Penn Alexander Institutes Controversial New Enrollment Policy

“Something’s gotta give.”

That’s what one parent told me last year about Penn Alexander, the small public K-8 school co-managed by The School District of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania.  It has small classrooms, yet has a big and growing following.  More and more families are moving into its designated catchment area, swelling enrollments.  The school was designed for small class sizes, and the smaller than average classrooms are brimming with children.  Yet, more and more families keep moving to the catchment to join the school.  Something’s gotta give.

Fortunately, the problem has been limited to kindergarten where only a limited number of seats are made available.  Other grades accept all catchment students.  I originally wrote about the Kindergarten problem in 2010 with “Penn Alexander Crapshoot” and then wrote about it again this past January as parents waited in line in the middle of the night in record freezing temperatures to secure seats for their children [VIDEO]. The local TV news even took notice.  Since the issue was limited to kindergarten, the problem for catchment families was what to do for the kindergarten year.  Those who did not secure a seat had to find another option.

Over the last several weeks, I have spoken to several Penn Alexander parents who independently shared with me some swirling rumors–that Penn Alexander will be instituting a new enrollment policy–No guaranteed seats for catchment students for all grades.  As with most rumors, details were sketchy and varied.  Enrollment by lottery?  Preferential treatment given to siblings?  Grandfathering currently enrolled students?  Enrollment via a first-come-first-served registration day like kindergarten?  Whatever the details are, this is causing quite a stir.  Many families have paid huge premiums over comparable homes to buy a house in the Penn Alexander catchment.  Now, faced with an uncertain school situation and a potentially big loss in property values, these parents are understandably upset.

I didn’t write anything about this rumor because I hear rumors all of the time that turn out to be false.  This one seemed more likely, but I wasn’t sure and I don’t like stoking the fires of school choice anxiety.  I reached out to school officials and got a denial and sort of let it drop.  Now the West Philly Local is reporting that the rumors are true and is citing official district spokeswoman Shana Kemp as its source.  The official statement:

Penn Alexander is at capacity in the lower grades. It typically is the policy that a school must take a student who lives in a catchment, however, once a school reaches capacity, the District can make the decision to assign students elsewhere in order to relieve overcrowding. This is what we have had to do at Penn Alexander. The school was founded in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, in part, in order to provide enrollment relief to the Lea and Wilson schools, so it is important that we not create a situation of overcrowding there.

West Philadelphia Local goes on to write,

Registration officially begins on August 15, but District officials recommended that parents of students not currently enrolled at the school investigate other neighborhood schools.

Details of how the enrollment caps will be managed are sketchy at this time–refer to the West Philly Local article for that.  What strikes me though–If I had moved to Penn Alexander catchment with the expectation of sending my children to Penn Alexander, I would be incensed right now.  You have to think that catchment families will mount a full-scale revolt over this development.  Something to watch.  I don’t think we’ve heard the last on this issue.  Something’s gotta give.

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