1. Fix something old.
Greenfield Elementary mom Christina Stasiuk led an effort to overhaul the outdated library that included parent-volunteer redecorating; a remodel with “reading circle” areas, a local sculptor’s artwork and a bank of computers; new books; and a “weeding out” of old ones, including some that hadn’t been checked out in 40 years.
2. Build something new.
There is no library at the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, where Roxanne Patel Shepelavy’s daughters go. But right next door is the Fumo Family Branch of the Philly Free Library, so Shepelavy worked with its children’s librarian to organize a book club for second- and third-graders, with meetings at the branch.
3. Be the teacher’s pet.
At Society Hill’s McCall Elementary and Middle School, Lauren Summers takes the role of class parent to new levels; she and another mom, who visits the classroom on a regular basis, take care of administrative tasks and home-classroom communiqués, so the teacher “can focus on the students.” Summers also puts together and emails a weekly newsletter with messages from the teacher and notes from the in-
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Photo By Clint Blowers
Science Leadership Academy
A partnership between the school district and the Franklin Institute, Center City’s SLA is proof that a strong outside collaborator can help produce strong results. The diverse students (45 percent black, 34 percent white, seven percent Asian, seven percent Hispanic) have to apply to get in, and once there, they follow a college-prep curriculum focused heavily on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship—with a special emphasis on project-based learning (plus some cool outside speakers, like Michael Dell). Eighty-eight percent go on to college, and SLA has been named an Apple Distinguished School from 2009 to 2013.
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The City Council prez talks frequently about how dire the current fiscal crisis is—even though he, more than any other city official, is in a position to help solve it. With the state legislature having rebuffed his cigarette-tax plan for raising more dough, he needs to look at other funding options—soda tax, real estate taxes, government cost savings—to help right the financial ship. Failure isn’t an option here, Mr. President.
As the leader of the most important institution in the city, Penn’s president needs to get more involved in the conversation—and use the resources of her mighty university to help educate more kids. The highly successful Penn Alexander School is a model of a university-supported grade school, but it was launched under Gutmann’s predecessor, Judy Rodin. Where’s Gutmann’s PA?
After keeping his distance from the schools in his first five years in office, the Mayor has become more engaged, taking some politically tough stances to raise more revenue. But he could still do more to persuade a skeptical public that the dollars won’t be wasted, and to lead from behind in a statewide coalition of districts that have been shafted by state budget cuts.
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Illustration by Andy Friedman
My name is … Buzz Bissinger. I was born Harry Gerard Bissinger III. “Buzz” was a nickname given to me at birth by my mother.
I grew up … in New York City, on the Upper West Side. It was great. The city was different, and my parents gave me the full run of it at the age of 11 or 12. It was incredibly stimulating.
I live … between my apartment in downtown Philadelphia and a home in Long Beach, Washington, which I bought in October. It’s basically where Lewis and Clark ended up, with the Pacific on one side and Willapa Bay on the other. I’m in Philadelphia a week a month, sometimes more. But I dress the way they do in Washington now. More Carhartt, less Gucci.
I am most proud of … canceling my Twitter account, despite 25,000 followers.
On Sunday mornings … I read the New York Times online. Then I lie in bed watching NFL football to see how my fantasy football team is doing.
My parents taught me … both the importance of culture and, much more, the importance of working and trying to succeed. Which is a double-edged sword, because there’s a limit to ambition, and when you’re always trying to reach the next level of success, you are never really satisfied.
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Photograph by Clint Blowers
My family and I moved out of Philadelphia last year. We did so reluctantly, and with a crippling heaping of guilt.
It wasn’t the crime, or the taxes, or the grit. No, we left for the same reason that untold thousands have decamped for the suburbs before us: the crummy state of the city’s public schools, a chronic and seemingly immutable fact of life in Philadelphia.
The failings go way beyond the typical struggles of a big urban district. In December, the latest national assessment found that just 14 percent of Philadelphia fourth-graders were proficient or better at reading, compared to 26 percent in other big cities and 34 percent nationally. Of the 25 largest U.S. cities, Philadelphia ranks 22nd in college degree attainment. Graduates of the School District of Philadelphia are particularly bad off; only about 10 percent of district alums go on to get degrees.
