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  1. #1
    justdey is offline Junior Member
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    Default Talk to me about city schools

    We moved here last fall and took a rental in Lower Merion b/c of the steller school district. It was a very abrupt move with very little time to prepare or plan. We literally arrived the day before school started.

    Our lease will be up this summer and we're trying to figure out where we want to be permanently. While we like our neighborhood, the housing prices are crazy when you consider what you get for the $$. We are naturally urban dwellers and would prefer to live in city (probably Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy area because we have two kids 8 and 3 who both need "yard time").

    About Us:
    1. Spouse works in Old City. I work at home.
    2. We intend to be settled until the 3 year old graduates high school or longer. So whatever we decide, we're in it for the long haul.
    3. While we do alright financially, the cost of private schools is typically more than we can spare long term and if forced to choose, would put the $$ away for college instead.

    So my questions are:

    What is the normal course of an average public school kid in Philly -- Go to your neighborhood elementary, middle and high school? Are there specific neighborhoods where you can trust you're getting a solid start to finish education?
    How hard is it to get into a magnet school? (the 8 year old gets good grades, but is not insanely smart and I hear getting a spot is difficult)
    Are any of the non-magnet schools a reliable upper education?
    I hear getting into a charter is hard as well and frankly I don't think I can handle the insanity of applying to many and being rejected by all. Besides that, it appears we've missed our opportunity to get in for next fall anyway.

    I've dug through this forum, read blogs, etc. etc. and I keep coming back to the conclusion that we can choose to 1) Take a risk and maybe get a solid education thru the city schools assuming if our kids are smart enough and we do everything right in terms of residing in a decent elementary school district and applying on time to a magnet school; or 2)Play it safe in a less affluent suburb with a solid public school program.

    If we "risk" it and buy a house in the city, should we be prepared to shell out the big bucks on private school, in case the public school doesn't work out? To rephrase the question, can an educated family navigate the public city school system and get a quality education?

    For an outsider, the whole thing is so confusing and overwhelming.

  2. #2
    Dolemite's Avatar
    Dolemite is offline Senior Member
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    Sounds like to me you'd be happy just sticking with a place like Narberth. You'll get your good schools, your yard and can still take advantage of the city in a lot of ways.

  3. #3
    Freckles is offline Senior Member
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    I'm much more familiar with the public high schools, but with that caveat, I'd recommend looking into Roxborough in the Cook-Wissahickon catchment. It seems to be a gem of a school (K-8) with a lot of parental involvement, and many houses in Roxborough have good yard space (if you want to be in the city).

    Beyond 8th grade, though, you'd want to get into a magnet public school or a good charter, as the neighborhood high schools are pretty bad.

    It seems to me that there are two types of public school parents in the city: Those who are invested in their child's education, and so they advocate for good elementary/middle schools and for a magnet/charter high schools. Then there are those who are either not invested or who are not savvy enough to navigate the system. I think those are the kids who do elementary, middle, high school in the neighborhood, but I personally don't have confidence in most of the schools in the city and therefore doubt that they're getting a solid education. So to answer your question, no, I don't think you can get a good education in one neighborhood from start to finish, but mostly because of the high schools.

  4. #4
    Eastcoast is offline Senior Member
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    You mention the very suburban feeling Chestnut Hill and Mt Airy and the need for a yard...I'd stick with the burbs and the better school districts.

  5. #5
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    Hospitalitygirl is offline Moderator
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    Honestly, you may want to consider looking in the NE as well, since hubby works in Old City, and it's easily accessed by I-95. Also there are generally good public schools with involved parents, even through high school, in that region, and you can even find a nice house with a yard. And other amenities necessary for raising children.
    I am not the Jackass Whisperer.

  6. #6
    OldMama is offline Senior Member
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    You should definitely check out Jenks, Henry, and Houston Schools in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy. I agree that Cook-Wissahickon's area is both family friendly and has a good school. Also look in upper Roxborough/Andorra. You'll find nice houses with yards, an easy commute to town and a good school in Shawmont. Dobson in Manayunk is a great little school but the houses here might be too small for you or not have adequate outdoor space.

