Team Dragon begins tenure at Southwark


First days can cause jitters, especially at educational settings, but Andrew Lukov exuded ease Monday in beginning his journey at Southwark School, 1835 S. Ninth St.

The rookie principal, who most recently served as Northeast High School’s assistant principal, enthusiastically welcomed learners and their parents to the East Passyunk Crossing elementary institution, as did Team Dragon volunteers eagerly answering his call for initial-week stability as the School District of Philadelphia manages the budgetary misery that led it to shed employees and shutter sites.

“I’m looking forward to an excellent year here,” the Roxborough resident, formerly an English as a Second Language instructor at Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., and South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., said as his 625 enrollees ended second period. “I expect so much to come out of our community partnerships especially.”

As Southwark’s eighth leader in 12 years, Lukov wants to establish roots at the 104-year-old location and realized before assuming his duties that creating connections would facilitate that wish. When his employer slashed 3,859 positions in early June as a reaction to a $304-million operating deficit, he immediately pondered how his pupils would thrive minus key support staff. Seeking community input, he garnered enough energy from residents to create Team Dragon, which derives its name from Southwark’s mascot. The state and the City have lessened the financial fury with contributions that enabled the educational overseer to bring back many workers, including Southwark’s counselor and secretary.

“No matter what we would have retained or lost, we still would have needed more,” Lukov, whose building includes art, computer, dance, music and physical education instruction, said of requiring individuals to aid the school’s students, who combined speak 20 languages. “We have to promote a positive climate, and I’m thrilled to have these helpers, whom I see as core resources.”

He fraternized with 16 of those benefactors Monday, including representatives from the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association and Town Watch, which supplied youngsters with Team Dragon stickers and functions out of Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 s. 10th St.; Puentes de Salud, which operates out of United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, 2029 S. Eighth St., another assisting agency; and Sunrise of Philadelphia Inc., 1900 S. Eighth St., which had run an office out of Edward Bok Technical High School, formerly 1901 S. Ninth St., until the secondary education spot became a monetary casualty three months ago. Arranging space for the entities at Southwark, Lukov hopes to gain added inspiration through their trusted presence in South Philly, an endeavor Beth Dougherty strives to maximize.

“First and foremost, we’re a community school and Andrew understands the rigors of identifying and pursuing what we will need to take off,” the head of the civic body’s education committee said from the auditorium, where she and allies directed parents, most non-English speakers, to registration information. “The takeaway from our outreach is that people want to get in and help, which will be especially beneficial to parents.”

A resident of the 1700 block of South 10th Street, the member of Team Dragon, which Lukov noted will continue beyond tomorrow as a large-scale events supervisor, knows nobody directly involved is deriving joy from the district’s imperiled progress and sees the displayed unity as a reminder of the power of interaction and integration.

“There’s plenty of doom and gloom in this,” Dougherty said, “but within the morass, there are chances for communities to show they care about our children’s future.”

the youths’ progression, Lukov, a father of three, knows he must encourage receptivity to challenges and focus on making mediocrity a myth. In addition to his local efforts, which next month will spawn the Southwark Superheroes, his site’s strategic helpers who will serve a number of functions, many involving academics, he has united with the University of Pennsylvania for an after-school initiative aimed at providing attendees an understanding of the benefits of scholastic immersion.

“I don’t want to give away all of my secrets, but we do have big plans,” Lukov said, confessing establishing a cyber school, greening the schoolyard and creating a sort-of university setting for the upper school to promote even more enthusiasm for raising their hands and researching topics as goals.

Influencing minds has had a minor snag so far, as he has not been able to tend to the library but foresees finding help soon.

“With what the district is going through, flexibility has to be on everyone’s mind,” he said as he peaked in on fifth graders. “There are many sites that are going through daunting challenges, and we have some issues, too, but I’m going to do my best to see we continue to attract families to whom we can provide much-needed resources.”

The passionate principal expounded on his views that evening at the civic’s general membership meeting, a commitment Trish Downey views as further proof of his infatuation with finding friends in his mentoring crusade.

“He’s been a game-changer because he wants to make a great school even greater,” the resident of the 800 block of Mountain Street, whose son, Owen, began third grade Monday, said. “We’ve had to make sacrifices before, so although we entered this year with challenges, we weren’t fearful.”

Like Lukov, the Team Dragon presence is considering means to lead parents and community personnel to fall for their message of bettering the future by concentrating on the present and learning from the past, a strategy that will feature promoting the merits of a school advisory committee. Tinkering with the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, the parties are working to stress that educating every youth requires neighborhood involvement, which Puentes figures will exact Sept. 23 through Esther Morales.

“This is the first time we’ll have tight community partnerships,” the clinical volunteer said of her organization, which in its fourth year at Southwark will continue its work with Latino youngsters, who comprise a sizeable demographic among South Philly’s estimated 30,000 Latino immigrants. “Our goals are strengthening their grades and getting them more knowledgeable of their responsibilities.”

Regardless of one’s mother tongue, Lukov knows every child wants to be able to voice pleasure over succeeding, and he wants to be a chief architect in forging their focus.

“We’re spoiled in many ways because of our supporters,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better assignment.” 

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.