Still, it wasn’t the statistics that drove us away. It was the deflating sense that there was no clear and affordable path for our two young kids to get the education they need—particularly our son, who has some special needs. Despite our love for the city, our belief that Philadelphia is genuinely on the rise, and endless conversations in which we tried to rationalize staying, my wife and I decided we had to leave. The day the moving van arrived, I didn’t feel angry so much as I felt ashamed. That embarrassment is, I think, not entirely uncommon. And it’s a sign that the failings of the city’s schools are damaging Philadelphia even more than in the past.
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Photograph by Steven Laxton
Andy Karl knows what you’re thinking. He had the same reservations before agreeing to play Rocky Balboa. How do you turn that film—“Yo Adrian!” and Art Museum steps and all—into a Broadway musical? Stick to the script. “He loses at the end, but his loss is his win,” says Karl, sipping water at a dim midtown Manhattan hotel bar. “He goes the distance; he’s found love. Love is a huge part of what musicals are about. When you think of it, Rocky is all about finding love, finding dignity.” The fights? Merely bookends of the show. But, he adds, “They’re spectacular.”
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Photograph by Clint Blowers. Styling by Melanie Francis
A year or so after my husband and I moved from 13th and Pine to the quaint South Jersey hamlet where we planned to start a family, I realized that in order to be a happy and fulfilled suburban grown-up, I needed one thing I didn’t have: a book club.
It was odd to yearn for a book club. It was particularly odd since I had never in my life actually been in a book club, though I knew people who were who frequently made offhand remarks like “I went to happy hour with Shannon from book club,” or “When I had a baby, my book club brought dinners for a month!” or “If it weren’t for book club, I’d probably murder my husband in his sleep.” So it was most definitely a yearning, which I felt most intensely when my as-yet-unmurdered husband and I sat having dinner at P.J. Whelihan’s, as we often did, and saw groups of other couples our age laughing and buying rounds as we picked through our Loaded House Nachos, alone. Inevitably, on the car ride home I would announce, “I need a book club.”
“I know, Vicki,” Thad would reply, patting my thigh. “I know.”
What I was really saying, of course, was “I need friends.” But that phrase was just too pathetic to utter aloud, even to my husband, so I substituted “book club” as code. Like, “I get by with a little help from my ‘book club.’” Like, “All you have to do is call, and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve got a ‘book club.’”
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Rival Bros. Coffee Roasters
West Philly / Rittenhouse • “People are slowing down and enjoying coffee culture more than ever,” says Jonathan Adams of the industry-wide trend of consumers happily exchanging a few extra minutes for a quality cafe brew. Turns out this still applies when there’s no actual cafe in play—Adams, along with partner Damien Pileggi, proves as much with Rival Bros., which dispenses its line of coffee and espresso from the window of a glossy tricked-out truck. They’re adding a brick-and-mortar location at 24th and Lombard. 33rd and Arch streets and 500 South 24th Street.
Elixr Coffee ➜
Center City • California native and coffee fiend Evan Inatome introduced Elixr to Center City in 2011. He’s since relocated to a larger looker of a space, one as driven by the ambitious ideas of his staff as it is by his sharp coffee curation, which includes beans he roasts himself: “I give the baristas a lot of control to express themselves creatively,” Inatome says. Such expression manifests itself in the form of events like art openings and a recent coffee-focused cocktail competition attended by hundreds. 207 South Sydenham Street.
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Photograph by Steve Boyle
My knuckles are white as I grip the steering wheel, trying in vain to keep up with Michael Carter-Williams, who’s burning serious rubber up ahead. The Sixers’ rookie point guard agreed to meet me here at Dave & Buster’s on the waterfront for a head-to-head competition. As we walked through the arcade, he chose our first event—a racing game, “for Paul Walker,” he said, a nod to the Fast and the Furious actor who just died. Carter-Williams is a pop-culture hound; if he has Sunday night off, he’d rather watch Homeland than SportsCenter. He tells me he’s not a gamer, though. I think I may actually have a shot at beating MCW, as he’s known—something not many people can do these days.
Carter-Williams laughs as his hot rod leaves mine in the dust. He speeds through turns with ease, weaving in and out of traffic with abandon. My foot’s on the floor, and I still can’t keep pace with him. He takes the checkered flag in second place. I finish last.
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