Students starting school this year at West Philadelphia High will be walking through a new set of doors—literally and figuratively. Not only will West’s students adjust to a new building, but to new sets of rules as well. The school will now be considered a Promise Academy with a learning structure different than previous years.
The building was designed to meet the criteria of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED is a certification program accepted for construction and operation of “green“ buildings. West strives for a silver LEED rating, using recycled building materials and the ability to collect rain water for reuse as the school’s flushing system.
Groundbreaking began in late October 2009 at 49th and Chestnut streets for a new school. The building cost $66 million and has features the old West never had. The 170,000-square-foot school will have most classrooms along 49th Street with easy access to public transit. Two gyms have been constructed with entrances for nighttime use to students and the neighboring community.
The district’s decision to turn West into a Promise Academy also creates new guidelines for students. Assistant Superintendent Francisco Duran will implement longer school days Monday through Thursday, Saturday classes twice a month and a summer academy. Many of West’s teachers will not be returning and new staff will be starting this year.
While the idea of a new building for West has been considered for years, the new school will coincide with the district’s strategic five-year plan, Imagine 2014, which was announced in 2009. The plan is designed to measure the District’s progress. West Philadelphia was part of a list of schools not performing well—test scores were consistently below District averages.
Last week, some schools were cut from the list due to funding. Eleven schools were initially chosen to become Promise Academies and now only three will actually become one.
Though it’s uncertain what’s in store for students curriculum-wise, students will have plenty of space in the new building to achieve success and study after hours. Hopefully, the time and money invested into this new school will prove to be worth the district’s efforts.