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The Penn Alexander School and Samuel Powel Elementary School were noted as among the top schools in the district according to the School District of Philadelphia's School Progress Report. The report measures the school district’s performance and charter schools for the academic year.

Every year, the District Performance Office presents the SPR, which allows the school district to track its students’ progress and see whether it is meeting certain standards. In addition, the report allows administrators to make evidence-based changes and maximize the impact of the school district’s resources on students.

Instead of relying solely on test scores, the progress reports place more emphasis on student growth. The domains evaluated include performance and improvement on standardized assessments and school climate, which focuses on student attendance and retention. High schools are also evaluated on college and career readiness and post-secondary outcomes.

Based on their scores, schools are then placed in one of four performance tiers to mark their current status for the year, with “model” being the highest achievable score followed by “reinforce,” “watch” and “intervene.” Only eight city schools attained “model” status, including the Penn Alexander School, which received a cumulative score of 83 percent.

The University of Pennsylvania has a close relationship with the Penn Alexander School. Each year, the University gives Penn Alexander $1,330 per student. The Graduate School of Education provides student teachers for classrooms and professional development and workshops for the school’s staff. In addition, Penn students serve as interns and tutors at the Penn Alexander School.

Powel received a “reinforce” status and earned an overall score of 65 percent. In addition, the elementary school was designated as a “peer leader,” which means Powel topped district rankings when compared to schools that educate similar populations.

Betsy Rymes, a professor at GSE and director of the Riepe College House Mentor Program, believes one reason Powel is successful is because of its leadership. Despite its fiscal problems, Powel has been headed by strong and supportive leaders, including Principal Kimberly Ellerbee and Alexander Stone, director of school support at Drexel University.

“Mrs. Ellerbee is no-nonsense and is extremely organized. She is really involved with the curriculum and school instruction. She runs a very tight ship,” Rymes said. “Her counterpart, Mr. Stone is really involved with school climate and working with the volunteers. His approach to working with kids makes the school a much better place.”

GSE and Penn students also have a strong relationship with Powel. GSE sends interns and student teachers to Powel. Many Penn students also volunteer at Powel through the Riepe College House Mentor Program and PennPals, a community-based mentoring program which pairs a Penn student with a Powel student.

Jessica Lowenthal, director of Kelly Writers House and a Powel parent, believes that volunteers are crucial to Powel’s success.

“The relationship with Drexel and the proximity to Penn helps because there is a ready population of student volunteers who are pitching in, along with parents, where they can,” Lowenthal said. “I think that is very helpful, especially in a school district suffering from a lack of people.”

Even though Powel and the Penn Alexander School have strong scores, there is still work that needs to be done in the School District of Philadelphia. Out of the 300 schools graded, 80 percent of the schools fall into the district’s two lowest achievement categories.

“I would like to see district level improvements. I think it would be great to have a nurse everyday of the week so that my daughter can get sick on days other than Thursday. I think it would be great to have teacher-aids. I think it would fantastic to have class sizes that are commensurate to learning needs. It’s criminal to have 30 kids in one class,” Lowenthal said.

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