Located in South Philadelphia, The Academy at Palumbo, hopes to become “the finest high school in Philadelphia,” according to the school’s handbook. After opening in 2006, the magnet liberal arts high school, aimed to prepare its students for higher education, instill a passion for learning and raise each student’s aspiration, according to the school’s website. “When we first opened, the new teachers and principal created behavioral expectations along with the SDP’s student code of conduct,” said Dr. Adrienne Wallace-Chew, principal of Palumbo.
According to the School District of Philadelphia’s (SDP) 2011-2012 Code of Student Conduct, students are expected to “respect the authority of all school personnel and the rights of other students and all members of the school community.” Students are also expected to comply with their individual schools’ handbooks. At Palumbo, the school handbook expresses a “zero tolerance policy towards the language and behavior of intolerance.” Aimed toward staff and students, The Academy at Palumbo’s zero tolerance policy towards intolerance also extends to the “inappropriate comments regarding ethnicity or sexual orientation, offhanded discriminatory remarks, offensive jokes and overt harassment of any kind.”
In the past, the teachers of Palumbo received training from the school district on making appropriate comments regarding ethnicity or sexual orientation, and handling offensive or discriminatory comments. Although the SDP did not offer the training this year, “Palumbo has a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at the school. “We also have many staff members who are openly gay or lesbian and offer support to our students,” said Chew. “We have not encountered any gay bashing or bullying from students that we are aware of,” she added.
Palumbo’s zero tolerance policy towards intolerance plays a large role in keeping the peace among its diverse student body of over 600 students. According to the SDP, African American students make up the largest ethnic group at Palumbo, at 50.6 percent of the school. Asians make up 21 percent of the student population, followed by whites at 17 percent. Latinos account for 9.3 percent of the school’s student body, while Other, makes up the remaining 1.9 percent. Of Palumbo’s current student population, 73.4 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, according to the SDP. “There’s a diverse student body, not a lot of cliques, everyone gets along with everyone,” said English teacher, Christopher Alvarez. As a diverse high school, The Academy at Palumbo strongly enforces the SDP’s Multiracial-Multicultural-Gender Education policy. Issued on Aug, 18, 2004, the policy encourages students to develop a sense of respect among staff and students. The policy also implemented a grievance process that allowed ‘students who found that they had either been discriminated against or denied the rights guaranteed by the policy’ to have both the Principal of the school and the SDP investigate the incident,’ according to School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Accountability.
With student body of over 600 students, The Academy at Palumbo currently employs two school police officers and uses metal detector and kiosks, which are located in the first floor hallway to monitor students’ entrance into the school, according to Chew. During the 2010-2011 school year there were two suspensions, down four from the previous school year. There were also three incidents of assault during the 2010-2011 school term, according to the SDP. In addition to the school police officers, the high school has three noontime aides and two school support assistants.
“Most students here will follow the rules because they are the rules,” said ninth grade English teacher, Meghan Donnelly. Donnelly, who previously taught English at Edison High School in North Philly, found the students at Palumbo to be refreshing. “Here, there’s an innate sense of wanting to do the right thing. At my other school there had to be a sense of punishment,” said Donnelly. “Its positive incentives here,” she added.
In addition to its zero tolerance policy towards intolerance, attendance is also very important to the high school. Palumbo uses a system of detention, and the loss of school privileges to encourage students to attend school. According to the school’s Absence/Lateness Policy, “Due to the accelerated pace and heavy workload at The Academy at Palumbo, its especially important for students to make a commitment to attend school everyday.” For the past three school years, 2008-2011, the school has maintained a 90 percent student attendance rate, according to the SDP. As a result of Palumbo’s high attendance rate, the high school recently won the Get Schooled Fall Challenge. According to the Get Schooled, Dec. 1 press release, the high school increased its attendance to 97 percent in seven weeks, Oct. 3 to Nov. 18. For their efforts students of The Academy of Palumbo will be awarded a red-carpet event, “with a Mission: Impossible-themed event at the school and preview screening of Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol at the UA Riverview theatre in Philadelphia,” according to the non-profit organization.
Similar to the challenge, Palumbo provides incentives for students to succeed. According to the school’s handbook, extra curricular activities are privileges that can be taken away due to students’ behavior and grades. “We have over 15 extra curricular clubs and offer boys and girls volleyball, basketball, baseball, football, badminton, soccer, track and field, softball and wrestling, ” said Chew. Palumbo’s extracurricular clubs include afterschool yoga, a knitting circle, a poetry club and an afterschool Journalism program.
As a special admittance high school, The Academy at Palumbo, selects students according to its admission requirements. “All A’s and B’s with one C and standardized test scores at the 88 percentile in Reading and Math, good behavior, good attendance,” Chew summarized.
“I think that because the students are selected, there is a culture of not getting into fights. Students who were successful in the past are less likely to get distracted,” said Alvarez. According to the SDP, of Palumbo’s student body, 13.4 percent of students are mentally gifted, 3.1 percent of students are with a disability and 83.5 percent of students are without an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). “We have a Mentally Gifted (MG) English and MG Drama and 12 Advanced Placement courses,” said Chew.
The Academy of Palumbo, according to the 2010 School Performance Index (SPI) is ranked among the top 10 schools in Philadelphia. Data shows that during the 2010-2011 school year, Palumbo had a higher attendance rate and performed better on both the Math and Reading PSSA tests than schools like Carver High School of Science and Engineering, located in North Philadelphia and the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). According to the SPI, schools are measured and compared by their “academic progress or growth on the PSSA and academic achievement, performance on the PSSA, as well as the satisfaction of parents, teachers, and students.”
“All policies are part of an attempt to establish guidelines by which we all use to effectively function. All organizations must have policies,” said Chew. “When I was at Central high school we had a saying, “We will never lose on substance, only on process.” If you don’t have a good process you won’t readily see success in the daily things you do, the substance of school. I have carried that saying with me to Palumbo, using it to become one of the finest high schools in the city,” Chew concluded.