By Tamir Harper
Editor in Chief
On the evening of Tuesday, September 12th, Science Leadership Academy Center City held a meeting to announce that the district plans to co-locate the school with Benjamin Franklin High School at 550 N. Broad Street.
The move into the new building will happen for the 2019-2020 school year, which gives time for the district to complete a total redesign of Benjamin Franklin, for which they have budgeted 20 million dollars.
A powerpoint delivered by Principal Chris Lehmann explained that the redesign will seek to make SLA feel at home and also improve the building conditions for Benjamin Franklin High School students as well.
This week will be the start of that redesign, with design development happening this school year, and construction slated to start in July 2018.
In attendance were students, parents, SLA Staff and School District of Philadelphia officials like Spokesperson Lee Whack, Assistant Superintendent of the Innovative Network Christina Grant, the Chief Schools Officer and a few other of Superintendent Bill Hite’s cabinet members.
After the introductory powerpoint presentation, attendees split into small groups to discuss their concerns and brainstorm around their vision for the move.
Mr. Lehmann believes that, in some ways, the news was hard for the SLA community to hear. “We [the district] have to honor people process in coming to terms with that change.”
Lehmann noted that many parents went through that process pretty quickly. “By the end of that meeting parents were like now what, what has to happen, how do we make it work, what does it look like and got to that next place.”
Throughout Monday’s meeting, Mr. Lehmann stressed how involved parents and students will be involved in this process. Parents and others will be able to sit on a building management committee to ensure that student and parent voices are heard throughout the design of the building.
Despite these assurances, some attendees of the meeting were not satisfied and felt blindsided by the announcement.
During the small group breakout conversations, Freshman and Senior parent Sharon Baker-Smith spoke with Chief Schools Officer Shawn Bird and told him that the move wasn’t smart or safe.
Other parents stressed concerns about climate and safety of their children during dismissal and in the possible co-mingling of spaces. But some were on board and wanted to see how the district can design an innovative space that would work for both schools.
But for those who weren’t on board, Dr. Bird tried his best to calm parents down and give them the reasoning behind the move, but he wasn’t very successful.
Another frequent question was about what the curriculum and culture at Benjamin Franklin would look like when SLA joins them at Broad and Spring Garden.
Officials from the district explained that Benjamin Franklin has a new principal, who is working to stabilize the culture at Benjamin Franklin.
Sophomore Horace Ryans attended the meeting and felt as though that the SLA community barely had say in it, but did not think anything can be done to stop it.
Regardless, he is hopeful. “What we can do is continue to love and care for each other like we already are because SLA isn’t SLA because of the location, it’s SLA because we make it this way.”
Some students and parents were concerned about enrollment dropping at SLA, but Mr. Lehmann believes that the school will still have a “vibrant population that is diverse and represents the entire city.”
Technology Teacher Marcie Hull, who has been with SLA since its first year, stated that some freshman are excited about the move and is ready to tackle this challenge. Some students have been worried about teachers leaving, but Mrs. Hull said she “will not be going anywhere.”
As proof of her commitment to the school, she is currently pursuing her Ed.D to become a Senior Career Teacher and grow in her position at Science Leadership Academy.
She wants students to know that “this is part of the progress that is going to create better opportunities for more kids in the city.”
Seniors who will not be directly affected by the move had some thoughts as well. Senior Ella Burrows said, “I feel hurt that this wasn’t more of a conversation, but we can all be hopeful and stick it out with each other and have faith that things will workout like they are supposed to.”
Burrows also shared that “things happen for a reason so I like to think of this as an obstacle just waiting for us to overcome.”
SLA Alumnus Luke Risher told me over the phone after hearing about the move, he “feels as though the district should be transparent and communicative because this is definitely a choice that blindsided us (the SLA community) that has given us very little process and time.”
Lehmann wants all freshman and sophomores to “be part of it, we are going to make this as transparent as we possibly can.” He wants students to voice their concerns thoughtfully.
As expected, on Thursday, Sept 14th the School Reform Commission approved the funding to renovate Ben Franklin high school for a co-location.
Upcoming meeting dates about the redesign will be shared with the community as soon as they are available via www.scienceleadership.org.