(submitted by Lisa Kleiner)
My name is Lisa Kleiner. My husband Michael and I live in Mt. Airy (Houston School catchment area) with our boy/girl twins, who are in first grade at C.W. Henry. My introduction to the C.W. Henry School was a tour we took with Principal Caren Trantas a year before our children were to enter kindergarten. Knowing this was a Philadelphia public school, I expected to see children running wild, frequent violence, no books, an uncaring and/or overwhelmed staff, a crumbling facility, and a curriculum geared towards "slow" students. Needless to say, none of my prejudices turned out to be accurate. We rang the doorbell, and the door was opened by a smiling older student in a neat uniform. We were greeted very politely and directed to the office, where Mrs. Trantas introduced herself. She was very warm and welcoming but obviously a professional.
During our tour, I noticed that the main building was certainly very old, but the classrooms were brightly decorated. The hallways and classrooms were quiet and the children seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were plenty of text books and supplementary material in evidence. I felt the curriculum would probably be challenging to most students - it was certainly more advanced that what I learned in school. The kindergarten classrooms are housed in a newer, separate wing and included direct access to a separate playground with a tree house and climbing equipment and bathrooms and water fountains in each classroom.
We decided to apply for a transfer from the Houston district, and were very upset in the April before kindergarten started to learn that our daughter had been selected by the lottery, but our son would not. We immediately e-mailed Mrs. Trantas, and, although it was the Spring break, she answered us within 15 minutes. Luckily, our son was admitted to Henry also since the School District favors keeping siblings in the same school.
Our experience since then with the kindergarten and first grade has been very positive. The school staff, working together with the parents and teachers, have managed to solve every problem that has come up. For example, the first day of kindergarten there were 37 children in each of the two classes, instead of the 18-20 we had been expecting. Parents, teachers, and Mrs. Trantas worked together to create a third class on the second day so that the children would have a safe and manageable learning environment. A permanent, third teacher was hired within a couple of weeks and parents worked together to decorate the new classroom.
The curriculum, which is the same as is used in the suburban public schools, is very challenging and creative. Children who are working at a higher level are often sent to higher grades for particular subjects so they are not bored, and also can participate in the Gifted Support program. The teachers are truly interested in the welfare of their students and are very well qualified. I have also found that the overwhelming majority of the families share our middle class values and feel education is very important. My children may be exposed to values or behaviors we don't like, but they retain our values and have not become "tough" or "street-wise." Most of all, they love their school, the teachers, and the many friends they have made.