A look into our neighborhood’s elementary schools.
By Jessie Walker and Maria Matysik
Photography By Melissa Kelly Photography (

With fall just around the corner, it doesn’t just mean colder weather and the turning of the leaves, but it also means it’s time for children to head back to school. As another school year gears up, we spoke with principals of some the local elementary schools to find out what they love about their schools and the back-to-school season.

Dobson Elementary School
James Dobson Elementary is a K-8 public school with a mission of inspiring learners and empowering leaders. Their small school teaches approximately 295 students and there is only one class per grade, enabling the faculty to get to know each child individually.

The school is dedicated to bringing out the best in every student, helping them to develop the capacity to do anything. Principal Patricia Cruice elaborated on the environment of their academic community, describing it as “small, warm, and caring.”

“We really strive to keep the child at the center of our work, and we aim to find the individual greatness in each student,” she added.

Dobson Elementary uses “The Leader in Me” approach, which stems from a book called The Seven Habits of Happy Kids. This includes emphasizing habits such as being proactive, synergizing, and setting goals.

“It pushes for student leadership and student ownership of learning,” said Principal Cruice.

The school uses this program as the foundation for their curriculum and select events throughout the year, including Fun Friday afternoons. Every other Friday, students have the opportunity to choose an activity that interests them, where these positive behaviors are reinforced.

There is no shortage of events and programs to get involved in at Dobson, as well. Principal Cruice attributed this to the help of their active Home and School Association.

“The Home and School Association raises funds that enable us to have extra events for the kids. They step in and really do a lot for the school community,” said Principal Cruice.

A costume parade and Halloween party in October, Book Feast in November, and the Dobson Olympics Day and Dobson Field Day in June are among the many events that are sponsored by the Home and School Association.
Principal Cruice commented on how she, as a student, would have been involved in their active student council.
“I really liked being involved in civic discourse and conversation, which led to my path of being a principal,” she said. “I’ve always been committed to the ideals of democracy, fairness, and equality, and those are all ideals that I try to strive for here at Dobson.”

Principal Cruice believes that civically responsible public schools are the foundation for a good neighborhood, which is why she maintains an open door policy for parents, as well as the entire community.

“We encourage parent participation for a range of activities, whether it’s chaperoning a field trip or helping to maximize library resources,” said Principal Cruice. “We’re also always looking for ways to get the students out into the community.”

Dobson’s range of activities, events, and programs make for an exciting elementary and middle school experience for any child. Whether they are a member of the student safety patrol, caring for the Manayunk Canal as a part of the Watershed Project, or even turning the principal into a human ice cream sundae as a part of Dobson Day, the faculty is committed to making every experience a positive learning opportunity.

“It’s the most exciting place to be because kids bring amazing energy and enthusiasm to their learning,” said Principal Cruice. “We have incredible teachers who bring out the best in each kid, so watching that interaction in the classroom inspires me to do everything I can for the students.”

Shawmont School
This year, Shawmont Elementary School is not only welcoming back their students, but they are also welcoming in a new principal, Robert McGrogan. Even though he is new to Shawmont, Principal McGrogan is in his 29th year with the School District of Philadelphia and is excited to uphold the school’s mission of providing outstanding education for students from many neighborhoods.

“I am impressed with the passion and commitment of the parents, community and staff,” said Principal McGrogan. “As a group, we feel the school is an oasis, and we are striving to grow it further while maintaining its challenging yet nurturing environment.”

Shawmont consists of grades K-8, and prides themselves on their busy calendar of events throughout the year. It’s all made possible with the help of the Home and School Association, a School Advisory Council, and school and district initiatives. With a range of activities like the science fair requiring academic rigor, or the student shows and musicals for those with a passion for the stage, the variety offers something for every student.

“We also have a myriad of family-oriented events,” explained Principal McGrogan. “This includes family movie night, healthy snack bingo, and a Shawmont 5K Run, just to name a few.”

Shawmont, understanding the advantages and importance of the arts in schools, also has a strong reputation for assisting and encouraging students to pursue their interests in all forms of art.

Principal McGrogan elaborated, “It is our goal to complement and provide an additional avenue for students to express themselves.”

The school distinguishes itself not only through its arts programs, but also through the way it helps develop informed, responsible, and creative citizens who will be ready to achieve their academic and personal goals. Principal McGrogan described it as “a community of ‘doers’” and applauded the staff and community’s effort in accomplishing that vision.
He also commented on his excitement for the start of the school year saying, “Every day is different with its energy and excitement. However, the start and end of a year are my favorite. These new beginnings create a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and ambition.”

He added, “Along the journey of each year, I’m looking forward to the remarkable events that validate our effort and accomplishments.”

Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School
In close proximity to Manayunk, Roxborough, and Wissahickon, Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School finds its roots in the neighborhood that has enforced its mission of “working together with students, parents, and the community to develop a positive learning environment.”

Principal Michael Lowe is dedicated to maintaining the mission for his public school that “lives by the motto ‘Respectful, Responsible, and Ready to Learn.’” With this in mind, Cook-Wissahickon aims to help its students build strong character in addition to achieving academic and personal success.

“It’s a philosophy that we strive to achieve day in and day out,” said Principal Lowe, commenting on the school’s focus of expanding its offering of creative and personal development classes in the last few years.

In addition to the usual curriculum, “we offer music, art, computer science, physical education, and character education courses that help engage students in something they love doing and can be successful at,” according to Principal Lowe.

With a supportive faculty behind him, Principal Lowe’s vision for Cook-Wissahickon is “to give students the opportunity to find themselves through the arts and sciences so that one day they can be whatever it is they want to be.”

This stems from his own experience growing up attending public schools in Philadelphia and exploring his talents with dreams of multiple careers as an artist, carpenter, chemist, teacher, and then as a principal.

In his two years at Cook-Wissahickon, Principal Lowe has quite a few favorite memories of being principal of his school. One of his most rewarding moments was being named Neubauer Fellow in the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders recognizing the work he has done at Cook-Wissahickon. The fellowship, he explained, “will enhance my skills and provide the support I need to continue to improve as a leader for our school.”

Principal Lowe also commented on the smaller moments that remind him why he loves being principal of Cook-Wissahickon Elementary, like the environment and community involvement.

“From Pre-K all the way to eighth grade, our school is a place where everyone knows your name,” said Principal Lowe. “The community is dedicated to children, from the organizations and business to the faculty and parents of our students. There is such a feeling of family.”

This dedication and bond is what drives Principal Lowe’s philosophy of “working together everyday to make [Cook-Wissahickon Elementary] a better place and our students better people.”