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46th Street and Cedar Avenue, part of West Philadelphia, on Sep. 21, 2021.

Credit: Ipek Obek

Penn plans to invest over $4 million into the Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. 

The Philadelphia School District school board is set to vote on Jan. 27 on a policy that would enter the district into an agreement with Penn worth $816,500 a year over the course of five years.

Goals for the new investment are directed at improving instructional development and adding opportunities for innovation, as well as school culture, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. School and community meetings pertaining to the partnership will be held in January and February.

Penn currently partners with Penn Alexander School—a top elementary school in West Philadelphia—providing approximately $1,300 per student. The money is used to pay for extra staff and other support. 

Penn, the Philadelphia school district, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers hope to "emulate" the success of Penn Alexander School by investing in Lea Elementary, according to the board documents. 

While Penn Alexander, which opened in 2001, was developed and designed from Penn’s idea to revitalize the neighborhood near the university, Lea Elementary opened in 1914, and Penn became involved with the school in the 1960s. Initially a first-come, first-served policy, Penn Alexander moved to a lottery system in 2013. 

The University and the district have indicated that they are taking steps to preserve diversity and ensure existing families will remain in the school, and remain involved in the school’s decision-making. Principal Aaron Gerwer, in a letter to parents, wrote that he was committed to making the partnership inclusive “by engaging with the diverse communities” that make up the Lea school community.

The demographics of Lea are much closer to that of the Philadelphia school system as a whole than Penn Alexander, though the schools are only a short distance apart, The Inquirer reported. While around 75% of Lea students are economically disadvantaged, only 46% of Penn Alexander students are — and only 14% of Penn Alexander students are Black compared to 65% of Lea students.

Penn has received criticism for gentrifying the neighborhood of Penn Alexander and displacing low-income residents, as well as for only supporting certain schools in lieu of paying PILOTS.