Blog

Past Projects

  • We have had most of the school including the classroom doors painted.
  • Multiple murals painted
  • Violin lessons have been funded for 4th and 6th graders
  • The main office was renovated, repainted and furniture was donated
  • A partnership group has been organized to meet every two weeks in support of Mitchell – group includes Delaware Valley Fairness Project, University of Sciences, Wayne Presbyterian Church,  and the Mayor’s Office for Public Engagement
  • A chess class has been added for all grades
  • iMac Desktop station in each classroom – beforehand the school had none
  • volunteers have begun the long process of cleaning out all the closets and the auditorium – this project is ongoing as the building hasn’t been truly cleaned out since it was opened 100 years ago
  • A partnership with Temple University was set up – they send over two social workers three days a week
  • A safety mat installed under the playground equipment.
  • School won a City Year Grant ($150,000)
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Current Projects

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About Mitchell

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Mitchell Elementary school is a school with a fighting spirit. Located in Southwest Philadelphia, the most impoverished and overlooked part of the city, Mitchell, led by new Principal Stephanie Andrewlevich, has beaten the odds and pulled itself upwards towards excellence. The school has existed for just under a hundred years, during which it has suffered from abysmal government funding and inconsistent leadership. Because the district shut down schools in the recent past, a few years ago Mitchell expanded from a K-4 school to K-8.
Ms. Andrewlevich’s arrival in 2015 spelled the beginning of a new era for Mitchell. Under her guidance, teachers have gone to extreme lengths to secure funding for supplies for their students, the school was cleaned and repainted, and slowly the neighborhood families began to think of Mitchell as a community center and as a home.

