Best Places to Raise Kids: Great Philadelphia Schools

Yes, good public options do exist. Your guide to a dozen of the best


Grades  K-8
Queen Village

Scores*: 91 percent proficient in math; 85 percent in reading.

The 411: Meredith parents raise lots of money to support the school’s copious visual and performing arts programming, including elaborate winter and spring shows. Reading and writing are huge—all grades use the Reading Workshop approach, where students choose their own books to read and write about, then conference with teachers about them. Ninety-nine percent of eighth-graders advance to Philadelphia’s magnet high schools.

Getting in: Live in the catchment. (Very few kindergarten seats are open to transfers; click here for a map of school boundaries.) Spots open up in fifth grade, when fourth-graders leave for Masterman or GAMP.


Grades  5-12

Scores**: Average SAT verbal 638, math 652, writing 639 (Class of 2011). Math proficiency*** 100 percent; reading, 98 percent.

The 411: Math-oriented kids study AP Calculus their junior year, then cross the street senior year to take discrete math at Philadelphia Community College. The school’s chess team is nationally ranked, and last year’s senior class boasted 10 National Merit semi-finalists. With more than 40 percent of kids qualifying for reduced or free lunches and 44 percent white students, Masterman is a model of socioeconomic and racial diversity. A strong feeder school to Penn.

Getting in: Most successful applicants have all A’s, and need a minimum of the 88th percentile on the PSSA in reading and math, plus good behavior and attendance. Generally, students enter in fifth or sixth grades; the school seeks out applicants from underrepresented zip codes.


Grades  K-8
Rittenhouse Square

Scores: 71 percent proficient in math; 68 percent in reading.

The 411: The school’s active Home and School Association (HSA) finally has an energetic partner in principal Dan Lazar. The HSA giveth what budget cuts taketh away: In the past few years, this committee of parents has funded books for the library and raised a stunning $750,000 for the Greening Greenfield project (the schoolyard doubles as an outdoor classroom) and $45,000 (plus a matching grant) for auditorium renovations. To replace the slashed art program, accomplished parent/artists are volunteering to supplement the curriculum.

Getting in: Live in the catchment, or apply through the voluntary transfer program. The number of catchment kids is increasing every year, but much of the kindergarten class still comes from outside the catchment. Spots open up in fifth grade, when fourth-graders leave for Masterman or GAMP.


Grades  K-8
West Philadelphia

Scores: 85 percent proficient in math; 83 percent in reading.

The 411: Family involvement is so valued here that Penn Alexander invites parents to interview candidates for its open teacher slots. Last year, those parents were camping out on one of the coldest nights of the year to sign their kids up for kindergarten. This year, a new enrollment cap will likely have ’em out even earlier. Penn’s partnership with the school translates to a contribution of $1,330 per child per year, used to maintain programs and keep class sizes down to 23 students max.

Getting in: Live in the catchment, and line up early. The 50 kindergarten seats go on a first-come, first-served basis, and grades one through three are at capacity. Spots open up in fifth grade, when fourth-graders leave for Masterman or GAMP.



Grades  K-8
Center City

Scores: 81 percent proficient in math; 74 percent in reading.

The 411: Kids from kindergarten on can apply for the Spanish Immersion Program, where 90 percent of daily interactions are in Spanish. In middle school, everyone takes Arabic. The school’s in-depth cross-learning style, focused on creating global citizens, has fifth-graders studying civil rights in South Africa in social studies and reading Journey to Jo’burg in English class.

Getting in: Admission is by lottery; 2011’s had 350 applicants for 33 open kindergarten seats (and 950 applicants total for K-8). Parents should send an application by February 25th. But take note: Early apps don’t get a leg up.


Grades  9-12
Logan Square

Scores: Average SAT verbal 503, math 493, writing 487 (Class of 2011). Math proficiency 64 percent; reading, 84 percent.

The 411: Every student gets a laptop, to better participate in SLA’s project-based curriculum; ninth- and 10th-graders do mini-courses at the Franklin Institute; and every 10th- and 11th-grader does an Individualized Leaning Project or an internship custom-designed at one of 90 science institutions around the city. SLA has had a Gates Millennium Scholar every year.

Getting in: Everyone who applies interviews. (This year there were 1,000 applicants for 125 ninth-grade seats.) Applicants must answer this question: “Why will SLA be a better school because you’re here?”


Grades  K-12
Northeast Philadelphia

Average SAT verbal 481, math 483, writing 463. Math proficiency 87 percent; reading, 84 percent.

