Daphnee Simprevil nearly left Roxborough High during her freshman year. The hallways inside the Ridge Avenue school were too rough and rowdy. Her classes weren’t challenging enough.
“I had transfer papers in my hand,” she said during the first full week of the public school year.
Now a senior, Simprevil is glad she stayed. As she prepares to start applying to college, she smiles when talking about her soon-to-be-alma mater.
There are far fewer fights, she said, and much more effort is expected from students academically “I feel the school is more college bound than when I first got here,” said Simprevil, who has four Advanced Placement courses on her final roster.
On Monday, Simprevil and two other seniors that spoke with NewsWorks all agreed that Principal Stephen Brandt’s arrival marked a true turning point for a school whose long-standing reputation still lingers outside of its walls.
The Roxborough alum took over as the school’s top administrator in March 2009, Simprevil’s freshman year, and quickly got to work. His goal was two-fold: create a safe school climate so that its academic program could flourish and grow.
A change in environment
Walk outside with Brandt at dismissal time and it appears he’s made some real progress when it comes to the school’s environment.
The young principal seemed to know nearly all of his 515 students as he navigated the crowds, dishing out a mix of pleasantries and discipline along the way.
“Have a good one, fellas,” said Brandt to a group heading down Fountain Street towards Ridge.
“Get to practice,” he told another student before telling him to pull up his sagging pants.
As his third full school year gets underway, Brandt said he feels like he’s successfully transformed the school’s learning environment. Strict and swift discipline coupled with stronger student engagement has been critical.
“I certainly don’t want to portray a pure utopian, rosy picture that everything is dandelions and daisies,” said Brandt, “but Roxborough is in a very, very good place right now and it’s really only going to get better.”
The building is by no means incident-free, but violent episodes no longer undermine the school’s mission to send all of its students to college, according to students and staff. Until recently, Roxborough was designated by the state as a “persistently dangerous” school.
Based on preliminary information for the 2011-2012 school year, PSSA testing scores increased at Roxborough High by 21.5 percentage points in reading and 10.5 percentage points in math since the 2009-2010 school year.
“Now it’s about refining what’s good,” said Brandt. “It’s about continuing to build now.”
Academically, the school has dramatically increased the number of AP courses it offers. A number of new honors courses were also added.
This year, the school switched to block scheduling. Students now take a total of eight classes throughout the year. Typically, high school students only have six.
It’s all part of an effort to give Roxborough students the opportunity to participate in more of the school’s programs and Brandt’s larger goal to offer, what he called, a “suburbanesque, magnet” experience – one that accommodates a range of academic abilities and interests.
The unique scheduling, though, also sets the school up to offer a “blended” learning experience to certain seniors down the line. Eligible students could take a mix of high school and college classes. Brandt said he’s had discussions with the Community College of Philadelphia to that end.
“We are well ahead of schedule,” said Brandt of the overall progress at Roxborough since he has hit the principal’s desk. “We probably have surpassed the expectations of many stakeholders.”