A History of Philadelphia School District

  1. 1802
    1. As Philadelphia got bigger crime was spiraling out of control
    2. In 1802 the legislature decided to provide education for the poor of the city – private schooling for the city’s poor at the cost of the public.
    3. The pauper school system culminated in the election of a Board of Controllers to organize and oversee this system
    4. Schools only open to poor students
  2. 1827
    1. Robert Vaux founded Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Public Schools
      1. Tuition free and open to all students
    2. Became reality through the common school laws of 1834 and 1835 and the Consolidation Act of 1836 which opened Philadelphia’s public schools to all school-age children
    3. Schools enrolled 17,000 students within 2 years – huge jump
  3. Segregated
    1. Prompted by wave of black crime, decline in total enrollment – Opened a school for African American students in 1822 – another opened in 1826. Allocated one for boys and the other for girls
    2. Combined the two in 1828 in building on Lombard Street
    3. Erected new building for white students just beforehand
    4. In 1854 state law was issued that allowed for the segregation of schools as long as African American students could be educated together
    5. By the time this law was repealed in 1881 segregation was already entrenched
  4. Power decentralized
    1. The controllers were solely responsible for collecting and distributing funds
    2. Elected board of directors who managed the public schools  throughout the city
      1. Composed of local business and civic leaders as well as politicians
      2. These boards hired teachers, chose principals, erected buildings
      3. At first each ward board chose its own representative to what became known as the Board of Education
      4. Entrenched in this system for a long time through civic leaders and professional educators tried to weaken and even abolish these boards
      5. 1905 Reorganization Act was passed that  created a more efficient though less democratic system
      6. Twenty years beforehand Philadelphia’s first superintendent was elected – came to reform the school systems – wanted education to include industrial education
        1. District opened two manual training high schools
    3. Superintendents
      1. James MacAlister (1840-1913), Edward Brooks (1831-1912),  Martin G Brumbaugh (1862-1930)
      2. During their terms district expanded and diversified its curriculum
      3. Started teaching foreign languages, basic science, American history
      4. Districts evening program offered citizenship and literacy classes for immigrants and African Americans
      5. District assumed responsibility for boys sports in 1912
  5. Funding
    1. Board was never fiscally independent
    2. In 1904 it spent less than its counterparts in 33 other American cities
    3. 1911 law passed that gave the board ability to borrow money but not levy taxes
      1. Reinforced by state supreme court in 1937
    4. Business manage, Add B. Anderson, balanced budget for more than 30 years by narrowing down to basic instruction and compelling its teachers to accept low salaries — this is why unionization didn’t really have a presence in Philadelphia until after Anderson died
    5. Richard Dilworth took over as School Board president
    6. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – came into existence after the American Federation of Teachers expelled the Philadelphia Teachers Union for radical activity in 1941
    7. Didn’t have effect till 1961 when PFT mounted successful membership drive and became the exclusive bargaining agent for all the district’s teachers → lots of strikes
  6. 6 strikes in 11 years
    1. Budget more than doubled in 6 years from $312 billion to $711 billion
    2. Board scrambled to pay – had to furlough teachers, raise class size, carry budget deficit over from one year to the next
  7. Funding
    1. 1920s the state provided about 14% of public education spending
    2. By 1970s this percentage nearly quadrupled
    3. Fell back to merely ⅓ in the 1970s
    4. 1921 state began making differential appropriations – minimum salary law classified school districts by size of enrollment
      1. The smaller the district the larger the proportion of salary costs that would be offset by the state
      2. This greatly disadvantaged the School District of Philadelphia which ad the most students
  8. Racial divide
    1. Wave of southern African Americans moved to Philadelphia after WWII
    2. Settled into all black neighborhoods
    3. School board did not adopt took a full five years after Brown v. Board of Education to adopt a nondiscrimination policy
    4. 1963 committee appointed by board of Education proposed redrawing school boundary lines to integrate districts — Board didn’t want to adopt such a political policy – were presented with a discrimination suit filed by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission which remained unresolved for many years.
    5. Constance Clayton, first black superintendent appointed in 1983, proposed “modified desegregation plan” that depended mostly on voluntary participation
    6. Met with approval but many white Philadelphians shunned the city public schools anyway
    7. By 2010 white children comprised only 20% of the district’s student population
    8. Clayton
      1. 1982
      2. Stabilized Philadelphia school district’s budget and restored its image which had fallen after a series of week superintendents who bent to Mayor Rizzo
      3. Took special interest in struggling students
      4. Created programs in business, health and electrical science in some of the city’s high school
      5. Pew Charitable Trusts created small learning communities inside high schools
    9. 2001 SRC — School Reform Commission, made possible by the Education Empowerment Act, brought an end to local control of public education
      1. Vested control of education funding from the public and put it entirely in the hands of the state
      2. Decided district would be run by a committee of 5, 3 chosen by the governor and 2 by the mayor
      3. Because of competition with private schools, charter schools and suburban school districts, enrollment in School District of Philadelphia dropped from 2006 to 2010 from 207,000 to 160,000 – at the same time its proportion of low-income students exceeded 70%

Public Education: The School District of Philadelphia

 

Ms. Andrewlevich (Ms. A)

“I didn’t know anything about Southwest – I’d never been through here. I’d spent most of my career in the Kensington and Frankfurt neighborhoods. Then I went to work at 440 – downtown we call it 440. I was working in the office of effectiveScreen Shot 2016-12-04 at 7.03.17 AM.pngness – my job was to go out and give professional development advice to schools.


“The former principal here at Mitchell reached out and asked me to come and giving a training on classroom climate because they were having a lot of climate and cultural issues – behavior and things of that nature. The school was really completely falling apart. I didn’t know anything about the neighborhood – got lost three times coming here.

“I came in through the library, where the training session was being held, and if you go to our library you’ll see it’s beautiful.It’s an annex at the end of the building. Five years ago the school got a grant, Target came in and redid the whole library. That’s the first thing I saw and I thought ‘wow! what a beautiful school. Tons of teachers were there and they were interested and having discussions – I didn’t know at the time these teachers were barely being paid – and I thought wow, what a school this is!’

“But then I walked into the main building of the school. I was shocked. As you go down the hallway everything changed. It was astounding how badly the rest of the school needed to be renovated. I couldn’t believe it. After the hope and joy I felt in the library I could not believe this is where the students were meant to be learning.

