Northeast Times

There's a new sheriff in town

Guy Lowery might look young enough to be a col­lege un­der­gradu­ate, but he sub­scribes to some old-school the­or­ies on edu­ca­tion.

As the new prin­cip­al at the May­fair School, the 30-year-old Lowery plans to put a new em­phas­is on core sub­jects, small-group in­struc­tion and firm but fair dis­cip­line to im­prove stu­dent per­form­ance at the North­east-based grade school.

“We did not make AYP last year,” said Lowery, ref­er­en­cing the school’s fail­ure dur­ing the 2011-12 aca­dem­ic year to achieve “ad­equate yearly pro­gress” as defined by the fed­er­al No Child Left Be­hind Act.

“So com­ing in­to this situ­ation, [know­ing] we have a lot of ded­ic­ated staff mem­bers, it’s up­set­ting when you go in­to meet­ings and have to say we didn’t make it last year,” he said. “[The teach­ers] want to make aca­dem­ic pro­gress. They’ve been will­ing to listen to new ideas. They are will­ing to change.”

Lowery be­lieves he’s learned a lot about teach­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tion in his re­l­at­ively brief ca­reer.

As a child, he at­ten­ded Clara Bar­ton Ele­ment­ary and Cent­ral East Middle schools in Felton­ville. Then his fam­ily moved to May­fair and he at­ten­ded North­east High, gradu­at­ing in 2000.

The school dis­trict hired him in 2004 to teach sci­ence at Aus­tin Mee­han Middle School. He later be­came chair­man of the spe­cial edu­ca­tion de­part­ment at Mee­han, then served two years as an as­sist­ant prin­cip­al there.

The prin­cip­al’s job opened at May­fair last sum­mer when Roberta Besden re­tired and the school’s former as­sist­ant prin­cip­al, Tony Wilson, trans­ferred. Former Thomas Creighton School as­sist­ant prin­cip­al Eu­gene Golson re­placed Wilson.

May­fair School, at 3001 Prin­ceton Ave., serves about 1,100 pu­pils in kinder­garten through eighth grade. The school draws stu­dents from a geo­graph­ic area bordered by Roosevelt Boulevard, Sandy­ford Road, Ry­an Av­en­ue, Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Un­ruh Av­en­ue.

Re­l­at­ively stable but stag­nant aca­dem­ic per­form­ance, along with steady en­roll­ment growth and eth­nic di­versity, have marked its re­cent his­tory.

Ac­cord­ing to the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia, the of­fi­cial en­roll­ment was 1,044 stu­dents last aca­dem­ic year, 991 in 2010-11 and 921 in 2009-10. More than half of the stu­dents (53.1 per­cent) were clas­si­fied as “white” last year, while 14.5 per­cent were “Asi­an,” 13.9 per­cent “Latino” and 12.1 per­cent “Afric­an-Amer­ic­an.”

Al­most two-thirds of stu­dents (62.3 per­cent) were “eco­nom­ic­ally dis­ad­vant­aged,” ac­cord­ing to school dis­trict fig­ures, while 12.2 per­cent did not speak Eng­lish as their first lan­guage.

Dur­ing the school year, 82 stu­dents with­drew from the school, but 96 new stu­dents ar­rived. In prac­tic­al terms, ex­act en­roll­ment is al­ways in flux.

“The North­east as a whole is ex­plod­ing at the seams. It’s not just my school,” Lowery said. “A lot of people are mov­ing up in­to the North­east and a lot of fam­il­ies are buy­ing homes in the North­east. They send their chil­dren here, which is a good thing.”

The school dis­trict has turned to mod­u­lar classrooms — com­monly known as “trail­ers” — to ac­com­mod­ate en­roll­ment growth at May­fair. The two-story school has four trail­ers on its cam­pus, which is con­tigu­ous with the May­fair Com­munity Cen­ter and a city play­ground.

Young­er grades use the trail­ers in ad­di­tion to their stand­ard classrooms on the first floor of the main build­ing. Older grades stay mostly on the second floor, al­though they go down­stairs for lunch peri­ods.

On stand­ard­ized tests, May­fair stu­dents have scored well com­pared to oth­er pub­lic schools in the city, but they’ve per­formed poorly in com­par­is­on with the rest of Pennsylvania and with­in the con­text of AYP.

The state’s De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion re­leased test res­ults from the 2011-12 aca­dem­ic year in Septem­ber. In math, 73.7 per­cent of May­fair stu­dents scored at a “pro­fi­cient” level or above, while 61.8 per­cent were pro­fi­cient or bet­ter at read­ing. Those fig­ures placed the school in the bot­tom 23 per­cent of pub­lic grade schools statewide. In 2010-11, the res­ults were slightly bet­ter, al­though the school placed lower (in the bot­tom 18 per­cent) statewide.

May­fair reached its math pro­fi­ciency peak of 84.2 per­cent in 2005-06. The fol­low­ing year, it reached its peak on the read­ing por­tion with 67.7 per­cent pro­fi­ciency.

Based on last year’s test scores, the Web site schooldig­ger.com ranks May­fair as 1,247th out of 1,606 pub­lic ele­ment­ary schools in Pennsylvania.

Lowery thinks teach­ers should have more time with stu­dents in­di­vidu­ally and in small groups.

“We want to work smarter, really want to start drilling down to in­di­vidu­al chil­dren,” the prin­cip­al said.

“The most im­port­ant thing is to make a con­nec­tion with kids. Then they re­spect you, they have a rap­port with you.”

Lowery es­tim­ates the school’s teach­ing fac­ulty at about 70, which would make for a stu­dent-teach­er ra­tio of about 16:1. The ra­tio was about 20:1 last year and about 18:1 the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to schooldig­ger.com.

“The school dis­trict has provided staff mem­bers to meet the in­crease in en­roll­ment,” Lowery said.

That in­cludes non-teach­ing staff. The school has ad­ded two “noon­time” aides to mon­it­or safety in the mod­u­lar classrooms. But May­fair is not con­sidered a dan­ger­ous school by city or state stand­ards.

There were five “ser­i­ous in­cid­ents” (two as­saults and three weapons cases) re­por­ted there in 2010-11, along with 24 stu­dent sus­pen­sions. Totals for last school year were un­avail­able from the school dis­trict.

“Even though we’re not at that [dan­ger­ous] stage, we have strong sys­tems in place to en­sure that el­ev­en-hun­dred kids can move around the build­ing,” Lowery said.

The prin­cip­al’s mis­sion is to main­tain and pro­mote the school as a place where May­fair res­id­ents feel com­fort­able send­ing their chil­dren.

“It’s a school with a lot of pride [among] a lot of staff and stu­dents,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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