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. ••EndFragment