by Pete Mazzaccaro
There’s a lot about Chestnut Hill’s reputation as a classically attractive neighborhood, with great architecture and well-cared-for shop fronts. What the neighborhood does not necessarily have a reputation for, though, is as a good place for kids.
As our Anna Fisher Clark intern – and lifelong Hiller – Siobhan Gleason notes in her story on the subject this week, there are quite a few newcomers that have expanded Chestnut Hill’s appeal to families. Yes, there are the traditions like O’Doodle’s, the Water Tower’s sled hill and playground and the many sports sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club. And in recent years new shops have opened that recognize that there’s a market in all the strollers rolling down the Avenue every day.
The question is can the Hill be any better? With more than 40 percent of Hill homes filled with families, it’s hard to argue that the neighborhood is doing anything wrong. City residents with kids are settling here for a reason.
From the Water Tower to CHYSC to O’Doodle’s and Cosimo’s Pizza, there seems to be enough here that makes Chestnut Hill more kid friendly than the average neighborhood. Recent CHCA efforts aimed at families, like Hoops Madness and the holiday parade, have made the environment even better for kids.
By any measurement, Chestnut Hill is a pretty great place to be a kid.
So there are great shops, restaurants and recreation options for kids. But how about schools?
Chestnut Hill has good schools. It has many good private schools. And its lone public school – J.S. Jenks is one of the best in the Philadelphia School District, with great attendance, above average achievement and one of the most active and creative Home and School Associations you’d find anywhere.
It’s still not the school many Hillers choose. According to citydata.com, 72 percent of Hill children between kindergarten and grade 12 attend private school. These children are at Norwood, OMC, SCH, GFS and others. Many of the remaining 28 percent in public school attend a charter or magnet school.
It’s hard to say if better public options would make the Hill more attractive. With a median income of about $100,000 – nearly three times greater than the Philadelphia average – it’s likely that Hill families can afford and prefer private schools.
Could Jenks do more to attract Hill families? It’s got a tough sales job no matter how terrific a job is done by its staff and parents. Public school’s reputation in general is not great, and in Philadelphia this is even more the case, where the threat of catastrophic budget cuts could gut a school’s enrichment programs at any moment. This might be unfair to Jenks, but in the complex calculus of determining how to do right by your child, it’s hard to ignore that risk. Even if the cost of a private school requires a great sacrifice, it’s one most parents are more than willing to make.
There have been many ideas, including trying to turn Jenks into a charter or magnet school similar to the way University City’s Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School drove home prices up and saw lines of parents camping out to register at the school.
Regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen at Jenks, families will continue to move to Chestnut Hill. There’s still many good reasons to do so. And perhaps, instead of trying to reform what in many ways is already working, more people will give Jenks a shot.