Build­ing 21 re­port card due next month

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Jac­que­line Palochko

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.

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