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Principal Roy McKinney is proud of the improvements that Barratt Middle School has made in the past couple years, as exhibited by its latest rankings. [Ari Friedman/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

"'Eiver's' not a word," Barratt Middle School Principal Roy McKinney interjects, seizing an opportunity to teach a combined discipline and grammar lesson in the midst of a student-teacher confrontation regarding a student's misconduct. Although Barratt has seen a recent administrative turnover since it was privatized under Edison Schools, Inc., this year, some things never change. At the Philadelphia public school, students' daily routines still include all the staples of the typical middle school experience, from reading, writing and arithmetic to reprimands. All of this takes place in Barratt's historic setting at 16th and Wharton streets, where a marble staircase ascends from the school's foyer in the main building, which was built in the 1920s. Outside of the administrators' offices hang student artwork alongside the "Wall of Fame," a board with pictures of Barratt alumni, including Ollie Johnson, assistant athletics director at Philadelphia Community College. McKinney, a man with a serious demeanor but an easy smile, greets the students each morning, checks on classrooms throughout the day, visits the cafeteria at lunchtime, knows students and teachers by name and tap dances through the halls. • In Philadelphia, a district where students consistently score subpar on standardized tests and where quality education is the exception, not the rule, Barratt is trying to set itself apart. Just recently, it was awarded a $164,000 State School Performance Funding grant for improved attendance and test scores. Soaring math and reading scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test have manifested themselves in Barratt's jump from an unranked middle school to No. 3 on the list in Philadelphia this year. That was before Barratt came under the leadership of Edison, a private company that was brought in to manage about 20 of the city's public schools after a state takeover of the ailing district last year. According to its administrators, Barratt has come a long way from being just another impoverished inner-city Philadelphia school in a rough neighborhood. McKinney says that when he assumed his role as principal in 2000 after serving for two years as assistant principal, "the school was really off the hook." Parents were afraid of sending their fifth graders to a building where intimidating seventh and eighth graders were a dominant force. In response, McKinney moved his fifth and sixth graders to an annex at 11th and Catherine streets, about a 10-minute drive from the main building at 16th and Wharton streets. "That was one of the solutions we came up with as an administrative team," he says. "Kids are making progress academically. Things are altogether different." Having two locations requires teachers to travel between buildings during the school day, putting a "damper on flexibility," according to McKinney. "I hope to bring everyone back together." McKinney also introduced the "Reading by 9" program, designed to increase literacy in ailing schools, to Barratt. While Edison claims its rigorous curricula and financial resources used for first-class educational materials have been exceedingly beneficial to schools all over the nation, McKinney brushes off the influence of the company on his students' academic performance.

"My teachers sort of fell into" the curriculum, McKinney explains. It was only "different terminology" for a concept that had been in practice at Barratt for several years. While funds from Edison have produced few curricular changes, now McKinney "can say that I have a 2002 math textbook for every kid." When McKinney became principal of the school, he implemented learning communities. Now that Edison is in charge, these are referred to as "houses." The houses are divided by grade, each with a unique theme -- "Health and Nutrition," "Multiculturalism," "Journalism and Media" and "Entrepreneurship, Education and Empowerment." Still, Barratt is not all tap dancing and academic turnaround. The school community is also dealing with some detrimental effects of privatization, officials say. "A lot of teachers believe they cannot do as good a job as they could if they had more personnel," Curriculum Coordinator Jo Ann Anderson says. Edison cut funds for the school's support staff, and Barratt has been left with a "skeleton staff," Anderson explains. Additionally, Edison has induced tense teacher relations between a faction of strong union participants and other teachers who "just go with the flow," Anderson says. Edison has also breached its contract with the school in terms of the budget, she claims. Barratt administrators are currently working to find funds to expand the staff, so that noontime assistants, hallway monitors and other non-instructional school authorities can be rehired. • While adjusting to these present administrative changes, McKinney anticipates a future of continued improvement for Barratt, a school whose past penetrates its halls. Some alumni, like Johnson, who takes kids to visit the community college where he works, have already stepped up to help. Administrators at Barratt are hoping that others will follow. They plan to contact graduates, asking them to give back financially to their school. But material help isn't all the school is hoping to give its students. Next to Johnson's photo on the "Wall of Fame," is a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Barratt in 1967. McKinney explains that the bulletin board serves as inspiration to the kids -- students from Barratt really go places in life. And sometimes, they come back to McKinney. "To be able to have kids come back to you later and say, 'Thank you for redirecting me'... so the kids can make that progress or make that growth... that in itself is my reward."

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