New Center City girls high school aims to fill Hallahan void

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Nan Gallagher and Denise Baron are co-founders of Center City Girls Academy.
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The paperwork was hand-delivered to state officials in Harrisburg last Friday.

Center City Girls Academy, a private all-girls school conceived in the wake of the decision to close John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School, is planning to open in time for the start of the next academic year.

Hallahan — the 100-year-old institution shuttered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last year — looms large over CCGA.

All three women involved in setting up the new school have strong ties to Hallahan, and CCGA’s website includes a “legacy” section highlighting Mary E. H. McMichan, who funded the Catholic school’s construction.

CCGA leaders say the school is meant to fill a single-sex void in Center City, as every other all-girls high school within city limits is far from Philadelphia’s core.

But the planned academy also wants to chart its own path, explained Alexis Bennett, a 2010 Hallahan graduate recently hired to serve as CCGA’s head of school.

“Hallahan had its own traditions,” she told Metro. “It’s gonna be a great time to establish some new traditions for women as we move forward.”

An important difference is that CCGA will be a secular school; however, the academy will have a “360 approach to mind, body and spirit” with classes in meditation, breath work and yoga, said school co-founder Denise Baron, a self-described wellness expert and entrepreneur.

Retreats will be offered with different religious figures from around the city, and the school’s board will include a diverse array of spiritual leaders, organizers said.

“What we will be is a very ecumenical school with a value-based educational component,” said CCGA Board Chairwoman Nan Gallagher, a former Hallahan president. “A value-based educational component really helps students to understand the difference between right and wrong.”

Right now, the high school’s leadership plans to begin in August with freshmen and sophomores, though they may decide to add 11th and 12th grades if there is enough interest.

Standard tuition will be $15,000 a year, which Gallagher said was fair considering the price tags of other private schools in the area.

School leaders say a location has been identified, but they did not disclose it, as the deal to acquire the building has not been finalized.

Gallagher said the “completely renovated” property is off South Broad Street in Center City and was previously used as a school.

Alexis Bennett has been hired as CCGA’s head of school.Provided

Registration is not yet open, as CCGA awaits its state license, so the appetite for the school remains unclear.

When the archdiocese decided to close Hallahan, officials blamed declining enrollment, which they said would have led to steep tuition hikes had the school remained open.

Baron said between 75 and 89 girls have filled out a pre-registration form, though some have registered elsewhere as a “back-up.”

“There is a lot of interest, a lot of interest from local K-8 schools of all different backgrounds — charter schools, traditional public,” Bennett said. “There are some archdiocesan schools that are interested.”

Bennett added that public school students who were not accepted to magnet high schools, such as Central and Masterman, due to highly-publicized School District of Philadelphia special admission changes may view CCGA as a good opportunity.

Other than Bennett, no staff has been hired, though CCGA has been conducting interviews and plans to bring on 12 faculty members for its first year.

CCGA has received some backing, including from City Councilman At-Large Allan Domb, who, in a statement, said the school is “a great opportunity for Philadelphia to attract more families to our great city.”

First, the school must get approved by the State Board of Private Schools.

After reviewing their application, the board may request additional information and then schedule a site visit in May, Kendall Alexander, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said in an email.

If all goes well, the proposed school could go before the board at its meeting in June, Alexander added.

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