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Mastery Charter at Smedley Elementary School Engages Families

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Please note: This story first appeared in the April/May print edition of The Frankford Gazette. I never finished adding the photo gallery – a good lesson about timeliness in all things for this student of life. 

I was very intrigued and interested in learning about Mastery Charter Smedley Elementary after my first email encounter with Danielle Nicoletti, Assistant Principal of Operations and Student Life at Smedley. I had emailed Danielle regarding our Frankford Community Calendar and I received back an enthusiastic response and a willingness to “connect and work within the community”. One of their activities for March was holding a Job Fair for parents after they had offered parents’ workshops in resume writing and job interviewing skills. This is something I have long believed in –  that we are lifelong learners and schools can play a much larger role in the community as a learning resource for all!

We wanted to share with you more about Mastery Charter Smedley Elementary. Franklin D. Smedley Elementary is located at 1790 Bridge Street. Smedley was designed by Irwin T. Catharine, who was the chief architect of the city’s public schools for almost 20 years. Smedley was built in 1927-1928. He had a penchant for the Gothic Revival look but when used for schools, it’s also called Collegiate Gothic. Smedley operated for over 80 years as a traditional Philadelphia public school but was struggling by the time Mastery Charter came on the scene.

Mastery Charter took over Smedley in 2010 and they were up for the challenge of both refurbishing a building in dire need and improving the delivery of instruction to its’ students who were also in need. Mastery Charter Smedley began with an emphasis on inclusion of parents, students and staff to create a culture where everyone feels they belong. During the past 7 years, physical improvements have included painting, repairs, upgrading wiring and the building of an addition which includes a gym, 4 classrooms and handicap access for those in need.  

Cait Murphy has been in an administrative position since day one. She was an assistant principal for the first five years and then principal for the last two years. This year’s 6th grade graduating class is the first one that she has seen “grow up” from Kindergarten to now making the move most likely to the Lenfest Campus, 35 S. 4th Street, for grades 7 through 12.

Frankford is an area where many parents do struggle financially and this makes succeeding in school even more important for our children to open up future possibilities for them. As you enter Smedley, a poster at the top of the steps encourages students to work hard, to go to college, to work and realize their dreams. That’s the purpose of an education. Mastery Charter elementary schools make a commitment to be “neighborhood” schools – they do not engage in city-wide lotteries. There is, of course, a waiting list for upper grades but Principal Murphy told us that for this coming school year 20 seats are still available for Kindergarten. If you are interested, you must live in this catchment area….. but do contact them directly at the school or by downloading and completing an application here –

Principal Murphy exudes pride in her school and her students’ achievements which she attributes to a culture of family, community and a school spirit that drives the learning curriculum. She gives high marks to her teachers and support staff who go the extra mile to make it all happen. The PTA is growing and the School Advisory Committee are also key components of Smedley’s success. She has flexibility in her staffing and budgeting which allows her to do what is best for her students.

Stressing academics, reading is emphasized in the Early Literacy program gives each student, in Kindergarten through Second Grade, one hour of small group instruction which includes phonics and guided instruction. Students are given a strong foundation upon which to build and develop further skills and interests. This continues throughout the grades as they are focused on continuing to improve their PSSA scores. Many children are at grade level or beyond and teachers can individualize within their classrooms to address each student’s needs.

Every Wednesday, students have a half-day for teachers to engage in professional development honing their own skills. Unlike the public schools, there is no union, but their salaries are performance-based, meaning they do well when their students do well. There teachers like teaching here, partly because of the financial opportunity but mostly because of the community that exists. There are three Assistant Principals who help teachers better develop their skills and focus on best practices for academic instruction in a positive way.

But school doesn’t end at the bell! There are after school programs and events for families. Last Thanksgiving, families were invited to participate with the food being cooked and served by Lintons, their food service company. Traditional dance nights are held with more events planned.

During our visit all was calm and everyone was doing what they should. Students traveled to and from quietly, in an orderly fashion. Asking about discipline (there are no police or security guards here), Principal Murphy told us that when something does happen, the students are taken aside and whatever happened is discussed to be understood and to discuss alternative ways of handling matters (conflict resolution).  

We enjoyed our visit and did witness many of the reasons why Principal Murphy is proud of her school family. It really is a family – Principal Murphy’s father sometimes comes to volunteer.

There were a few openings in the spring for a very few grades, but if you are interested, please call the office at (215) 537-2523. Please mention you read about them in The Frankford Gazette