After years of struggle, high hopes for new Feltonville campus
Parents, teachers, students, and community members in Philadelphia’s Feltonville neighborhood will breathe a sigh of relief this winter, when groundbreaking occurs for a new school in the neighborhood, the result of a community-wide effort to combat school overcrowding.
Finally, after five years of planning by parents, school staff members, and community activists, a plan for a K-8 campus in Feltonville is becoming a reality. The campus will combine use of the newly constructed building with two existing neighborhood schools, Barton Elementary and Central East Middle Schools.
Ending over a decade of busing students out of the neighborhood, the new K-8 campus will create a true neighborhood school for a community that has been clamoring for a new school for years.
But just getting a new school building is not the ending point for community members and educators involved in creating the school. They have high hopes that the new state-of-the-art building will also provide middle grades students with the resources and inspiration they need to be successful in high school.
A tradition of taking action
The Feltonville K-8 campus will benefit from years of community action in the neighborhood.
"It’s always been the case here that we’ve had to push for what we needed," said Cindy Farlino, an instructional leader at Central East and longtime resident of Feltonville.
In the past, community members have banded together to push drug dealers out of the neighborhood recreation center and to gain major renovations to the neighborhood library.
When parents got tired of busing their children to middle schools in Northeast Philadelphia because the neighborhood lacked a middle school, they also took action. The result is the current Central East Middle School, opened in 1992.
And when problems with school overcrowding and busing children became too much again, a group of parents and community members called meetings in the community to develop an action plan. The Feltonville K-8 Campus is the result.
Feltonville’s overcrowding problems reflect a challenge throughout the North Region, according to Regional Superintendent Ellen Linky. Virtually every elementary school in the region has resorted to building annexes or renting spaces in local churches to accommodate the overflow of children.
Recognizing the organized strength of the Feltonville community, District CEO Paul Vallas has worked with them to make the school a reality.
"They basically dictated the outcome," he said.
"That was not a community to be denied," he added. "They are an example for all communities."
Innovative school design
The new Feltonville K-8 Campus will consist of three freestanding school buildings less than one block from each other. The current Barton Elementary will house grades K to 2, Central East Middle School’s building will house grades 3 to 5, and the new building will be a state-of-the-art middle school for grades 6 to 8. The schools will share some common facilities at the new school.
Fatima Phillips, local school council member at Central East and Home and School president at Feltonville, said that the new K-8 campus will provide a new sense of togetherness for the diverse community in Feltonville.
"We’re hoping that there’s going to be more unity – that everyone’s going to be considered as one," Phillips explained. "So it’s not going to be three individual schools; it’s going to be one campus."
As the School District embarks on an effort to convert many of its middle schools to K-8, CEO Vallas said that the Feltonville community’s K-8 campus concept is a "good model."
"I’m not saying that it’s a model for every community, but I think that’s a model that we’ll use more and more of," he added.
Community members say they still have a lot of planning to do regarding the specifics, but the new school building will have state-of-the-art everything. Plans include a technology lab, several science labs, a library, a drama room, and a fully equipped gym.
Central East Principal John Frangipani said part of the goal is to keep students engaged in school during the critical middle years age and to make sure they are fully prepared for high school.
"We wanted to make sure that our kids had every advantage…so when they apply to high school, they’ll have lots of choices," he explained.
For longtime Feltonville resident and Central East Middle School founding parent June Cohen, the planned groundbreaking for the new school is just one more step for the neighborhood in an on-going struggle with overcrowding and for neighborhood improvement.
"I’m excited about it, but I don’t think it’s the end," Cohen said. "I think we need more schools. We’re going to need another school soon – we already do."
If Feltonville residents’ history of getting things done is any indication, we can be sure that they’ll find a way to get it.
Are you involved with schools in the School District’s Northwest Region? This winter, the Notebook will continue our community outreach project in the Northwest Region. We want to hear about your successes, concerns, and questions about schools in the area.