Building a foundation

School days: A parent and children leave New Foundations Charter School after touring the newly constructed facility on Rhawn Street in Holmesburg. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

— New Foundations high schoolers are finally in a building of their own, on Rhawn Street, across the street from the elementary school.

After going to classes in a different building each year of their high school careers, members of the junior class at New Foundations Charter High School are happy to finally settle into a permanent home.

As freshmen, the students took classes in the elementary school building.

As sophomores, they matriculated in extra space at Franklin Towne Charter School, having to climb up and down stairs every day.

For the first four months of their junior year, they studied at the recently closed Our Lady of Ransom Elementary School building.

Finally, the New Foundations high schoolers are in a building of their own, located at 4850 Rhawn St., across the street from the elementary school.

The finishing touches still are being put on the new three-story building. When completed, it will feature technology-equipped classrooms, a two-story library/media center, cafeteria, café lounge, fitness space, gym, science and computer labs and a college/career resource center.

Karlie Ethridge said the location will allow plenty of room for extracurricular activities and the opportunity for the high school and elementary school students to interact.

“I’m glad we’re here,” said Karlie, a National Honor Society member and “Ask Karlie” columnist for the Bulldog Bark school newspaper. “I like it here. I’m glad we have a final place. Everything is new. It’s a real high school.”

Karlie and the rest of the freshmen, sophomores and juniors moved from Our Lady of Ransom to the Rhawn Street location over the Christmas holidays.

New Foundations opened the high school on Jan. 7, but waited to hold a formal grand opening on Feb. 7.

The building process included demolition and renovations, along with new construction.

The ground was once home to Eureka Metal & Glass. Karlie’s dad, Kevin, once worked there.

Juniors Perry Mulubah and Jon Hoffman, both members of the National Honor Society, were showing off the school’s new computer lab.

“It’s great. We finally have a building,” Perry said. “I like the staff, I like the school. Now, we’ll have more resources.”

Jon said there was an adjustment after the move from Franklin Towne to Our Lady of Ransom. As for the new place, he believes the open space makes for a better learning environment.

“It was worth it,” he said of the wait. “The teachers are good. I love the curriculum here. It’s new and state of the art. It’s got that freshness to it. And we’ll be the first graduating class.”

Sheryl Perzel, wife of former state House Speaker John Perzel, founded the elementary school in 2000.

For almost two years, classes were held at Johnson Memorial Methodist Church in Mayfair and at the old Oxford Circle Jewish Community Center.

In April 2002, students moved into the present site at Torresdale Avenue and Rhawn Street, in an old Super Fresh supermarket.

The high school opened in 2010.

At present, there are 681 pupils in the elementary school and 390 students in the high school.

By 2015, New Foundations will serve about 1,500 students in the two buildings.

Administrators point to standardized test scores to show their model is working.

On the 2012 Pennsylvania System of State Assessment test, 84.6 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math. The figure was 76.9 percent for reading. Statewide, the numbers were 80.0 percent and 74.1 percent, respectively. Citywide, the figures were 50.0 percent and 45.0 percent, respectively.

New Foundations has made Adequate Yearly Progress seven of the last eight years. Last year in Philadelphia, just 13 percent of traditional public schools and 29 percent of charter schools met that requirement.

Cutting the ribbon at the grand opening celebration were CEO Paul Stadelberger, high school principal Bill Schilling, state Sen. Mike Stack, board president Dave Lambie and board members.

Stadelberger thanked Sheryl Perzel and the educational visionaries who were there from the start — Jerry Santilli, Barb Braman and Stacey Cruise.

In all, the project cost $12 million.

Stadelberger credited Bustleton Services Inc. for preventing water damage during Hurricane Sandy and completing the job in less than nine months, a timeframe he described as “unheard of.”

At New Foundations, the motto is “A Caring Community of Learners.” The students show respect for each other and the staff, Stadelberger said.

“The students truly live that mission each and every day,” he said.

Another big part of the school’s success, in Stadelberger’s view, is principal Schilling, who sometimes reports to work before 5 a.m.

“He’s here until the last car is out of this parking lot,” he said.

Schilling, though, pointed to Stadelberger as the driving force in approving anything that benefits the students.

The principal joked that, if he made an argument that adding 17 elephants to the staff would improve the educational experience, Stadelberger would sign off on the proposal.

Schilling described the high school students and staff as the “New Foundations Nomads.”

“We’ve been in four buildings in three years,” he noted.

Schilling said the New Foundations brass promised to create the best facility and the best education in the state.

“I think we’ve delivered,” he said. ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com