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As Penn nears the closing stages of negotiating a partnership with a nearby public high school, education experts are debating the merits of such relationships.

Penn officials say they hope to gain approval for a partnership with University City High School later this month or in early May, and have the partnership functioning by the start of the 2009-2010 school year.

Teachers College of Columbia professor Nancy Streim, who was a former associate dean of the Graduate School of Education, said the new partnership was designed as a follow-up to the Penn Alexander School, which she was instrumental in planning and lauds as an overwhelming success.

"It has created a vibrant residential neighborhood, repopulated the neighborhood with families that can go to school right in their area, and demonstrated that you can have a terrific urban public school with a very diverse student body," she said.

Others, like Ted Hershberg, Penn's director of Operation Public Education and professor of Public Policy and History, view have a negative view of such partnerships.

"I think it's wonderful that Penn or Temple or other schools form these partnerships," he said. "But it's propping up failed school systems."

Hershberg, whose organization focuses on developing models for comprehensive school reform, said the current public-education system in Philadelphia is leaving behind the "vast majority" of students.

"Why not create a school system that doesn't have to depend on external partnerships that can only serve a handful of schools?" he said.

James Lytle, a former principal at University City High and the current Graduate School of Education liaison to the school district, said the proposed partnership is a part of the school district's comprehensive reform program to break large high schools into smaller units.

Lytle said that after three years of discussions with the school board about the logistics of Penn sponsoring a local high school and how the school board could subdivide large schools, "the two interests have finally combined."

Despite a tentative proposal for a curriculum focused on international business - a plan that community members have criticized for being inappropriate for the student body's needs - Lytle said no definite decisions have been reached.

"Although the school may have an international orientation, we really haven't made any commitments yet on exactly the specifics of the programs and curriculum."

Regardless of whether the proposal is approved, University City High, located at 36th and Filbert streets, will shut down for two years beginning in 2010 so the heating and ventilation systems can be renovated.

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