News Column

Esperanza Gets $2M Grant to Form Middle School

Oct 4 2012 10:00PM

Aubrey Whelan

A North Philadelphia charter high school is set to add a 635-pupil middle school to its burgeoning population by next year, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership.

Esperanza Academy, founded in 2000, already serves 750 students in North Philadelphia's Hunting Park neighborhood. About 17 percent of the majority-Hispanic student body speaks English as a second language, and while anyone in the city can apply to attend Esperanza, the school largely serves lower-income students in and around Hunting Park.

School officials say they wanted to "fill the gap" and begin accepting younger students. The grant from PSP, which will cover mostly nonbuilding related expenses, like training and hiring 30 new teachers, goes a long way toward realizing that goal, said David Rossi, the school's chief executive officer.

"Philly is unique because it has a lot of homegrown charter schools, and we look at ourselves as one of those, where we started from a smaller charter school that's expanded," Rossi said.

PSP, founded in 2010, is already halfway to a $100 million goal for its Great Schools Fund, which awards grants to high-performing schools across the city. It's given out $9.3 million in grants so far, including Esperanza's $2 million grant.

"We're a relatively new organization, so we've had a good year of fund-raising. Our ability to make larger grants is better than it was six months ago," said Mark Gleason, PSP's executive director.

Esperanza, he said, piqued PSP's interest because "it's a school that's very focused on outcomes, preparing kids to be successful in life after high school," he said.

Esperanza had a 93 percent graduation rate last year and sends about 54 percent of its graduating class to college.

The high school's grant comes less than a month after another expansion grant PSP awarded to Powel Elementary, a K-4 public school in West Philadelphia. That $215,000 grant, which will allow the school to add a fifth grade and 500 more students, marked the first time PSP had funded a Philadelphia public school as opposed to a charter or private school.

Though Esperanza is still raising funds to cover building-related expenses, the expansion has been approved by the School Reform Commission and will likely be in place by September of next year, Rossi said. He would not say how much the expansion would cost in total.

"We'll open up in much better condition and much more prepared because of the funds PSP has chosen to give us," Rossi said.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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