“Eventually the principal told me that she was retiring – she told me the history of the school. That the past four years had been a perfect storm of internal struggles and shifts in administration that meant the school couldn’t stabilize, coupled with the shifting of the districts in Philadelphia which meant that suddenly this school went from a K-4 school to a K-8 school. It had been hell.

“Schools had to close because of budgets and this school doubled just at the wrong time.

“Now, I don’t know anything about the politics involved in government funding in Philadelphia. I don’screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-52-39-pmt know anything about it – I stay away from it. It frustrates me. You won’t get anything done if you try to go through the bureaucracy.

“All I care about is what happens in the four walls of my school and if you, government, won’t give me the money for it I’ll go out and get it myself. You don’t give me a social worker, I’ll get one; you don’t give me computers, I’ll find the donations. I can’t care about the complicated politics. I have a school to run.

“I got my administrative certificate fifteen years ago. For the past fifteen years people kept telling me I should be a principal over and over. I didn’t know when I would know it was time but I knew some day I would.

“When I walked into this building I knew – I knew I didn’t want to be a principal at some school, I wanted to be a principal at this school. I’ve worked with over 150 schools – not until this one did  I feel that way.

“For that library to look the way it did and for all those teachers who are so committed and excited to be in that library while they’re barely getting paid – for all of them to have to walk into those mice infested, reeking hallways – I had to help them. The only reason they were there that day, as they are every day, is because of their deep love for the kids they teach and the place they live.

“Those teachers needed this school to start functioning as a school. They need it to stop being in crisis mode every day: I could do that for them.


“I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. My weakness is that I’m impatient and I can’t deal with politics. My strength is that I am relentless. I can champion for these students, these teachers and these parents.

“When I came here the only technology they had in the classrooms were those old screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-56-48-pmenormous bubble macs (google them if you can’t remember what they look like; no one’s used them in years). Now, in less than a year and a half, every classroom has a flat screen mac and every classroom has a Smartboard.

“We spent the past year applying for grants and writing to everyone, knocking on doors. We had an article written which generated a lot of support. That’s how things get done. You have to push it and push it till things start moving.”

Paid for out of Teachers’ Pockets

“When we get here, we are only given desks and text books. We supply everything else. If the district can’t pay for it, and the parents can’t afford it – who else is going to buy supplies for our students?”

The only things the government pays for at Mitchell are desks and text books – the teachers paid for all items featured below either out of their own pocket or through independent fundraising

Click on a photo to view album as slideshow

Ms. Eileen

“The atmosphere here is so positive and nurturing. This is my first year and right when I got here everyone was greeting me and was so sweet. This school is so loving and they’re screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-24-53-pmalso structured and in control. I came from a school that didn’t have that. I came from a school in Albany where there was no leadership and no structure. That was my second school. Of all the schools where I’ve taught Mitchell is by far the most structured. Things as simple as communication make a huge difference. In my old schools there was just no communication between the administration and the teachers. We had no idea what was expected of us, they wouldn’t tell us when things would change or when there were events being organized. Mitchell isn’t like that. Ms. A isn’t like that. When we come together as a school people are organized, Ms. A is on top of everything and so is everyone else. If I’m confused about something there are so many teachers here to whom I can go for help. They won’t judge me, they want to help me out.

“I don’t know much about what this school was like before Ms. A got here but I heard so much about the school after she got here. This school developed a reputation because of her. If you’re a teacher in Philadelphia looking for work you want to come to Mitchell because of Ms. A. She’s very involved, she puts so much work in. She really has established herself – this is a big school district. It’s not easy to make yourself known screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-5-25-52-pmacross the district. You’ve got to really work hard to accomplish what she has. She’s here after hours, she does all of the extracurricular activities, and she helps with the teachers too. She’s here for us.

“That lets us be there for the students. We feel comfortable here and that lets us make this school a home for the students. Slowly the kids started feeling like this was a safe place for them to go. My first week they didn’t know me yet so they weren’t going to come to me with personal stories. Now they do. Now they know I’m a constant in their lives. Now they trust me.”

