West Philly’s Lea School receives surprise donation via President Amy Gutmann

December 19, 2019
Penn President Amy Gutmann accepts the Pennsylvania Society Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement.

Penn President Amy Gutmann accepts the Pennsylvania Society Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement.

University of President Amy Gutmann’s commitment to Philadelphia is well known – and was on full display when she was recently awarded the Pennsylvania Society Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement. The prestigious award traditionally comes with $50,000 philanthropic gift to an organization of the recipient’s choice, and it was no surprise to those in attendance that President Gutmann chose West Philly’s Henry C. Lea School to receive the gift. Gutmann, who has a secondary faculty appointment to Penn’s Graduate School of Education, did manage to surprise the Pennsylvania Society attendees by announcing that Penn would be building on that gift with a matching $50,000 to the K-8 public school. The gifts, totaling $100,000 will be dedicated to buying new technologies for the students and teachers at Lea.

“Penn has partnered with the Lea School for a number of years, and I’m delighted we have this added opportunity to support the school's critical strategic investments in new computers and other technology,” said President Gutmann. “This support is important to Lea teachers because it helps to propel the achievement of Lea students. Under the inspired leadership of principal ShaVon Savage, the use of these funds will make a genuine difference in the lives of Lea students. I’m very glad that Penn can help to enhance the important work the school does in our West Philadelphia community.”

The University of Pennsylvania and the Graduate School of Education have a long relationship with the school, which has blossomed under the leadership of Principal ShaVon Savage. The District named Lea among its “Best and Most Promising” schools last spring after the school made significant progress—most notably experiencing a 74% jump in growth in standardized assessment scores over the past three years.

Located at 47th and Locust streets, the school has a strong immigrant community, with at least fourteen languages spoken at the school, with nearly 100% of students eligible for a free or reduced lunch. The school also provides an impressive array of services and supports, including K-8 autism support classes.

The gift will be used to purchase 60 laptops for staff with accompanying accessories, and will also be used to purchase additional Chromebooks and Tech Tubs for students to use during classes. 

“We are delighted and grateful for the gift,” said Principal Savage. “Our staff and students have worked tremendously hard to make gains over the past few years, and we are glad to be recognized.”  

Penn began working with West Philadelphia’s Henry C. Lea School in the 1960s, and deepened the partnership in 2013—including the provision of a Penn-supported full-time liaison to the school. Eighteen organizations across Penn—including GSE and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships—operate some 40 different school-day and after-school programs at Lea.

Today, the alignment, diversity, and sheer number of active partnerships the school is engaged make Lea arguably the most unique school in Philadelphia in regards to school-community partnerships. Principal Savage and three teachers are Penn GSE alums, while three other staff, including the Penn liaison Rich Liuzzi, are graduates of the University.

As a Penn partnership school, Lea contributes in significant ways to the vision and mission of Penn. Lea serves as a site of learning, apprenticeship, or service for nearly 400 community-based collaborators every school year, of which the majority are connected to Penn. Lea staff and faculty mentor Penn interns studying in a variety of fields in the social sciences—teacher apprentices, reading specialists, school counselors, social workers and nursing students—while Penn undergraduate and graduate students serving in a variety of roles in different partner programs have the opportunity to develop skills and learn lessons that cannot be acquired or experienced in a Penn lecture hall.