off a legal victory, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney visited Southwark School in South Philadelphia Tuesday to honor the school’s community partners and plug the city’s community schools initiative.

The event came less than 24 hours after a Common Pleas Court judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Philadelphia’s new tax on sweetened beverages. The ruling means, at least for now, that the programs Kenney plans to support with money from the tax can move forward unabated.

Among them is the city’s plan to create 25 community schools over five years. The first nine schools were announced earlier this year, and this initial cohort is about to embark on the next phase of the process. After completing an assessment of needs to gauge what school and community members feel they need, each school’s designated coordinator will help create a strategic plan.

Those plans will detail the school’s priorities. By early next year, each community school will have a sense of what outside services it wants and how much those services might cost. It’s the job of each community school coordinator to work with city staff to find funding for those projects.

“The community schools initiative doesn’t come with a bucket of money,” said Beth Dougherty, community school coordinator at Southwark. “It comes with staff.”

The city will invest $4 million in the community schools initiative this fiscal year. Most of that money is earmarked to hire people — at the school and city level — who will coordinate services for the new fleet of community schools.

Southwark’s community school staff wants to focus on literacy initiatives for the students at the K-8 school and language classes for parents in the neighborhood. Southwark serves a number of immigrant families and 41 percent of the students are English-language learners.

The ultimate hope is that Southwark and other community schools will become hubs of neighborhood activity, while providing out-of-school services for low-income students who often arrive at school facing massive challenges. From there, Kenney hopes, the city can improve the reputation of its public schools.

“This schools’ success will assure that people are no longer moving across the bridge to New Jersey or moving out to Delaware County,” said Kenney.

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