“Choosing” Catholic School in Philadelphia: The Case of Tracey Stanton-Wilson

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A graduate of Philadelphia High School for Girl’s, Tracey Stanton-Wilson has maintained a life-long commitment to public education.  Her husband, Darrell Wilson graduated from Lamberton High School in Philadelphia’s Overbrook section.  Her oldest son Kyle, attended Universal Charter for middle school and graduated from Preparatory Charter HS before heading off to college.  Last fall, as she was assessing the options for her then 8th grade son Darrell, Jr. she focused exclusively on public and charter schools.  That is, until she received a phone call.

In February, a family friend called and invited Tracey to attend a “focus group” being conducted at West Catholic HS.  At first, Tracey was hesitant because she assumed that the cost of Catholic HS would be prohibitive.  With her oldest in college and her daughter in a full-day private preschool, educational expenses were already presenting a challenge.  There was no way, she felt, that she could afford the tuition to Catholic HS.  Nonetheless, her friend encouraged her to attend the focus group and let them know that financial considerations were the primary barrier for her family.  After all, the aim of the focus group was to identify issues and concerns Philadelphia’s parents have about Catholic High Schools.  The Faith in the Future Foundation was trying to gain a better understanding of issues faced by parents of school-age children.

During the focus group, Tracey and 14 other parents were provided with information regarding West Catholic High School academic programs and Catholic education in Philadelphia.  They were also asked a series of open-ended questions about their school selection processes.  What were the factors influencing their selection?  Was Catholic education a viable option?  If not, why not?  Tracey was very impressed with responsiveness of moderator, Patti Boyle from the Faith in the Future Foundation as well as the West Catholic HS Director of Admissions, John Jenkins.  So much so that, along with several other parents, Tracey completed an application for admission and financial aid.

However, she remained concerned about the cost.  Could the Faith in the Future Foundation provide enough aid to make attending West Catholic feasible?  Over the next few months, she maintained constant contact with Mr. Jenkins.  When the initial financial aid offer was not sufficient to meet her family’s needs, Tracey was disappointed and she let him know.  Mr. Jenkins was committed to identifying additional sources of financial aid for Tracey.  Through their ongoing dialogue, he came to realize that she was exactly the kind of parent, and that they were the type of family, he wanted to attract to West Catholic.  She was committed and passionate about education.  She was willing to sacrifice financially to ensure her child access to a high quality safe learning environment.

Tracey had a history of “choosing” strong educational placements.  As a student, she “chose” to attend highly competitive Girl’s High.  As a parent, she enrolled her oldest son in Prep Charter, one of the better performing Philadelphia Charter High Schools.  With Darrell, Jr. she was ready to choose Catholic education.  While she remained committed to public education, Tracey was very concerned about some of recent developments within the School District of Philadelphia.

Facing a $300 million structural deficit and still uncertain whether it will get the increased revenue and labor concessions it was seeking, the School District was asking schools to prepare to operate next year with a principal and a bare-bones allotment of teachers – and just about nothing else.  The District sent ended up sending 3,783 layoff notices to assistant principals, teachers, counselors, noontime aides and others. Tracey considered the consequences.  That meant the contractual maximum class size in every classroom, 33 or more students in every classroom.  It meant no dedicated money for guidance counselors, interscholastic sports, extracurricular activities, librarians, art or music.  No money, even, for secretaries.  

After much discussion Tracey and Darrell, Sr. decided they had to make a decision that was in Darrell, Jr. best interest.  As concerned residents of the Grays Ferry community, they remain supporters of efforts of Universal Companies at Vare Middle School and Audenreid High School.  However, if they could negotiate a workable financial arrangement, they would send Darrell, Jr. to West Catholic Preparatory High School.

Tracey and Mr. Jenkins continued to work together and finally they were able to reach a point where monthly tuition payments were manageable.  The Faith in the Future Foundation has pledged to make high-quality Catholic education accessible to all Philadelphia families that want to attend Archdiocese schools.  According to Tracey Wilson, “Mr. Jenkins really worked with me to make this happen for my son.  I couldn’t be happier.” 

 

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