CCA high school assistant principal expands horizons for students in Philadelphia

​J.D. Smith is the high school assistant principal at CCA's Philadelphia drop-in center.

Jordann “J.D.” Smith’s email cites a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas Friedman: “In the future, how we educate our children may prove to be more important than how much we educate them.”

For Smith, high school assistant principal of Commonwealth Charter Academy’s drop-in center in Philadelphia, the quote illustrates his approach to developing young people whose character is as strong as their academics.

“Obviously, academics are a focus, but at the same time, we want to develop well-rounded Americans,” Smith said. “I’m trying to do my part to develop the next generation, and a piece of that is working on strong character and developing students that have high moral standards.”

CCA’s drop-in centers, including the one in Philadelphia, are augmentations of its virtual learning, helping students and families adjust to and succeed in cyber education. They provide spaces where students work on lessons and talk with teachers while getting tutoring and guidance on time management and life skills. Group projects and activities might include the Chess Club, or entering a Philadelphia 76ers marketing competition — an effort that CCA students won, beating out much larger schools.

At the drop-in center, there is less hand-holding than prodding to be go-getters, Smith said. Attendance is voluntary.

“We’re going to do everything possible not just to keep you but to help you do better than you ever would have,” he said. Through direct connections with colleges and trades, drop-in center staff members link students to post-secondary education and training opportunities. No one graduates without a plan for the future.

Business leaders come by to share the keys to success. Stanley H. Greene, president of PowerThinking Corp., was impressed with the attentiveness of the students as he urged them to think positively and build the self-confidence to finish their work.

“It’s a testament to how we interact with those kids and how we hold them to high standards, no matter who they are, what they look like or where they come from,” Smith said.

Smith travels the city, recruiting students from every background and socioeconomic status, because “these are the kinds of people the students are going to encounter after they graduate. We have to prepare them now by exposing them to different experiences and interactions.”

With CCA, many minority and immigrant families find the solution to their dilemma of getting quality schooling for their children. “I do believe that a lot of minority communities and people of color are not happy where they are,” Smith said. “I know these communities definitely are hungry for success for their children.”

Smith started at the center in 2015 after teaching in CCA’s Harrisburg Family Service Center. He calls his students “the bricks in my foundation. If I don’t do right by the kids, then my foundation crumbles.” CCA is “in a position to be a leader in the change in our country’s educational system,” he said.

“It’s about our kids and what we’re going to put out there for our country,” Smith said. “If we’re not putting out hardworking, innovative, global-minded learners who are turning into adults, then we’re doing ourselves a disservice. I’m going to do the best I can to be proud of what’s walking across our stage at graduation. We’re all proud of our students, and we want to continue to increase that pride.”

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Teacher