When Amy Gutmann became president of Penn in 2004 , she ushered in a new era of local engagement with the Penn Compact.
“We cherish our relationships with our neighbors, relationships that have strengthened Penn academically while increasing the vitality of West Philadelphia,” Gutmann said in her inaugural address. “We will build on the success of the Penn Alexander School to strengthen public education in our neighborhoods.”
Since the Penn Compact, the University has not duplicated the school’s relationship with Penn Alexander. Penn not only helped found the school, but also provided curriculum advice and guidance and continues to give about $700,000 to the school annually. But throughout the 10 years of Gutmann’s presidency and the many tumultuous changes in the School District of Philadelphia, the partnerships between Penn and schools in West Philadelphia have grown substantially.
Director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships Ira Harkavy said that since Gutmann became president, Penn’s tone toward engagement has changed dramatically. Rather than just addressing local engagement, it has become what Penn is all about, he said.
“President Gutmann built upon and extended previous efforts and took the lead towards new creative, innovative and promising directions,” Harkavy said.
One way to quantify Penn’s growing engagement is through the number of Academically Based Community Service Courses — courses where Penn students learn through volunteer work with students at local schools. Last school year, 1,800 students participated in 65 ABCS courses that were offered by 26 departments, a growth from the 100 students involved when ABCS courses were first offered in the 1992-93 academic year.
The last 10 years have also seen a growth in student-led programs impacting West Philadelphia schools , like the establishment of Community School Student Partnerships . CSSP began in 2005 as a group of undergraduates mentoring a small group of Sayre High School students. The group eventually became a full partner of the Netter Center by 2009.
Most recently, Penn announced the appointment of Caroline Watts as the director of the University’s partnership with the Henry C. Lea Elementary School — a full-time position working with the local school.
“Beside the facts on the ground,” Harkavy said of the data used to illustrate the expanded partnerships, “the engagement comes because it is seen as central to Penn now, in the present and going forward.”
At a meeting with the Daily Pennsylvanian in August, Gutmann spoke of how Penn’s role in Philadelphia public schools should be to both help schools in the community and “inform education reform” through research at the Graduate School of Education.
“We can do more and more in doing the kinds of research that shows what works in public education,” Gutmann said, noting that incoming GSE Dean Pam Grossman plans to do exactly that: ”[have] our GSE do more research with our local school district.”
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