HUD Sec. Ben Carson (2nd from left), PHA President & CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, Philadelphia School Supt. William Hite, State Rep. Donna Bullock, and City Council President Darrell Clarke cut the ribbon at grand opening ceremonies for Vaux Big Picture High School. Vaux Big Picture High School is the City’s newest college preparatory school and part of PHA’s Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan for the Sharswood neighborhood. (Photo: PHA)
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) joined with the School District of Philadelphia last week to celebrate the opening of Vaux Big Picture High School, the City’s newest college preparatory school and part of PHA’s “Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan” for the Sharswood neighborhood.
“As we have said since our efforts toward this opening began two years ago, a high quality neighborhood school is critically important if Sharswood is to become a neighborhood of choice,” said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah. “This school has the potential to significantly change the lives of its students and the community in which they live.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which provides PHA with most of its funding approved the expenditure on the school renovation.
“This is a great day, a day of joy and expectation and fulfillment. It is a day to dream. The opening of a school is a promise: that parents and teachers will pass on their knowledge and wisdom to a new generation. It is a testament to our beliefs, our hopes, and our courage. We witness the future,” said HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, who joined in the opening celebration as part of an overall tour of the Sharswood community. “So, I congratulate the students, parents, teachers, staff, and board of trustees. And, I congratulate Philadelphia. Vaux High School will become a place of excellence, a school of scholarship, and achievement. And, I thank the Philadelphia Housing Authority for their investment in this high school.”
“What we see here today with the opening of the new Vaux High School represents the kind of great thing we can accomplish when multiple entities work together with one goal,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I congratulate PHA, the School District, Big Picture and HUD for the roles they played in making this high quality neighborhood school a reality.”
“In Philly, we are building — not just schools and structures, but strong futures for our youth, regardless of who they are or where they live,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. “I am so proud of the way these partners and residents triaged this community, and built a mold-breaking public school that cities across the country will replicate. Vaux is now a full-service public school for students and the Sharswood community. Let’s all be proud of what we’ve accomplished here, and never again doubt that when we commit our hearts and minds, we will overcome the greatest adversity.”
“Vaux Big Picture represents our continued efforts to bring high quality schools close to where children live,” said Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. “Students will truly receive a unique educational experience by learning through internships and engaging in project-based learning, ultimately better preparing them for college and career. We are excited to partner with Big Picture, PHA and the PFT to bring this enriching option back to the community.”
Vaux Big Picture High School represents a unique partnership among PHA, nationally acclaimed education innovator Big Picture Learning and the School District of Philadelphia. It is a District-managed neighborhood high school, operated by Big Picture, with educators represented by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
“The hallmark of any successful school is a strong partnership between educators, parents, administrators and community partners,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, “The PFT is proud to join PHA and Big Picture Learning to ensure that Vaux High School provides the Sharswood neighborhood’s students a top-notch education.”
PHA completed the first phase of renovation work this summer, which covered approximately 68,000 square feet or 30% of the total school surface with an estimated price tag of over $5.7 million. The rehab effort covered 10 classrooms, a multi-purpose room, administrative offices, cafeteria, health partner suite, gymnasium and locker rooms, restrooms, circulation areas (entry vestibules, corridors, stairs), support service areas and building systems upgrades ( boiler, electrical, pump rooms). When all phases of the renovation work are completed, PHA will have invested $10-15 million.
In addition to its investment in the building, PHA is providing an annual subsidy of up to $500 per student. The Philadelphia School Partnership, Lenfest Foundation; Barra Foundation; Centene Foundation and Santander Bank Foundation provided financial support for school planning and for the first year of operation. All students are also receiving tablets from T-Mobile.
By late June, all 126 available spaces during the college prep school’s first year of operation were filled with 100 more students on the waiting list. The school has a staff of seven teachers and two special education teachers with a homeroom class ratio of 18 to 1.
Eventually, Vaux Big Picture High School will have just over 500 students total. Seventy-five percent of the students enrolled are PHA residents while 95% come from the school’s catchment area. The numbers indicate that the school is serving the families and students that it was intended to serve.
“Big Picture Philadelphia is honored to be a part of the School District of Philadelphia’s goal of providing a great school in every neighborhood and the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s tremendous community development vision for Sharswood,” stated Big Picture Philadelphia executive director David Bromley. “We are excited to watch our student centered, real world learning educational approach take life at Vaux Big Picture High School and look forward to watching the growth of our founding 126 students as they take ownership of their learning and lives!”
Vaux High School was originally built in the 1930’s as a junior high school, later becoming a senior high school. The old Vaux High School was closed in 2013 because of declining enrollment and poor academics. PHA purchased the building from the District in mid-May for $2 million and reopened the school as part of the agency’s transformation plan for the Sharswood/Blumberg neighborhood, which had been left without any neighborhood schools.
The magnificent building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.