Maritime Academy Charter High School thrives in new location

Stu­dents re­ceive mari­time-themed edu­ca­tion in former Steph­en A. Douglas High School build­ing.

  • Principal Edward Poznek poses in the school. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTO

  • Maritime Academy Charter High School moved into the former Stephen A. Douglas High School building in July 2013. ALI EAVES / STAR PHOTO

At Mari­time Academy Charter High School, the win­dows are called portholes. The floor is a deck; the bath­rooms are heads; the stu­dents are ca­dets and they are treated ac­cord­ingly. It’s only fit­ting that the school is now loc­ated in Port Rich­mond. 

The charter’s high school stu­dents moved in­to the former Steph­en A. Douglas High School build­ing, 2700 E. Hunt­ing­don St., this school year. Douglas closed in June 2013 in the largest mass pub­lic school clos­ing in the city’s his­tory.

When the charter moved in on Ju­ly 15, school of­fi­cials got right to work fix­ing up the 86-year-old build­ing.

“Our lease star­ted at 9 a.m., and we had a paint­ing crew in here at 11 a.m.,” said Ed­ward Poznek, prin­cip­al and chief ex­ec­ut­ive of­ficer of the school. “We put 100 gal­lons of paint in this build­ing.”

The build­ing was ready for the 289 ca­dets to start classes on Sept. 4, and for the first time, they have a real cafet­er­ia and a gym­nas­i­um. 

The 55,000 square-foot build­ing gives the ca­dets more room for ex­tra­cur­riculars, such as chess club, cook­ing club, dance club and a re­cently cre­ated drama club. 

There’s also a com­puter lab with 30 brand-new Mac com­puters. (The 530 middle school stu­dents are still at the charter school’s oth­er loc­a­tion at 2275 Bridge St., which has no gym and only a make­shift cafet­er­ia.) 

Mari­time con­cepts are woven throughout the cur­riculum. 

“What we do is in­cul­cate the mari­time theme throughout a reg­u­lar cur­riculum,” said Poznek, a former Nav­al of­ficer. “In­stead of Jack and the Bean­stalk, we might read about pir­acy on the high seas.”

There’s a small-en­gine re­pair class, where ca­dets can tear apart and re­build an in­tern­al com­bus­tion en­gine, and a class on mari­time en­gin­eer­ing, but there’s also an en­tre­pren­eur­ship class and stun­ning char­coal self-por­traits hanging on the walls.

So why the mari­time theme? 

Be­cause Phil­adelphia is one of the largest ports in the world, says Eu­gene Mat­tioni, the chair­man of the school board. 3,000 ships pass through our city each year, he said; Aker Phil­adelphia Shipyard, loc­ated at the Navy Yard, is the second largest com­mer­cial shipyard in the coun­try. There are many well-pay­ing jobs in the in­dustry, said Mat­tioni, who works as a mari­time law­yer.

School of­fi­cials are work­ing to con­nect stu­dents with mari­time ca­reers, Poznek said. Pro­fes­sion­als in the mari­time in­dustry give lec­tures about their ca­reers and host field trips to places like Aker, where stu­dents can see a 500-foot ship be­ing built.  

Mari­time’s gradu­ation rate last year was 65 per­cent, com­pared to the Phil­adelphia school dis­trict’s 55 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the state De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion’s school re­port cards. The school met the Ad­equate Yearly Pro­gress bench­marks re­quired by the No Child Left Be­hind Act for the 2012 school year, but re­ceived a warn­ing in 2011, ac­cord­ing to state re­cords. 

The charter school, which is leas­ing the build­ing from the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict, made an of­fer to pur­chase the build­ing from the dis­trict in Decem­ber, Poznek said, and is ex­pect­ing to hear by March wheth­er the deal will go through. 

A dis­trict spokes­wo­man de­clined to com­ment on a pos­sible deal, cit­ing con­fid­en­ti­al­ity con­cerns.

Sev­er­al neigh­bors said they were glad the prop­erty wasn’t sit­ting empty. 

“Every­body’s happy they’re there,” said Michele Gonza­lez, 42, who lives near the school. “I’m just glad they did something with the build­ing.”

Mul­tiple neigh­bors said the Mari­time stu­dents were bet­ter be­haved than the stu­dents who at­ten­ded Douglas when it oc­cu­pied the build­ing, and one man who lives across the street said the prin­cip­al in­tro­duced him­self and asked if he had any con­cerns.

Thom­son Li­ang, 24, who lives right across the street, said the com­bin­a­tion of school bus traffic and loud teen­agers can be an­noy­ing, but still prefers the school to a gi­ant va­cant build­ing.

(An­oth­er Port Rich­mond school build­ing, the former Nativ­ity B.V.M. School, which has been va­cant since 2008, has be­come a tar­get for burg­lary, theft and van­dal­ism.)

While Don­ell Whit­more, Sr., 51, of North­east Phil­adelphia, waited to pick up his daugh­ter, a ninth-grader, from school on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, he said the rig­or­ous aca­dem­ics drew his fam­ily to the school.

“The cur­riculum is de­mand­ing,” he said. “The teach­ers have high stand­ards and ex­pect the chil­dren to keep up with those stand­ards.” 

Whit­more, who served in both the Army and the Navy, said his daugh­ter wants to be a pe­di­at­ri­cian, and even though she gets “tons of home­work,” her grades have ris­en.  

“To the teach­ers here, it’s more than just a job,” he said. “They push these chil­dren to ex­cel.”

In this new build­ing, the teach­ers have all the more room to do so. 

“Mov­ing here is the best thing that ever happened to our high school,” Poznek said.

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