Long journey home

Stu­dents gath­er for an open­ning as­sembly at the new gym­nas­i­um at North­wood Academy Chartes School, where grades kinder­garden to eight grade will be united in one build­ing for the first time in six years, Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 5, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

North­wood Academy Charter School opened in 2005, but a space crunch sent some stu­dents and staff look­ing for tem­por­ary digs.

The adults and kids sure were re­source­ful.

In the be­gin­ning, they were at a va­cant former syn­agogue. North­wood also ren­ted space at Felton­ville In­ter­me­di­ate School. And the school signed a five-year lease with St. Joachim, a Cath­ol­ic school in Frank­ford that closed in 2003, for its fifth- through eighth-graders.

When it was time for gym class, the kids and their teach­ers trekked to Simpson Play­ground.

All the while, school ad­min­is­trat­ors were plan­ning for the day when the en­tire North­wood Academy Charter School com­munity would be un­der one roof.

That day came last week. CEO Amy Hol­lister woke up on the morn­ing of Feb. 5 with one con­cern.

“I hope we’re all go­ing to fit,” she said.

Hol­lister gave her an­swer — “a re­sound­ing yes” — soon after the 70-plus staff mem­bers and 788 kids in kinder­garten through eighth grade walked in­to the school loc­ated at 4621 Castor Ave., in the former North­wood Nurs­ing Home.

Hol­lister and Pam Fried­man, dir­ect­or of stu­dent ser­vices, were all smiles at the front en­trance, giv­ing hugs and high-fives to the young people re­port­ing to school that morn­ing.

Ground­break­ing for a big ad­di­tion at the school began in Au­gust 2011, and the con­struc­tion took place on a va­cant field. Be­sides the gym, the school now has a new cafet­er­ia and a primary edu­ca­tion wing for kinder­garten through third-grade stu­dents.

The build­ing now con­sists of 68,000 square feet, and there was plenty of Bull­dog Pride on dis­play.

“It’s been a long road home,” Hol­lister said. “It’s been a long time to get this far. We are fi­nally home to­geth­er.”

The cel­eb­ra­tion took place in the spa­cious gym, which was dec­or­ated with bal­loons and rib­bons. The Bull­dog mas­cot and aides to state Rep. John Taylor and City Coun­cil­wo­man Maria Quinones Sanc­hez at­ten­ded.

Stu­dents Steven Jef­fer­son, Sum­mer Pan­ei and Erica Pan­ei joined in the rib­bon-cut­ting ce­re­mony.

“2013, are you here?” Fried­man asked of the class of eighth-graders, who cheered loudly.

Hol­lister, who said it was an emo­tion­al day for her, asked the stu­dents to turn to the stu­dent next to them and say something nice.

The CEO re­cog­nized every­one who was on board from day one.

“To all my 2005 pi­on­eers, can we all raise our hands?” she asked.

North­wood’s PSSA scores have ris­en every year since 2005, and it ranks in the top 5 per­cent of highest-per­form­ing pub­lic ele­ment­ary schools in Phil­adelphia.

There are more than 500 chil­dren on a wait­ing list to get in­to the school.

North­wood ad­min­is­trat­ors give much of the cred­it to edu­ca­tion­al ment­or/con­sult­ant Rochelle “Shelly” Ag­ris, the former long­time prin­cip­al at John Han­cock Ele­ment­ary School in Mor­rell Park. 

In 2006, the per­cent­ages of North­wood stu­dents pro­fi­cient in math and read­ing were 33.3 per­cent and 35.9 per­cent, re­spect­ively. Today, those num­bers are 81.4 per­cent and 73.8 per­cent.

Fac­ulty mem­bers thanked Ag­ris in a video, as Frank Sinatra’s My Way played. North­wood named its new edu­ca­tion­al space the “Rochelle Ag­ris Primary Wing.”

Pa­tri­cia My­chack, the primary school prin­cip­al, de­scribed Ag­ris as sol­id as every brick and steel beam in the new build­ing. She called her the “fore­wo­man of our in­struc­tion­al found­a­tion.”

A video also chron­icled the jour­ney to the ad­di­tion, show­ing pic­tures as the con­struc­tion pro­gressed.

The stu­dents clapped along to a re­cord­ing of Home, sung by last year’s Amer­ic­an Idol win­ner, Phil­lip Phil­lips.

“Wel­come home, Bull­dogs,” My­chack said. ••


Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus