Roxborough High principal Stephen Brandt will step down in July [Updated]

Update: 3 p.m.

Roxborough Assistant Principal Dana Jenkins will be the school’s principal next school year.

Look for a full story later this week.

Here’s our earlier story:

Stephen Brandt, Roxborough High School’s beloved, award-winning principal, is stepping down after more than three years on the job.

The RHS alum is leaving to helm Bensalem High School in Bucks County. His tenure at Roxborough began in March 2010.

“It was a very difficult decision and it’s still a bittersweet moment in my life,” Brandt told NewsWorks Tuesday morning.

Since arriving at Roxborough, Brandt has worked tirelessly to improve his alma mater’s reputation in the neighborhood by addressing school climate and academics as two sides of the same coin.

His efforts have made a difference and earned him accolades.

Roxborough is no longer part of the state’s “persistently dangerous schools” list.

For the first time since Brandt took over at Roxborough, the school’s entire senior class – all 99 students – has been accepted to college.

In March, Brandt was awarded the Lindback Award for Distinguished Principal Leadership, which is handed out annually to the city’s top public school principals.

“That’s always going to be a special time for me and my career – just knowing that we were able to make a difference,” he said.

The current state of the Philadelphia School District played a big part in Brandt’s decision.

Staring down a $304 million budget hole next year, the city’s School Reform Commission last week approved the so-called “doomsday” budget which will spell the end of, among other things, school counselors, athletic programs and other after-school programs if additional funding isn’t secured.

That scenario was more than troubling for Brandt.

“Having a lot less resources makes it a little more difficult to do the job and do it at the level that you want to and desire to do,” he said.

Bensalem High School, on the other hand, is slated for a multi-million dollar renovation.

The large comprehensive high school will also revamp its approach to academics, adopting an academy model where students can choose tailored education plans.

There will be, for example, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academy.

Both developments made the Bensalem gig too good to pass up.

“To be able to be there and help orchestrate that is a great opportunity,” said Brandt.

Dr. David Baugh, Bensalem School District’s superintendent, is “delighted” to bring Brandt on board.

“He’s very knowledgeable and he’s got a very student-focused vision which I think is imperative to anyone doing the heavy lifting and he’s got plenty of energy,” said Baugh.

Many at Roxborough will miss having those qualities around the building.

Eileen DiFranco, who’s been Roxborough’s nurse since 1999, was particularly upset about Brandt’s announcement, which he made during a special before-school meeting May 23.

Students were told via the school’s loudspeaker the same day.

“Steve has been head over shoulders better than anyone else. There’s really no comparison,” said DiFranco.

DiFranco described life at Roxborough before Brandt as a “reign of terror” in which teaching was constantly compromised by unruly and sometimes violent student behavior.

Things started turning around “within weeks” of Brandt’s arrival, she said.

“You walk in here and people laugh and joke and enjoy coming to work,” said DiFranco.

Brandt’s impending departure has made staff members “distraught.” DiFranco is concerned the wrong replacement will send the school backwards.

Brandt will wrap up his time at Roxborough in mid-July.

What’ll he miss most?

“The people,” he said. “We have truly built a family here which makes this that much more difficult and painstaking to leave.”

The district has not yet named a new principal at Roxborough.

Brandt, DiFranco and others are hoping that Dana Jenkins, the school’s assistant principal, will replace him.

Brandt has also requested she be promoted. She’s in the best position, he said, to build on what the school’s accomplished over the last few years.

She’ll also represent some continuity and consistently as the school prepares to accept some students from Germantown High School, which will close at the end of the school year.

“She knows what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and what I intended to still do,” he said. “She is ready and prepared to continue that building.”

He may be moving on, but Brandt said he wants the school to continue to grow and flourish, to continue to be a school that garners community suppport.

 

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