When Principal Stephen Brandt arrived at Roxborough High School three years ago, the school was in a sorry state.
Teaching was constantly compromised by unruly and sometimes violent student behavior. So much so, that the Northwest Philadelphia school was on the state’s “persistently dangerous” list.
Today, RHS is in a much better place thanks to Brandt and his staff’s tireless efforts. The school has largely gotten its academic act together and is no longer on the “persistently dangerous” list.
“Roxborough is running like a well-oiled machine right now,” said Brandt.
The Philadelphia School District can’t exactly claim the same.
Staring down a $304 million deficit, the district has tentatively cut art and music classes, sports and other extracurricular activities for next school year. Dr. William Hite, the district’s superintendent, has decried the so-called “doomsday” budget, but said the current numbers didn’t allow much more.
Layoff notices and a principal’s decision to leave
The scenario was more than troubling for Brandt. And so, with a heavy heart, he accepted an offer to head to Bensalem High School in Montgomery County. The large comprehensive high school is slated for a multi-million dollar renovation and is revamping its academic program.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing. I really enjoy Roxborough High School, but part of the decision was the current state of Philadelphia and education here. It’s going to be a little challenging to do kind of what I had envisioned doing here.”
At the end of last week, the district dealt another blow. Nearly 3,800 staffers got layoff notices. A dozen at Roxborough got pink slips. Brandt said telling each of them personally was the worst day of his career.
“It’s sobering,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re looking people in the eyes that have played a major part in the growth and the progress of Roxborough High School and for something that’s out of our control they’re not going to be able to continue on that journey.”
Eight more teachers at Roxborough were transferred due to the district’s fiscal woes.
Next line of leadership
Roxborough’s Assistant Principal Dana Jenkins was spared, but only because she was tapped to lead the school earlier that week. Her current position was eliminated.
“I feel like I’m blessed. I feel like the school is blessed as well. It was a double blessing for us,” said Jenkins.
The school district veteran has worked at Roxborough for the past four years and knows every twist and turn of Brandt’s vision for the school, which pairs high academic expectations and student engagement with swift discipline.
For staffers, Jenkins was the only choice to replace Brandt.
She said she thinks Roxborough can weather the district’s financial storm.
“I am so fortunate to have the staff that we have. I have staff that I’m sure, 100 percent will go the extra mile, work the extra hours, to do whatever we need to make sure that we accomplish what we need to accomplish,” said Jenkins.
‘It’s like watching something beautiful disappear’
Eileen DiFranco, the school’s longtime nurse, was also able to hold onto her job due to seniority.
She said she’s devastated by what is going on in the district and, in turn, at Roxborough.
“You just look at something that’s self-destructing in spite of all the good people who work here. We have a wonderful staff – hardworking teachers. It’s like watching something beautiful just disappear,” said DiFranco.
If things don’t improve, DiFranco said she might retire sooner than she’d planned.
The last day of school for all public school students is June 21.