Monday, August 08, 2005

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

"Its the Schools Stupid."

In front of 400+ urban developers at a banquet hall in Philadelphia, McCormack Baron Corp's President Richard Baron pointed out the true impediment to Urban Redevelopment: bad schools. Developers target the empty-nester, gay and single yuppie as the core buyer in urban markets. However, the mobile and transient nature of these groups makes them unstable. They do not form the community-transforming roots nuclear families do. McCormack Baron Corp, America's largest for-profit affordable housing developer, invests millions in money and expertise fixing schools in their developments. As a result, the developments, the schools and the neighborhood succeed.

Philadelphia has been a true testing grounds for Urban Schools. The University of Pennsylvania's Sadie Tanner Mossel Elementary School has literally rejuvinated sections of West Philadelphia in it's catchment area, as parents fight to get their children into America's first Ivy League k-5. Edison Schools, a private for-profit corporation that operates dozens of schools citywide, has mixed results. The bottom line is, Philly is aggressive, and Pittsburgh is slacking. Sitting in the shadow of Peabody High School with a market plan detailing the building of large single-family housing units (read: family nests), the impact of bad schools is all too clear. There are only so many seats at Taylor Alderdice and Schenley, and everyone buying our $200k houses will want their kids in them. That is something we can't promise.

Mark Roosevelt steps into a contentious school district, facing contentious school closure issues, and stagnant performance. Entrenched unions, disporportionate numbers of poor students, questionable parent support and decades of bad reputation stand between Roosevelt and the finish line. Though unproven, he is affiable, intelligent and dedicated. I hope for his sake that there are sharp teeth in that pearly white smile.


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