However, none of this would exist if the school did not have an actual building. Most students don’t know about the history of how SLA was built–and how the current home of the school, at 55 N. 22nd street, could be a temporary one.
Although SLA opened its doors to students in the fall of 2006, School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Management negotiated the lease for the school in 2005. This lease was set for ten years and is not paid for by the capital of the state. The lease, like a rent, is paid by the operational funds of the school. This means that the funds used to make sure students have supplies, tools, and programs to better education are also being used to pay the lease, unlike most other schools, where the building is owned by the School District.
Chris Lehmann, the founder and principal of SLA, acknowledges that this is a difficult situation. “A perfect world is a school paid with capital funds so all operating funds go to the kids and education.”
The lease was enacted before Lehmann was hired, so he has no power over the matter, the only thing he can do is make sure his needs are met that may appear in the building.
Currently SLA is in its seventh year in the current building. With the lease expiring in three short years, the questions is rapidly approaching: What is the future home of SLA?
Lehmann described three possibilities.
The first would be that the school would have to vacate the building — but only to move to a new school built specifically for Science Leadership Academy. The disadvantage to this plan is that it would cost the School District approximately $40 million dollars, which is cheap in the long run but very expensive at the moment, due to budget cuts and the financial problems the School District and Philadelphia is facing.
The second possibility is that SLA renews the lease or negotiate an entirely new lease, but again. The drawback here would be the school using its operational funds to maintain the lease.
The third possibility that could happen is that SLA moves to a building that once housed a high school. The only disadvantages would be that SLA has very specific needs for its building — such as a high number outlets for laptop chargers, and full science lab facilities — that help it run effectively. Even an old school building could require major renovations.
How do the students feel about this? Sophomore DeShawn McLeod, whose brother Jerome graduated two years ago with the first class of SLA, feels deeply connected to the current school space. “It’s a home, there’s so many places that we’ve found to make a home in this building. I feel like we’ve settled down into a second home.”
McLeod also responded about the possibility of the school being relocated and how it will affected the community. “It will affect the people who have been here and the history we have created, especially the freshmen.”
Although the SLA community would love to have a new facility to call their own, this is an unlikely hope in the current School District climate. Currently SDP is seeking to close several schools in the city, not open new ones. Lehmann acknowledges this challenge. “Figuring out how to fill all the needs of the schools in the district, and how to balance that, it is a challenging thing.”
No matter what happens, there is only one outcome that the populace of the school looks forward to: the future in which the SLA community has a place to learn, create, and lead.