New research commissioned by the Centre City Development Corporation shows that “a new downtown school is fighting a tremendous amount of inertia” among parents who live elsewhere, yet a dynamic new school could still win young families to downtown.

The findings are important CCDC, which has made quality and quantity of local schools part of its ongoing push to bring more people downtown. “The kids will be there if the schools are there,” said Bruce Husson, a retired educator and consultant to CCDC’s Downtown Education Task Force.

Only 2 percent of parents surveyed outside the downtown 92101 zip code said they were “definitely looking” for a new downtown school, though 40 percent said they were open to the idea, according to results from the surveys, which were done for CCDC by John Nienstedt of Competitive Edge Research and Communication.

White parents were less likely to be interested than Latino and Asian parents; affluent parents were less likely to be interested than families who earn between $20,000 and $80,000. Downtown schools were largely unknown to the parents he surveyed, and those who knew something about them had mostly negative impressions of the schools.

Yet if “an ideal school” were built and promoted, more than 7,500 families would be likely to move downtown, Nienstedt found. Younger parents — those age 26 or younger — were the most likely to move downtown because older parents generally are settled and like the schools they have already picked, according to the research. Four percent of those surveyed said they were likely move downtown regardless of the quality of schools, but eight percent said they would likely make the move if a desirable school was available.

“The image problem (for downtown schools) becomes an afterthought” if parents know about specific features of a new school, Nienstedt said.

Selling points included science and technology-focused schools, parental and community involvement and high test scores. However, parents weren’t thrilled about the idea of putting a school in a building along with businesses and residences — an option sometimes used in city centers where space is limited.

Interestingly, the survey only addresses whether parents would prefer a K-5 school or a K-8 school, not whether they want a high school, which is now in the works at the planned downtown library. Earlier research by Nienstedt concluded that parent demand was for a downtown elementary school, not a high school, but the higher floors available in the library cannot be used for an elementary school under state rules.

EMILY ALPERT

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