The 411: A focus on technology translates into more than 1,200 computers in the school, a brand-new 27,000-square-foot information resource center with an HD video studio, and an elementary-school library equipped to project ebooks onto the floor for storytime. First-graders put together PowerPoint presentations, and the high-school engineering class planned the “Fitness Center of the Future” using Google SketchUp and an Auto CAD program called Inventor.

Getting in: By lottery. For 2011, there were 572 applicants for 78 kindergarten seats and 205 for 30 open fifth-grade seats. Don’t land a spot? Try the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, a magnet high school where students earn college credits for engineering courses.


Grades  5-12 
South Philadelphia

Average SAT verbal 469, math 470, writing 473. Math proficiency 94 percent; reading, 97 percent.

The 411: Students take three music-theory classes per week, and choir is a requirement. (Mayor Nutter told the Daily News that GAMP’s choir almost made him cry.) Angelo Milicia, the beloved principal of 16 years, retired in June to save the jobs of two music teachers; assistant principal Jack Carr, a GAMP founder, has taken over.

Getting in: Most students enter in fifth grade. Applicants must have an overall average of B or better on their most recent final report card, 75th percentile or higher in PSSA reading and math, excellent attendance and punctuality, and a demonstrated interest in music. Don’t land a spot? Check out the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School (grades K-8), where everyone plays the violin through fifth grade and selects an instrumental major in sixth.


Grades 9-12
Northwest Philadelphia

Scores: Average SAT verbal 540, math 569, writing 532. Math proficiency 98 percent; reading, 98 percent.

The 411: Central is one of five Philly schools to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a separate integrated-learning track with college-level courses that encourage international-mindedness. The school’s diversity prompts comparisons to Benetton ads.

Getting in: Central only wants A’s and B’s (at most, they’ll spot you one C) on a student’s seventh-grade report card, and reading and math PSSA scores at or above 88 percent. Don’t land a spot? Check out the Academy at Palumbo, which some consider a mini-Central; its principal was formerly a vice principal at Central. Or try Bodine High School for International Affairs, which was a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School.


Grades  9-12
Center City

Scores: Average SAT verbal 507, math 460, writing 501. Math proficiency 62 percent; reading, 84 percent.

The 411: Philadelphia’s answer to Fame puts on some seven productions a year, including a spring musical involving more than 200 students. There’s also a concert band, a jazz band, choirs, and plenty of dance performances. And the state-of-the-art neo-Gothic behemoth on Broad Street has a visual-arts gallery and holds an annual Writers’ Cafe. CAPA kids are also academic achievers—their 2009 SAT verbal scores were behind only Masterman and Central. The student body is about half the size of Masterman’s and less than a third that of Central’s.

Getting in: Students need all A’s and B’s, with the possible exception of one C, on the most recent final report card; scores in the 80th percentile or higher in PSSA reading; no negative discipline reports; excellent attendance and punctuality; and a successful audition in their chosen art field. Don’t land a spot? Check out the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush (grades 9-12), which integrates the arts into all of its programs.


Grades  K-8
Washington Square

Scores: 90 percent proficient in math; 74 percent in reading—though it should be noted that English isn’t the first language for many students, 60 percent of whom come from Chinatown.

The 411: Mandarin Chinese for all grades fell victim to budget cuts for the 2011-’12 school year, but the parents’ association is already working to reinstate the popular program. Principal Carol Domb is skilled at forging partnerships: The Federal Reserve Bank supplies financial literacy classes for first- and second-graders; ACE insurance group funds Arden for All, a theater program for third-through-fifth-graders. Eighty percent of 2011’s eighth-graders are going on to magnet high schools.

Getting in: Live in the catchment. (Only one kindergarten seat went to a transfer this year.) Spots open up in fifth grade, when fourth-graders leave for Masterman or GAMP.



Grades  K-8

Scores: 77 percent proficient in math; 80 percent in reading.

The 411: Educators from New York to Utah have reached out to Green Woods to learn about its EIC (Environment as an Integrating Context) model. The focus on environmental stewardship has kindergartners going on mile-long hikes and fourth-graders following the Delaware River to its estuary to study its ecosystem. Says CEO Jean Wallace, “It’s not for a kid who insists on wearing her red patent-leather shoes.”

Getting in: By lottery. The 2011 lottery had 160 applicants for 11 open kindergarten seats. (The rest of the seats went to siblings.) Don’t land a spot? Try Wissahickon Charter, another in-demand school with an environmental focus; it has Haverford alums as co-CEOs.