by Kevin Dicciani
When local Realtors toured some of Northwest Philadelphia’s public schools, they discovered that, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a school by the news.
The Nortwest Philadelphia Public School Realtor Tour, organized by the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition and Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, was formed to showcase the educational opportunities and strong school programs available to prospective home-buyers in Mt. Airy and the surrounding areas, while counteracting negative opinions about the school district.
Katey McGrath, director of operations at Elfant Wissahickon and a board member of Friends of Jenks, along with Abby Thaker, of the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition, came up with the idea to arrange the tour last year.
McGrath said the idea arose when she received an invitation from a Friends group in East Falls asking real estate agents to visit local schools. The group’s stated goal was to get clients to choose which neighborhood to live in “because of the local school – not in spite of it.” This sentiment stuck with McGrath and became the genesis of the tour.
McGrath and Thaker began discussing ways to get real estate agents into the schools in the Mt. Airy Schools Coalition – particularly the ones who haven’t been inside the schools in years, or at all. If the agents could visit the schools themselves and meet the principals, teachers and students, they’d be able to see past the disparagement in the press and accurately inform their clients of the educational opportunities afforded in the neighborhood.
“The narrative about the schools can be so negative, we wanted Realtors to have first-hand impressions of the schools as warm and inviting places full of engaged students, teachers and parents,” McGrath said.
Once the foundation was set, McGrath and Thaker decided that multiple schools should be toured all in the same morning. The idea is based on a model that real estate agencies frequently use, informally called a Caravan, where agents follow each other in their cars and drive to the new listings for the week.
For this year’s tour, now in its second year, Mt. Airy USA hosted all of the planning and Elfant Wissahickon sponsored the invitation and transportation, with High Point Cafe providing refreshments. McGrath said that overall interest in the tour has increased this year from last, especially outside of the real estate community.
“I think people are really interested to see what’s happening on the grounds at the schools,” she said.
On the morning of Jan. 7, real estate agents, community ambassadors, parent groups, and City Council representatives toured five local public elementary schools – Emlen, Lingelbach, C.W. Henry, Houston and Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences. Over the course of the tour, visitors were treated to a different side of Philadelphia’s public schools, one they hadn’t anticipated, but nevertheless enjoyed.
“I think this year, and last year, the Realtors were pleasantly surprised by the resources in the schools, the partnerships each school has developed, and some of the fun, offbeat components to their curriculum, like the recording studio at Houston, or the live reptiles at Jenks,” McGrath said.
One of the aspects of the tour McGrath enjoys the most is seeing the sense of accomplishment that faculty and students have for their school.
“My favorite part of working on the tour is how proud the parents and teachers are of their school and the work their students do and how excited they are to share it with the real estate agents,” McGrath said. “Everyone involved in these schools works so hard and the communities are thriving.”
With the tour a success, McGrath is looking ahead, as unimaginable as it may be right now, to spring. There, when the buying season begins to turn busy, she now knows that local Realtors are equipped to tell people who are looking for a great neighborhood with great public schools that they have come to the right place.