The 'little school' that could … grow

Amer­ic­an Paradigm School holds a lunch­eon meet­ing with loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials at their new build­ing, which was formerly oc­cu­pied by Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion and St. Wil­li­am, Wed­nes­day, Ju­ly 25, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Ger­ald San­tilli and Sta­cey Cruise beamed as they wel­comed elec­ted of­fi­cials, their staffs and the news me­dia in­to First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School.

San­tilli is founder and Cruise is chief ex­ec­ut­ive of­ficer of Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools, a non-profit edu­ca­tion­al man­age­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion formed last year.

As the aca­dem­ic year nears, the little school that star­ted mod­estly in 2002 is now part of an or­gan­iz­a­tion that will wel­come stu­dents to five cam­puses.

“That’s ex­cit­ing. That’s pro­gress,” Cruise said dur­ing a Ju­ly 25 lunch­eon.

Amer­ic­an Paradigm Schools has the fol­low­ing sites:

• First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School’s Frank­ford Val­ley Cam­pus, a kinder­garten to eighth-grade school at 4300 Ta­cony St.

• First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory Charter School’s new Prin­ceton Cam­pus, which will wel­come 250 chil­dren in kinder­garten through second grade at the former Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion School site at 4816 Prin­ceton Ave. in Ta­cony.

• Ta­cony Academy Charter School’s Rhawn­hurst Cam­pus, a kinder­garten to sev­enth-grade school at 1330 Rhawn St., the former home of Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute. It opened in 2009.

• Ta­cony Academy Charter High School’s new Rising Sun Cam­pus, which will wel­come 300 stu­dents in ninth, 10th and 11th grades at the former St. Wil­li­am School site at 6238 Rising Sun Ave. in Lawndale.

• Mem­ph­is Street Academy Charter School, which will edu­cate 800 fifth- through eighth-graders at the former John Paul Jones Middle School site at 2950 Mem­ph­is St. in Port Rich­mond. Jones had an aw­ful repu­ta­tion in the com­munity.

San­tilli, former ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of fin­an­cial ser­vices for the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia, said the charter schools have wait­ing lists, and that their of­fices are “flooded” with re­sumes. At­tend­ance rates are high, and so are scores on stand­ard­ized tests. Vi­ol­ent in­cid­ents are “vir­tu­ally non-ex­ist­ent.”

“Charter schools have a product that people are in­ter­ested in,” he said, point­ing to dozens of pub­lic school build­ings that are either empty or have empty seats. “We are all about cre­at­ing high-qual­ity seats for Phil­adelphia chil­dren.”

“Paradigm means ‘mod­el,’ and we are the mod­el,” Cruise ad­ded.

San­tilli re­called that, a dec­ade ago, he wondered if any­body would walk through the doors at what was then called the First Phil­adelphia Charter School for Lit­er­acy.

In its humble be­gin­nings, the school op­er­ated out of rooms in three North­east syn­agogues. It even­tu­ally moved to the cur­rent digs on Ta­cony Street.

“It took two years, and we were at ca­pa­city,” said Cruise, a former prin­cip­al at the school.

San­tilli, Cruise and oth­er ad­min­is­trat­ors wel­comed state Reps. John Sabat­ina Jr. and Tony Payton and aides to City Coun­cil mem­bers Mari­an Tasco and Mark Squilla, state Sen. Mike Stack and state Reps. Brendan Boyle and Kev­in Boyle to hear about all of the changes and listen to a per­form­ance by the Sis­ter Cit­ies Girls Choir.

The edu­cat­ors preached an open-door policy.

“Our home is your home,” said Ster­ling Gar­ris, CEO and prin­cip­al at the Ta­cony Academy Charter School cam­puses.

More changes are com­ing.

A high school will be built on the Ta­cony Street site, per­haps open­ing as soon as Septem­ber 2013.

San­tilli be­lieves the suc­cess of First Phil­adelphia Pre­par­at­ory is help­ing to trans­form what is oth­er­wise an old in­dus­tri­al area. The former Globe Dye Works site is home to a bunch of busi­nesses, and plans are to add hous­ing.

The school at the tiny Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion build­ing is tem­por­ary.

And Ta­cony Academy Charter School will someday ac­tu­ally be in Ta­cony, in­stead of Rhawn­hurst and Lawndale. Plans to open in two river­front sites haven’t ma­ter­i­al­ized. ••


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