While Penn students, parents and administrators tend to view the Penn-Alexander elementary school in a positive light, some feel that a formal assessment of the school is necessary and overdue.
History professor Walter Licht, who also serves as a faculty adviser to Civic House, expressed concerns about the lack of such an assessment during a recent lecture.
While Licht does not have any children who attend Penn-Alexander, he was among those members of the faculty who originally suggested that the University start a neighborhood school 10 to 15 years ago.
While noting that he is not a critic of the school, Licht said that "there were lots of dreams and visions when the school was planned, and I think it's time to take a moment to see what progress has been made."
According to Nancy Streim -- who is associate dean of the Graduate School of Education as well as the chairwoman of the school's educational planning committee and a liaison between the University and Penn-Alexander -- there are constant informal assessments of the school.
What qualifies an assessment, however, is not always agreed upon.
"Assessing the school is difficult because everyone has different expectations," said Keally McBride, parent of Penn-Alexander first-grader Celeste.
McBride noted that the school sends home reports with test scores every year, though she does not feel they can truly appraise the school.
Streim said that reports to the University's Board of Trustees, test scores and numerous accolades back up her opinion that the school has been "an enormous success."
The public school first opened in September 2001, though this is the first year the 500-student institution has accommodated grades kindergarten through eight.
School Planning Coordinator Ann Kreidle said that those who expect an assessment should keep this fact in mind when inquiring about the school.
Still, Licht questions whether the school has held true to its founding vision.
The school is meant to serve as an excellent neighborhood school, a hub for teachers in their professional development and a community school in the evening.
Some say that the reputation of the school is evident given that many parents are willing to move to the area specifically so their children can attend Penn-Alexander.
McBride moved to West Philadelphia from Fairmount Park just for the education.
Christine Nelson -- whose husband David Comberg is a lecturer in Penn's School of Design -- moved from Brooklyn to Philadelphia last year and said she was immediately "sold" by the fact that the "school serves the neighborhood."
Both McBride and Nelson are happy with the school.
But Licht voiced his concern that parents will eventually send their children to the city's private schools if Penn-Alexander does not live up to parents' and professors' standards.
However, Classical Studies professor Joseph Farrell said that Penn-Alexander has been a better school for his son Kai than Friends Select, a private K-12 school, was for his older daughter -- who now attends Central High School.
Farrell does not feel strongly that an assessment is necessary.
"I don't know if an evaluation will tell us things we don't already know," the College associate dean said.
Some parents' experiences with the school are not completely positive, however.
James Serpell, a School of Veterinary Medicine professor whose son Oscar was a fifth-grader last year, had a bad experience with what he said was a poor teacher.
The teacher eventually left, but not before Serpell withdrew Oscar from the school.
Serpell's first-grade daughter Ella still attends the school.
He notes, however, that he has not yet seen progress reports and would like to see how Penn-Alexander compares to other schools.
Serpell said he is also concerned that the school is less diverse in the older grades, estimating that about 80 percent of students in grades six through eight are black.
Overall, according to Kreidle, 54 percent of the student body is black, 22 percent is white, 13 percent is Asian American, 6 percent is Latino and 5 percent of the students are of other ethnicities.
Moreover, 19 percent of the students are international. These students -- or their parents -- were born in a foreign country.
"Almost everyone we know is very happy with the school," Serpell added.
However, he feels that people will inevitably become suspicious if no one evaluates the school, though he does not feel such suspicions would be founded.
"I think the whole neighborhood depends on it being successful," Serpell added.
Licht agreed, saying, "Everyone wants the school to succeed."
He also mentioned that initially Penn students and faculty were expected visit the school frequently.
While Penn students do not casually visit the school, a handful serve as tutors there.
College junior Jeff William, the president of the Penn Music Mentors program, says that, unlike other area schools, Penn-Alexander offers its students an impressive assortment of instruments -- including saxophones, trombones and keyboards.
William, who is among eight or so music mentors, helps students who need extra attention during music classes and also gives private lessons.
"From what I can see, the students are very engaged and interested," he said, mentioning that the students take pride in their musical accomplishments.
Engineering junior Sherri Wykosky and Wharton and Engineering junior Christina Garay run an after-school science and technology club at the school each Monday.
This program draws as many as 12 students each week, all of whom impress Garay and Wykosky.
Wykosky, who has also taught students at University City High School, felt that the "kids at Penn-Alexander are more attentive, more willing to learn and far more respectful" than her high school students were.
College junior Kate Davidson, who is also a music mentor at Penn-Alexander, said she imagined that an assessment of the school would yield positive results.Comments powered by Disqus
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