    My advice is find a good school through eighth grade. Good schools tend to send lots of their kids to magnet high schools. You are wise not to count on getting into Masterman for fifth or sixth grade. And you may find it's not your kid's cup of tea anyway.

    I taught in the city for 36 years, my husband for twenty before he died. My two stepsons went to Fitler Elementary in Germantown. I knew and worked with the principal and it was a very diverse student body at the time. One went to Central and the other went to Roxborough. Roxborough wasn't bad then. I should say that the school has a new, young, dynamic principal who is determined to bring magnet programs back to the school and get rid of out of area kids who are not making the grade. You may find it a better choice when your kids get older. My own son went to Houston School in Mt. Airy which I really liked, but which is often looked down on the favor of Henry in Mt. Airy. My son did go to Masterman Middle, and then the high school but I would have kept him at Houston until eighth grade if he didn't go to Masterman. He's now in graduate school at Penn so public school didn't hurt him any. My daughter went to Dobson and also left for Masterman. She definitely would have stayed at Dobson if she didn't get into Msterman and, frankly, she may have been happier there. She's doing fine in Masterman but has little interest in the high school. We're waiting to hear about high school acceptances in the next month.

    I admit that I'm one of those advocates Freckles described. I felt that, as a district employee, I needed to show that I was willing to send my own kids here. My sister and brothers sent their kids to suburban schools. Their kids are older than mine and none went to college let alone graduated. My siblings did not involve themselves with education as my late husband and I did. No matter where you send your kids, you need to stay on them, and have high expectations for them and for the school. Good luck.

    I guess I was

  7. #7
    L3N's Avatar
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    L3N is offline Husband Dad Geek
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dolemite View Post
    Sounds like to me you'd be happy just sticking with a place like Narberth. You'll get your good schools, your yard and can still take advantage of the city in a lot of ways.
    Good advice. If you like NW Philly, you will get more yard for your $ than Chestnut Hill. More left over for private schools too. Definitely take the time to tour the catchment school before you target a 'hood. If you are used to LMSD, you should know what to expect.

  8. #8
    justdey is offline Junior Member
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    I was hoping for a convincing argument for Philly schools. We moved from out of state and literally had 30 days to do it, so we had to make decisions quickly and aren't feeling like Main Line is a long term fit for us, especially considering how little house you get for the money. Admittedly, we're spoiled b/c housing prices were so much better where we were (a much smaller city, with a less expensive private school option).

    There are some city schools that look interesting but thinking long term, we need assurance that our kids will get into the best high-school(s) and it sounds like that assurance is not possible. But the kids' education is not something I willing to gamble on. *sigh*

  9. #9
    Eastcoast is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by justdey View Post
    I was hoping for a convincing argument for Philly schools. We moved from out of state and literally had 30 days to do it, so we had to make decisions quickly and aren't feeling like Main Line is a long term fit for us, especially considering how little house you get for the money. Admittedly, we're spoiled b/c housing prices were so much better where we were (a much smaller city, with a less expensive private school option).

    There are some city schools that look interesting but thinking long term, we need assurance that our kids will get into the best high-school(s) and it sounds like that assurance is not possible. But the kids' education is not something I willing to gamble on. *sigh*
    There are always compromises to be made, great schools systems with assured (public) acceptance exist only in the burbs where the taxes are higher. That said, when looking at a 12 year run of education how can anyone be certain that the high school will still be great by the time the kids get there? So in addition to compromise there is also some amount of risk involved.

    Have you considered some of the NJ burbs as well? There are some very good school systems and the commute can be easier than some areas of PA and Phila.

    If you don't mind sharing what are you looking for in a house besides a yard, budget?

  10. #10
    girlfiend is offline Member
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    I don't know what kind of argument you're looking for. If you like living in Lower Merion and like the schools stay. But if you want to be in the city, look at the schools in the neighborhoods you are considering. Look at the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade classrooms. Are the kids involved? Interested? Are the teachers involved and interested? Look at the school climate. Are kids running wild in the hallways? Is it dead silent? Or do you see giggling kids running errands for the teachers. I grew up in Lower Merion and now live in Roxborough in the Cook-Wissahickon catchment area. My son is currently in the public pre-k (at Levering, not at Cook) and will enter Cook for kindergarten in the fall. Having lived in LM and the city I would recommend touring the schools in the neighborhoods you are considering.

