It’s been a long time since politicians and educators in this city have found occasion to stand together smiling. However, this was exactly the case on Tuesday at the new West Philadelphia High School.
Mayor Michael Nutter, acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery and School Reform Commission boss Robert L. Archie — for the last two months major players in the soap opera-like ending to the tenure of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman — were all in attendance for the ribbon cutting at the brand new West Philadelphia High School to kick off the beginning of the 2011–2012 academic year for the School District.
The $66 million building, home to 800 students, is a glistening structure that stands in stark contrast to the old building — West Catholic High School for Boys — that once stood at 49th and Chestnut streets.
“Yes, there have been challenges, and yes, quite frankly, there has been drama. A little too much drama,” Nutter said. “But if you want drama, watch TNT!”
The old West Philadelphia High School building, located on Walnut Street between 47th and 48th streets, opened its doors in 1912 as the first high school in the city built west of the Schuylkill River. In 2003, it was targeted by then-superintendent Paul Vallas as one of 17 proposed new school buildings — part of a $1.5 billion construction initiative.
In the time since then, it seemed as if the school might never be built. West Philly became a fixture on the list of state schools deemed persistently violent. There has been almost complete staff turnover, and at one point the school went through three different principals in the span of a month.
However, on Tuesday all of these things were forgotten, replaced instead by celebratory smiles on the faces off all who entered the building. A DJ was on hand playing music, and in general it really didn’t feel anything like the traditional first day of school.
“This is what I’m talking about!” said a smiling Sen. Vincent Hughes, straining to be heard over music blaring from the speakers. “Here we are about getting an education. This is a fresh start. All the old stuff is over and it’s about moving forward.”