Audenried could be absent


School district administrators have decided to begin the process of closing Audenried High before the School Reform Commission approves a final plan for a replacement facility.

Starting in September, the school will not accept a freshman class, said School District of Philadelphia spokesperson Amy Guerin. The district will work with families to place ninth-graders at other schools, she said.

The decision comes in anticipation of the district completing a deal to build a replacement high school, possibly at 33rd and Tasker streets, where Audenried currently sits.

"What we are talking about there is replacing the school completely," Guerin said, "giving the school a new building, a new feel, a new everything."

If the district decides to rebuild on site, Audenried could be closed for at least a year while the building is demolished and reconstructed.

Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies has been linked to the future of Audenried for the past year. The nonprofit organization that promotes neighborhood improvement and investment already manages three city schools and runs a charter school of its own.

The district is negotiating with Universal to determine what role the organization will play in the new high school, Guerin said. School administrators have pledged to keep parents and the community informed of any progress, but currently there is nothing to report, she said.

"A lot of people are under the misconception that there is some final plan and we are somehow moving forward on it," Guerin said. "But there isn’t."

When a proposal is finalized, it must be presented to the School Reform Commission and approved by its members.

Audenried has been one of the worst performing schools in the city for years — on any given day, nearly half of the students do not attend class. It is also one of the district’s most violent institutions.

In September, a girl from neighboring James Alcorn Middle School attacked two female Audenried students with a knife shortly after dismissal. The victims, ages 14 and 15, were stabbed multiple times on the 2700 block of Tasker Street.

Then in February, six students were injured within the high school when a knife fight broke out in the hallway as students changed classes. One teenage girl received 58 stitches to close wounds to her face and chest. The school district responded to the melee by replacing principal Millage Holloway with LaFra Young.

Replacement for St. Charles?

The St. Charles Borromeo school building might not remain vacant for long.

In January, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the school at 2019 Montrose St. would close at the end of the year because of low enrollment and reduced funding.

Now the church is campaigning for a new tenant.

Last Wednesday, the Rev. George A. Majoros invited the Montessori Initiative for Education to speak to parents about the possibility of opening a Montessori charter school in St. Charles’ soon-to-be-empty schoolhouse. The group’s goal is to open an elementary school by the start of the 2004-05 school year.

Two of MIE’s organizers, Kathleen Dzura and Colleen L. Mele, said about 40 people attended the meeting. Roughly one-third were parents with children enrolled at St. Charles. Many of the rest were graduates of the former Montessori school that rented space from the church until the 1970s at 1941 Christian St. — now the Father George Vermeiren Center for seniors.

The Montessori curriculum and teaching methods were created by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and professor who theorized that children learned better when they were not force-fed facts, but rather allowed to absorb information at their own pace. Believers in the system say it focuses on a child’s development, not linear progress.

Dzura said the proposed charter school will be separated into three-year curricula: kindergarten, grades first through third, and fourth through sixth.

"The child moves at their rate of growth rather than a set curriculum that they have to meet certain benchmarks in certain time periods," she explained.

This method prevents lower-achieving students from feeling frustrated, Dzura said, and it allows fast learners to progress at their own pace.

Montessori schools also promote a "peace-based curriculum" that teaches children to resolve conflicts "with words and the expression of their feelings rather than physically," she said.

Montessori schools are not religiously affiliated, although some religious schools adopt the Montessori curriculum. Most are private and charge tuition, but as a charter school, the proposed South Philly institution would be free to attend.

The school district already offers a limited number of Montessori-style opportunities at a few early-childhood development programs and elementary schools across the city.

MIE is considering two sites for its charter school, but Dzura said St. Charles is its first choice. The other option is in East Falls.

MIE has not yet submitted a charter application to the district, said schools spokesperson Guerin. Assuming the application is submitted by next fall and is in order, it is possible the school could open by its target date, she said.

School’s in for summer

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter reeled in $14 million for the School District of Philadelphia’s 2003 summer programs, and another $15 million to fund the initiatives next year.

The windfall will cover more than three-quarters of the cost to run this year’s programs, which provide activities to more than 46,000 students in preschool through grade 12.

More than 85 percent of the children participating in these programs are enrolled in reading and math classes because they are performing below national standards, according to the school district.

"If we are going to enforce academic standards, then we must offer our children the support they need to be successful," said schools CEO Paul Vallas.

The district expects this summer’s activities to cost $18.6 million. Aside from the Specter grant, general operating funds and other federal sources will pay the balance, according to the district.