    Personally, I would not move to LM from Roxborough for the schools. As a Lower Merion graduate, I know the schools are good, but socially I prefer an urban environment and would prefer my children to grow up in an area with more of a diverse mix economically. I taught in Philly for 5 years and know that with interested, involved parents, a student has every opportunity to learn and succeed. I like the schools here and hope they continue to work for my kids.

    Outside of my neighborhood, there are a number of Philly public elementary schools with active parent groups that are worth considering. Other posters named some above.

    There are no shortage of excellent high schools in Philadelphia. You don't have to be brilliant to be accepted. I wouldn't be worried about the high schools yet. Central, Constitution, SLA, are just 3 of the good schools that aren't Masterman. Both of our babysitters, one from a local public school, one from Waldorf, were both accepted to most of the schools they applied to for next school year.

  11. #11
    macdaire is offline Senior Member
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    I guess I am a little confused by the question too!
    If you want a yard it is unlikely you will find one in Center City, although you could look in University City. Penn Alexander (check other thread on that one!)
    If you are willing to sacrifice the yard and are looking for cheaper houses I am not sure Center City is what you want. The 3 "top " schools in the city are in the more expensive neighborhoods and are increasingly difficult to transfer into. They are greenfield, Mc Call and Meredith. (CUE to all those wanting to discuss the lesser known center City schools in "up and coming neighborhoods"- certainly a more risky choice).
    If you want a more urban feel you could look at the areas that others have mentioned or look at alternatives in LM, like Narberth.
    Re. High school- there are no guarantees and I certainly would not consider Masterman as my only option though it may be an option for at least one of my kids.
    I have children In Greenfield and constantly wonder about my choice- I am not overwhelemd by GF or the teachers. However I have also heard that LM teachers can be underwhelming. We would like a yard so we have considered the move. Personally I would not move to the North east but that is just me.

    I think it would help to know what it is you want- do you have to have a yard? Do want to be able to walk to a downtown/stores? Do you want to live in Center City? If you clarify those questions then you have to factor in schools and weigh the pros and cons of the choices. Ultimately I feel my children will get a "good education" because I feel I can supplement what they do not get and I can also advocate in the school for what I feel is missing. I also have some concerns about the LM climate that may not reflect my own beleif system about how children should be reared but again, that is me. The scales have not swayed enough for me to move yet but the option is always looming!

  12. #12
    nola is offline Senior Member
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    justdey,
    My girl won't start kindergarten until fall 2013, but I'm already consumed by the school search. I also deal with a lot of clients grappling with the push-pull of city v. suburban schools. Some resources you might find helpful:

    Philadelphia School Search - Philly School Search
    Somewhat focused on NW Philly neighborhoods, but expanding as more folks contribute. Recently announced meet-ups & a discussion group, plus a good list of links at the bottom.

    mtairyparentsnetwork : Mt. Airy Parents' Network (MAPN)
    requires membership but free & useful for so many things. organizes school discussion group each fall

    Both of these are from 2009, but provide good compilations of school data:
    http://www.gpuac.org/programs/docume...lFinal9_11.pdf
    http://www.csfphiladelphia.org/asset...0Directory.pdf

  13. #13
    OldMama is offline Senior Member
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    Justdey,

    While I certainly support the right of everyone here to express their opinion, I think you need to differentiate between people who actually used the system and those who did not. I think the positive experiences of those parents who are happy with their choices are important and the negative experiences of those who decided to switch just as important. Unfortunately, schools in Philly have such a bad reputation that many people dismiss them without ever trying to navigate the system. They are absolutely entitled to their opinions but I'd put more weight on the opinions that are based on actual experience. In that line, I'd ask to hear more about the schools in the Northeast if anyone here knows. I spent my time as a parent and as a teacher in the Kensington area and the NW so I have no personal knowledge of NE schools, except to say that my son is currently student teaching at Northeast High and he loves it.

