Roxborough High’s Brandt aims to ‘set a new tone’ and raise school standards

Principal Stephen Brandt knows Roxborough High School’s current reputation is tarnished by the past.

“People saw Roxborough as being the school that was out of control, violent, maybe inferior instructionally to other schools in the city,” said Brandt.

But the school’s top administrator said Roxborough has undergone a fairly dramatic transformation since he officially took over in March 2009. The problem is, most people don’t know it, he said.

To that end, Brandt met with community members Wednesday night at the Roxborough Development Corporation office on Ridge Avenue to detail some of the positive steps the school has taken and its goals going forward.

Brandt, a Roxborough High graduate, said the turnaround started with changing the school’s climate. Until recently, the Ridge Avenue-based school was designated by the state as “persistently dangerous”.

“I wanted to set a new tone at Roxborough,” said Brandt.

Achieving that goal involved a number of initiatives, including stricter and swifter discipline, along with efforts to raise the level of respect inside the building, and student engagement.

Brandt said establishing a calmer and safer school environment allowed him and the rest of the staff to focus on the next goal: turning Roxborough into a true college preparatory high school.

“Everything is college, college, college,” he said.

For Brandt, that process started with creating a more rigorous academic culture where every student is encouraged, even pushed to achieve excellence.

More concretely, Roxborough High has tripled the number of Advanced Placement courses from three to nine. New honors courses are now being offered at the school and the three marquis programs: business, web design and cinematography, are being improved upon. 

The school also has programs that expose students to college academics and help them navigate the world of financial aid. For example, Brandt partnered up with Chestnut Hill College, a private four-year school, to have 9th and 10th grade students not only tour the campus, but also be taught for a day by one of the college’s professors.

It’s all part of Brandt’s goal to have 100-percent of his students eligible for college. 

So far, the young principal feels like he’s on his way toward achieving that goal. State test scores, he said, have improved.

From 2009 to 2010, said Brandt, Roxborough’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores in math increased by 17.2-percent. In reading, they increased by 7.2-percent.

“Anyone can check for eraser marks,” joked Brandt.

But Brandt’s efforts are also about an interest in making Roxborough High a school that students from the community want to attend, and a place that parents want to send their children.

“One that this community can be proud to say, ‘yes my kid goes to Roxborough High School’ and know that they’re getting a quality education,” said Brandt.

That goal, he said, may take some time.

“We still have some work to do, but we have taken some monumental steps to bring Roxborough to a high standard and make it competitive with other schools in the city of Philadelphia,” said Brandt. “I want to take [the school] to where it’s never been,” he said.

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