Building 21 report card due next month
The long-awaited analysis on Building 21, the Allentown School District’s innovative yet at times polarizing high school, is almost finished.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Thomas Parker said the district is looking to give a presentation on the high school at the Nov. 7 meeting. The district has a survey on Building 21’s website for students, parents and staff that will be open until next week.
Before the report is presented next month, Parker said administrators are looking at a potential site visit for school directors to walk through the building during the school day. At the November meeting, the district will discuss the school’s financial and student achievement.
Allentown’s Building 21 is modeled after a Philadelphia high school of the same name that opened in fall 2014. The Allentown School District partnered with the Philadelphia Building 21 consulting group in 2014 to open an Allentown location in fall 2015.
The original contract with the Philadelphia group ended in June, but in January, the school board unanimously approved a one-year extension until June 2020. Leaders from the Building 21 Philadelphia group will be at the meeting next month.
Building 21 follows a competency-based education, which means each student has a personalized plan. In the afternoons, students have the opportunity to do internships at places such as the Baum School of Art or the Lehigh Valley Health Network.
So while 20 students might be in a geometry class, they could all be working at different levels, guided by computer programs that allow for different paces. At Building 21 students study core topics — English, math, history and science — in the morning, then opt for hands-on career experience at internships in the afternoon.
District officials at the time thought that Building 21, with its small class sizes and hands-on learning, would increase the district’s graduation rate and discourage some students from leaving for charter schools.
The school, at 265 Lehigh St., started with just one ninth grade class of about 150 students, then added a grade every year. This past year was the first time Building 21 had four grades that included almost 500 students and 34 teachers and staff. Selection is done through a lottery.
But that first class, which graduated in June, lost students. Out of the 150 students who originally started with Building 21 in 2015, 103 were enrolled on the first day of school last year. That June, 88 of them graduated, a rate of 85% based on the 103 enrolled earlier in the year. That was higher than Allen or Dieruff, the district’s other high schools, and just below the 86% statewide average.
Allentown has a high mobility rate in its schools, meaning students frequently move in and out. But unlike Allen and Dieruff, Building 21 doesn’t replace students after they leave.
Some school directors previously voiced concern about students leaving. Another concern was that Building 21 was creating an equity problem because Dieruff and Allen lack Building 21’s innovative labs and internship opportunities.
Morning Call reporter Jacqueline Palochko can be reached at 610-820-6613 or at [email protected] mcall.com.