Family School Partnership Award Winner: Bodine High School

Posted on November 3, 2017
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Categories: Featured FACEs

Focus on FACE will highlight each of our Family School Partnership Award Winners over the next 3 months. First up is Bodine High School for International Affairs.

Many schools struggle to build and maintain a strong and effective School Advisory Council (SAC) for their school community. This could be for a number of different reasons that aren’t any one person’s fault; SACs are challenging to foster. Despite all the barriers, Karen Thomas, principal at Bodine High School for International Affairs, knew what she was looking for when she built her SAC. Principal Thomas recruited tirelessly and found a great team to help her—and now all of her hard work is paying off. Her collaborative and dynamic team is one of the recipients of the Office of Family and Community Engagement’s Family School Partnership Award for the 2017-2018 school year!

Principal Thomas’ exposure to SAC began in 2010 when she became the principal at Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School. This was just around the time that SACs were gaining their initial momentum in the District. Building a SAC was an informative experience, Principal Thomas says,

Bodine High School for International Affairs

Bodine High School for International Affairs

explaining, “The biggest thing I learned is that you really do have to listen to everybody. The whole point of the School Advisory Council is you’re all coming from a different place, you have a different lens through which you see the ultimate goal. And by listening to each other and realizing you’re never the smartest person in the room, you can actually get a lot of things done.”


When she became the principal of Bodine in 2014, Ms. Thomas had to start that process all over again. Moving from a neighborhood elementary school to a magnet high school made it a bit more challenging, but she “reached out and begged people,” got a small, core group together, and then it grew from there.

The first big issue the SAC tackled was the gardens surrounding the school, which Principal Thomas explains were underutilized and unkempt. She asked a neighborhood resident, Linda Soffer, to join the SAC and contribute to the garden discussion. Linda, a gardener, and a member of the local Northern Liberties neighborhood association, was able to provide feedback and local connections to the SAC, and they settled on the idea to open the gardens and blacktop during non-school hours so people in the area could enjoy them and act as another set of eyes and ears for the school property.
In addition to this, students have become more active in the community gardens and other local projects, something science teacher and SAC member Troy Holiday is especially proud of.

“This is a testament to the type of outreach effort that has been established by the SAC,” he says, explaining that the SAC has ensured “that we embrace a culture of giving rather than receiving, which helps us live up to the name of ‘Global Ambassador’.”

Now the SAC has grown to more than ten people comprised of all stakeholders, and Principal Thomas believes they are more invested in the school than ever before. Every SAC meeting looks different at Bodine; they may have guests come in to do workshops, they may have to work on things like rewriting bylaws or look at the school budget, or they may get updates on what’s going on in the school and in the neighborhood.

Principal Thomas relies on the entire group to contribute their thoughts and opinions, explaining, “We go in with our own mindset about what we think the school needs, and if you don’t ask kids and you don’t ask their parents and you don’t ask the teachers, you’re doing everybody a disservice.”
While she admits that getting the community involved in the school is very challenging, this is something the SAC has done well and aims to do even more of in coming years. One of their main goals for this year is forming more committees surrounding neighborhood and community partners, grants, and internship programs for students. Parent and SAC member AnnMarie Schultz argues that having committees with tangible goals is critical for engaging SAC members between meetings and “making people feel like they’re really involved in something.”

Principal Thomas wants to keep up the momentum that the SAC has built and will engage anyone who believes they can contribute to Bodine’s school community. Although the collaborative team is thriving, she argues it was not easy in the beginning. For schools that are just starting to build their SACs, Principal Thomas urges them not to get discouraged. “It’s not easy, I’m being honest,” she says. “It can be difficult but don’t lose faith. You just keep chipping away at it and sometimes you’d be surprised…all of a sudden it just mushrooms into something really good, and it can create its own momentum after that.”