SLA Beeber front It was 3:00pm on June 20th, the last day of school. The inaugural staff of SLA@Beeber sat around the huge conference table in the main office going over highlights and areas for growth for next year. We picked apart processes, events, successes, failures and made suggestions for next year. We discussed our capacity as a staff, the way our kids had grown so much since September, the way we stuck together as a staff and made some really hard decisions together. We expressed our gratitude for each other’s professionalism and integrity. We also pointed out where things went really wrong and places where we came up short, acknowledging our errors and making plans for addressing them.

Then, our principal (he would kick me for calling him that), stopped us and reminded us of something we had failed to mention for the last 30-45 minutes. “We started a school, guys,” he said. We smiled. In all of the day’s conversations about pedagogy, technology integration, processes and procedures, organizational capacity and more, it was easy to forget the simplest fact: We started a school this year.

Not only did we start a school, but we finished out a fairly successful school year in some challenging conditions. We had 9 full time staff members, including our secretary, principal and program coordinator for 125 students. We had a part time NTA for the morning, but no one at lunch to monitor students (no school police officer or lunch time support staff). We had a nurse once every 3 weeks, a counselor once a week, a part time Special Education teacher and a school psychologist once a month. Add to that the fact that two or three days before school started, we didn’t have enough chairs for all of our students, we had no furniture in the main office, only a handful of cafeteria tables for 125 students, and pretty much no school supplies whatsoever. After picking apart every little nuance of the school year and reflecting on our successes and our failures, we failed to remember that, in the end, we came together and built a school. This year was, by no means, perfect, and we have a lot of space to grow, but I am thrilled to have been a part of the team that started SLA Beeber, and I am even more thrilled to see it expand next year and watch our 9th graders advance to 10th grade and to welcome our new, incoming freshmen and our new staff members, my new colleagues on this journey.

I have never had a more rewarSuccess babyding, frustrating, demanding, celebratory year of teaching in my 10 years of teaching in Philadelphia. Thanks, Chris, Marina, Luke, Dave, Leroy, Max, Karthik and Matt as well as Jeremy, Katie, Tishna and Pat for making this year shine!


  1. Reply

    Mary Beth,
    It is invigorating as an educator to hear about the excitement for learning that you and your colleagues are passionately instilling in your students and each other. Far out!

  2. Darin Kelly


    We’re already proud SLA@CC parents, and can’t wait to be SLA@B parents in the fall as well! Congrats on your amazing achievement!
    -Darin & Michele Kelly (Eamon ’16, Eoin ’18)

  3. Nancy Hertz


    Congratulations and well done to a group of educators with vision, grit, determination and passion! Carry it on!

  4. marybeth


    Thanks everyone! Our work is never done, but it is such rewarding work!

  5. Chris


    As I sit here in my back yard on a Saturday morning combing through emails, I came across this link (Thanks MB). I waited for a few minutes before I decide to respond.

    MB… You have captured the essence of what we accomplished for the better part of nine months. I know in our reflection period we focus on the highlights and struggles of our inaugural year. I just wanted to add a few minor thoughts…

    1) We were asked to replicate a model that has been successful on so many levels and to do it with fidelity in a short window. I am not certain that people who have not tried what we did could not fathom what that means. You have to submerge your ego and institute a culture and climate that you may not totally believe in at first. It took patience from all of our stakeholders to see the fruits of our labor. In the process, some had doubts and reservations. But in the end, the SLA staff (both campuses) pulled through and provided students and families with a high quality education.

    2) When a school doesn’t have a full compliment of staff to support students, it is essential that other staff members provide the support to families. We were the janitors, engineers, counselors, nurses, police officers, safe corridors monitors, psychologist, substitute teacher, secretary, school operations officer, tutors, fundraisers, nta’s, noon time aides, organizers, coaches, taxi service providers, home visits (weekends and evening hours), movers, rental truck drivers and renters, furniture seekers (Bok and Wm. Penn), etc.

    3) Starting a school in an environment/building where there were many people (In and out of the building) who were against the move and voiced their concern. The political stuff (I’m being nice) that you had to navigate through. The reluctance of some to provide support that every other school take school takes for granted.

    4) The merging of two very different types of schools in to one building. The resistance that was made known from day 1. You guys navigated through and won over the students and staff of the middle school with dignity, resilience and a smile. Think of all of the Beeber middle school students that you not only befriended, but also forged relationships with. Think of the Beeber staff who at one time, didn’t even say hello, but now come to the third floor and sit in the office and drink coffee, converse and engage our students.

    5) We did this with two brand new teachers, three with only five years experience, all coming from very different schools. This was the first time staff were ever asked to develop curriculum, learn a PBL model that is focused on Inquiry. Institute an ethics of care, from the heart!!! Engage in a distributive leadership framework that asked you to create policy and procedure for the entire school.

    6) You were the older siblings to students who didn’t have the luxury of having upper class-men who they could count on for navigating the school. This is a piece that is HUGE.

    7) Lets not forget the most important part… You had to teach students. Not only did you teach with fidelity, you also had to hold the hands of students who were never taught in a projects based model. They had to re-learn everything they knew about education. You learned together. Failed together. Cried together. Laughed together. But most importantly, you grew together.

    Thanks MB for making me sit down and reflect on what our staff (both campuses) had to endure during our first year. Now, I have to get back to making sure our in-coming ninth grade student list is accurate. Back to work!!!


    • marybeth


      Thanks, Chris, for adding your reflection here. I think you really had a big picture view of this year and I’m glad that you reminded me of some of the other challenges we faced and, for the most part, overcame. I’m really glad that we had that discussion on that last Friday. It’s no wonder that Reflection is one of our Core Values. It really is powerful and important to do.

      Thanks for all of your support helping navigate the politics and the relationships with the District, Beeber and the community this year. It had a huge impact on the school, the staff and the students. I can’t wait to start Year #2!

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