Questioning enrollment at Penn-funded school

A potential mayoral candidate may have used political connections to get his kids into Penn Alexander

· January 27, 2014, 8:13 pm   ·  Updated January 27, 2014, 10:59 pm

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Parents have gone to great lengths, including standing in line for days in the cold, to enroll their children in a high-performing and highly competitive Penn-funded public school. But a potential mayoral candidate may have used political connections to get his kids into Penn Alexander, despite the fact that he lives miles away.

Kevin Johnson, a Philadelphia pastor, has his children enrolled in the Penn Alexander School despite his living in Overbrook, four miles outside the catchment area, the Philadelphia Daily News reported on Monday. The Daily News also reported that 34 out of Penn Alexander’s 550 students live outside the school’s catchment zone — the residential area that determines eligibility for attendance at Penn Alexander.

Registration at Penn Alexander has been a contentious point in past years, with the unanticipated implementation of a lottery for enrollment at the school and the subsequent outcry from local parents who waited to enroll their children at the school.

Related: School district: Penn Alexander waitlist system to change

The Daily News’ revelation about Johnson has raised questions about how the Bright Hope Baptist Church pastor, known for being an “outsider” candidate for next year’s mayoral election, could have so much political influence to get his children registered at the school.

In an email to the Daily News, Johnson declined to explain how his three children are able to attend Penn Alexander. He said that he and his wife “take the responsibility of being parents very seriously, especially in ensuring that our children are safe and secure.”

The Daily News reported that Johnson was a close friend of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was a member of his church. Ackerman was superintendent when Johnson’s two oldest children registered for school and there was no superintendent in place when his youngest registered.

District spokesperson Fernando Gallard told the Daily News that previous superintendents were able to make enrollment exceptions for “an extenuating circumstance … that’s for the well-being and safety of the child.” He noted that the superintendent is the only person with the power to place students in a specific school.

Related: ICYMI: How the school system is falling apart

Gallard did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Pennsylvanian on Monday. A representative from Penn Alexander could not be reached for a comment on Monday.

Penn currently gives about $700,000 per year to Penn Alexander, which is located at 42nd and Spruce streets. It was founded in 1998 and opened in 2001, with the help of the University.

Staff writer Jill Golub contributed reporting.

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