Bright Spots

A School District’s Approach to Return a Community to Economic Prosperity

By David Pines
Nov 29, 2018

Chester, Pennsylvania is the oldest continuously settled community in Pennsylvania.  From its origins in 1644, it experienced its first major growth period stimulated by World War I. The rapid expansion of Chester’s industrial base in steel manufacturing and shipbuilding created the need for workers to support this growth provided many jobs in Chester and the vicinity.

By 1950, Chester’s population peaked at more than 66,000 people; however, the post-war economy also had a negative impact on Chester as it did on many industry-based cities at the time.  By the mid-1950s, Chester began to experience economic difficulties as manufacturing and other industries moved out of the city. As a result, employment declined into the 1960s and many people migrated out of Chester to surrounding towns and suburbs in search of new employment.

As the new millennium approached, the school district, in this severely distressed community of now 34,000 people, became one of the lowest-performing in Pennsylvania, and has been in court-appointed receivership since 2012.

An unseen major contributor to the problem is a community-wide mindset of resignation that “nothing will change.”

In order to dissolve this cynicism within the community, the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) is leading a mindset shift across each of their six schools. Any strategy, plan, curriculum, or activity is created within the context of every student and every adult feeling cared for, valued, and supported every hour of every day. When mindsets change, the world immediately looks different, circumstances look different, and new solutions emerge.

One of the high school teachers instilled the belief that each of her student’s are capable learners. She raised the bar for what success looked like in her English class and as a result three out four students improved two grade equivalencies in reading.

By changing the paradigm to one that expects extraordinary results, the CUSD is building the scaffolding for aspiring change makers within Chester. And as a result,  conditions are being created that will return a once thriving community to economic prosperity.