Ms. Core

 

“There have been a lot of changes. Mostly external – the appearance of the school has changed significantly. In the last year also there’s been a lot of effort to pull the families into the school. Ms. A has started the process of pulling people in here. Last year was her first year and these things take time. She’s very visible – that’s huge, that makes it more comfortable for the parents. The parents can see her, the kids do, the communities sees
her outside of the building. They want to know that there are actual human beings in here and we’re not just a permanent structure that’s been here forever and that never affects or generates change.

“The school had a lot Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 3.26.31 PM.pngof sort of structural changes in the past couple of years. When I first started here we were a K-4 school, and then they added a middle school which really changes the way that parents relate to the school. Middle schoolers’ parents tend to be less active in their kids’ school than elementary schoolers’ parents. Ms. A had to really work to change the dynamic so that parents still thought of this as a community center where they should and can be involved.

“She wants this school to serve as a community center. This neighborhood is made up of people with a lot of needs outside of school that inhibit teachers from really being able to do their jobs. In order for us to be successful we need to supply so much more than just an education. We can’t get to educate until we’ve met primary needs.

“For example, we have a lot of children who are transient because theyscreen-shot-2016-11-23-at-3-26-07-pm’re homeless. We call it displaced. They may be living with other family members and with their parents but not in a place of their own. That’s tough.

“We have poor children here who aren’t eating. Our breakfast program, our lunch program – that’s the food they are getting. And we have abusive families. Not all of them but enough that it has an impact on everyone and everything that goes on inside this building. If we can give parents more resources, especially if you have a child with learning disabilities or a child who just needs some extra help, if you can provide those resources at home to help them then the children come in happier and it’s easier for us to run our own programs.

“That starts with parents. We beg these parents to come into the building. We empower them,  and let them know that we are here to work as a team. We tell them, listen these are the things we can give you. Sometimes it’s just coats. Sometimes it’s Thanksgiving baskets. Like last year every class donated a basket in the building so that, I’m not sure exactly how many classes we have – something like forty – so forty classes donated baskets. Because of us forty families got to eat for Thanksgiving who other wise wouldn’t have had any food. That’s what goes on here to get the parents to believe that this is a family – this a a community. If they think of this school as a safe haven for the community then the kids feel safe coming here.

“And this place really is a family. So many teachers have been here for  a long time. That’s why the school is the way it is. The teachers are so full of love for this place. Mitchell just has this family environment. The staff that come into this building know that there’s a bigger need thascreen-shot-2016-11-23-at-3-25-50-pmn just education. In order to be a teacher here you have to be the kind of person who wants to work with families and inject yourself into the lives of your students. You have to want to do more.

“And that has a huge effect on parents. There are generations of students who graduated from this school and are now parents of students. When they come through and they recognize the teachers who taught them they feel safe. They just want to know who’s here. And then when Ms. A asks parents, “What can we do for you? What do you want?” they feel comfortable answering her. They feel comfortable going to her.

“We’ll have these professional development meetings where Ms. A will tell us about the sorts of things that the parents want and then we all come together and we say “If we don’t have it and the district can’t supply it, how do we get it?” Well we go on donorschoose.org and we beg our hearts out. All the teachers have accounts on donorschoose, you go on donorschoose and you make this account and you ask for people to donate to your account. Like for me I wanted to get yoga balls. I have kids with ADD or ADHD and they can’t concentrate, we can’t afford yoga balls, so I wrote up for them on donorschoose and they bought them for us. If we think of anything that the kids need screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-3-25-28-pmthat we can’t afford out of our own pocket then we put it up on donorschoose.

“We pay out of our own pockets for composition books, folders, crayons, pencils. A lot of our parents can’t afford those things. Can you imagine the humiliation of starting school without supplies because you couldn’t afford it?  We need our kids to have composition books and folders. We put them out on our desks so that students aren’t ashamed to come over and ask us for them.”

https://www.donorschoose.org/we-teach/2539731/?active=true