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, 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.

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  • Tracy

    I am a little shocked by the question and premise you raise here:

    “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.”

    I wonder if the Local is in the best position to ask such and ponder here. In April the friends and families that support Jenks held a spring carnival that was an unqualified success. It highlighted the music, science and art programs. Volunteers from many organizations helped and local businesses, as usual, were terrific sponsors. Hundreds and hundreds of familes poured through the Jenks playground all day, more than 1,000 bags of popcorn were given out, hundreds and hundreds of burgers and dogs we made, rides, games, live music, it was a five hour event packed to the hilt with shows and a performances — even one by the Philly Phanatic. How much of this was covered in the Local print edition? Nothing, nada, zip, zero.

    Right across the street from the Local – Jenks was engaged in this “tough sales job” and not matter how terrific a job was done it was not newsworthy for this publication. Even though EVERY home and property benefits greatly from a vibrant effort to improve the public schools, it raises all property values, this successful community outreach was relegated to a slideshow online well after the fact.

    This opinion piece would be a lazy effort at looking at Jenks were the spring carnival non-coverage never to have happened. Yesterday Newsworks looked at the situation at Jenks, got specific with the grants employed, STEM funding, curriculum changes, the NASA program and more. Yesterday they shared this piece:

    If you want a look into what Jenks is doing — I am sorry to wonder if the Local is not exactly the tip of the spear in this matter… The residents of 19118 will have a clouded view of their public school if the local paper seems to think Jenks is in some fog of “what can we all do if anything” malaise written up as a “tough sales job” by the editor…

    • PMazz

      The question was never about how successful Jenks is. In fact, I note here that the school seems to do incredible things. And we have covered Jenks a great deal. I can show you numerous front page stories over the course of the last year featuring Jenks — its programs, events and staff. I don’t’ think any publication –online or in print — has done more to cover and report about what Jenks and its parent organizations are doing for the betterment of the school and community.

      None of what you say addresses the fact that the large public school in the middle of the neighborhood is not the choice for — at best — 72 percent of the children. Of the 28 percent who choose to send their children to public school, how many are looking for charter schools like Greenwoods? Few say they move to Chestnut Hill for the schools.

      Look at what public opinion says about Philadelphia Pubic Schools:

      From a release announcing the poll’s results:

      “Only 18 percent of the Philadelphians surveyed said the schools are doing a good or excellent job. Seventy-eight percent described the schools as “only fair” or poor, and 52 percent of all respondents rated them poor.

      “In the five years we at Pew have polled the city, the school system’s ratings have never been high,” says Larry Eichel, a director of Pew’s Philadelphia Program. “But these are the lowest yet.”

      Also, according to that poll, only 23 percent of parents with children in public schools rated them good or excellent.

      How this isn’t a tough environment which to sell a neighborhood public school, I don’t know what is. This is not Jenks’ fault. I never said it was.

      • Tracy

        I appreciate that you do cover Jenks things and on the front page from time to time. It is the local public school, so covering the major events should be the norm and not the exception in the expectations of your readers. It is as natural as if you were a 19118 Weather Channel and you let the good readers know that it rained yesterday and might tomorrow. I raised the issue because if the analogy is held for a quick thought experiment: the lack of covering the biggest new community event since the Harry Potter Weekend hit town – is like being that weather channel and skipping the coverage of Hurricane Sandy, though you gave due attention to the afternoon showers the week before on a Tuesday.

        What is also missing in this analysis using citydata and pew is what is trending here today and in 19118. How are things if they are changing, how many kindergarten students live in the neighborhood this year versus last year, versus five years ago? Are more people using Jenks for kindergarten and less for fifth grade in this zip code, how many local residents are attending open houses, what is the interest like?

        I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, I am not in the media covering this institution but I have twins starting 3rd grade and as parents we see changes and trends and they are fantastic. It would be nice if the newspaper did have the finger on the pulse of the local school, armed with the local demographic data of this institution and the changing trends.

        It is not a surprise that people in Philadelphia, according to pew think public schools stink. It is a shame that the Local has musings and not a correct, vigorous defense of Jenks’s value knowing there is a lot of effort moving the needle trying to improve Jenks. I appreciate you are not saying it is the fault of Jenks that any public school is held in low regard, I just am wondering if the local paper is investigating and sharing whether such a low opinion here is deserved, should it be elevating, is the performance metrics knowable about Jenks and their future a solid basis for an optimistic look at this public school and our community’s future? Are the questions being asked and are we being given answers about this institution?

        It was you who asked: “Could Jenks do more to attract Hill families?” I used the spring carnival example as one in which families came out buy the hundreds, spend the day supporting the school and I doubt any of them were in the 78% of thinking Jenks was doing “only fair” in line with your Pew stat but since the event was not covered, the questions were not asked, so we will never know. And the readers are unaware of this and unmoved. Rather than ask these ponderous questions in your above piece, I am only wondering if covering the school and presenting current data might be more productive. You are also right, the Local has done more and does do more to cover this than any other outlet. Is it enough in your expectations or the readers? I think more is warranted from your end and we can tackle the “tough sales job”…

  • Katie Toner Drake

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article. And don’t forget great kids’ programs like The Music Class ( an award-winning children’s music program happening right in Chestnut Hill at the United Church at 8812 Germantown Ave.

  • ariannan

    Don’t forget Teenagers, Inc. in your list of local things to do in Chestnut Hill..We offer programs for 6th-12th graders.