  14. #14
    annie's Avatar
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    What OldMama said. Also, people tend to assume charter automatically equals better without thinking about it. After hearing someone talk at length about the hoops he went through to get his kid into a charter, I looked up the school on phillyschoolmatch.org and it's in warning status. His catchment school that he refused to even consider? Doing much better!

  15. #15
    gren's Avatar
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    I think there are a lot of schools that give kids the chance to learn in Philly even if their PSSAs aren't great. If you're moving to a nice area then most likely your school will do that. An educated middle class family has a lot of power over their kids education providing that the school is violence plagued. I would definitely take the advice of going to schools and viewing them and not just basing your opinions on their PSSAs which has as much to do with their background as it does with the school itself.

    Regarding "yard time" is that something that needs to be done in your yard? Neighborhoods like Queens Village and Bella Vista have tons of easily walkable park space and playgrounds great for kids to play and meet other kids. If you're an "urban dweller" this might be a good compromise to having your own large lawn and would get you in the Meredith Catchment. Academy at Palumbo seems like a pretty decent school from what my wife says if your kid doesn't get into the city's top magnets. And it'd be close.

  16. #16
    macdaire is offline Senior Member
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    One more thing! I also say this as a long term planner. I had to postpone my thoughts on highschool because I got so overwhelmed. I know you have to factor it in but 5-6 years can really change things around. As it stands there are a lot of good highschools in the center city region that I am hopeful we can fall back on. I guess I am saying to really explore elem. and middle and go from there.
    Old mama is right about NE high- I have also heard good things. However I am not sure what the attraction to the Northeast is!
    Last edited by macdaire; 03-18-2011 at 08:54 AM.

  17. #17
    OldMama is offline Senior Member
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    Gren, Academy at Palumbo is a magnet with admission requirements similar, if not the same as Central's. It's not the neighborhood school.

  18. #18
    gren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldMama View Post
    Gren, Academy at Palumbo is a magnet with admission requirements similar, if not the same as Central's. It's not the neighborhood school.
    My understanding was it wasn't as competitive. Most kids who do well could get in, no? And it's in the neighborhood if not a neighborhood school.

  19. #19
    OldMama is offline Senior Member
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    I think that while the standards are high, the number of applications is lower so maybe it's "easier" to get in from that angle, yes.

    Macdaire and I share feelings about the Northeast! I do have many friends who grew up there and live there still and they love it. I grew up in Germantown and we thought the NE was the boondocks. (Of course, my parents moved me to the real boondocks when I was in 9th grade. I used to give tours of center city to my suburban classmates in high school. Gave me the cache I otherwise lacked!)

  20. #20
    justdey is offline Junior Member
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    Thanks to everyone who has commented. I agree with the PP warning us to listen to those with real life experience versus accepting perceptions for reality. B/c my kids are still pretty young and we have only been in the area for six months, I don't many people with middle and high school aged kids and out here in LM, I don't know ANY who are city school students.

    And I apologize if I'm being confusing. You see, I want to be sold on the city school system. But we have been in a constant push-pull over education for the last 5 years b/c of 1) originally residing in Baltimore city, 2) a relocation that landed us in a suburban Southern neighborhood that wasn't the right fit, 3) another relocation last fall, and 4) other reasons that aren't relevant to this discussion. I'm weary of the debate, yet I have strong sense of urban commitment and feel somewhat like I'm taking the easy way out if we choose to stay in the 'burbs.

    This week I found a suitable city home for us that, if we choose to go after it, would place us in the Meredith catchment area. But it means coming to terms with some things I've taken for granted in our current and previous home. The biggest being I'd have to accompany my kids for every moment of outdoor play. In the past and right now, I've been able to allow them to play in the yard without me (not my 3 year old so much, but my 8 year old). Don't get me wrong. I enjoy being around my kids for playtime, but I also work at home full time and just cannot guarantee that I can take them to the park on every sunny afternoon. As such, I worry that having no yard might result in too much TV or laying around.

 

 

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