Philadelphia Baby Boom Could Aid City Schools, Report Says

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For the first time in decades, Center City has an opportunity to keep families with young children in Philadelphia instead of watching them flee to the suburbs.

So says the Center City District, which Monday issued a report challenging the city's leaders and residents to capitalize on the stunning population growth of young people in Center City and beyond.

Many of those new residents are starting to have children, creating a baby boom in neighborhoods such as Bella Vista and Fairmount.

That could reenergize some local public schools, said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, which works to improve the climate for living and working in the affluent neighborhood at the heart of Philadelphia.

"If you look forward at the demographic wave that is coming, you've got a lot of opportunity," Levy said.

In the area from Tasker Street to Girard Avenue and between the two rivers, the number of children under 5 has grown 42 percent in the last decade, to 5,287.

Many of those children belong to families that can't afford private school. If more of those parents see their local public schools as an option, they might stay in the city, Levy said. That would help maintain neighborhoods and feed the city's tax base.

He acknowledged the timing of the report was complicated for the School District of Philadelphia because Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman left on Aug. 22.

New leadership, however, also provides a chance to pursue fresh ideas, Levy said.

He cited the Meredith School in Queen Village as an example of how local parents backed by a strong principal can create a public elementary school with strong academics and a diverse population. About 87 percent of the children in Meredith's neighborhood go to school there.

In addition to the burgeoning population of preschoolers in some neighborhoods, other demographic shifts are in Philadelphia's favor, Levy said. Many parents of young children want to live in a vibrant urban area near museums and restaurants. They enjoy walking or biking to work.

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