On the heels of presenting a “doomsday” budget that would reduce schools to the bare essentials, the School Reform Commission voted Thursday night to close North Philadelphia’s M.H. Stanton Elementary School, triggering an explosion of tears and rage from its supporters.
The SRC also voted to establish its own cyber charter school and renew contracts with providers of accelerated and discipline schools. It also added a new provider.
After the 3-1 closure vote, Stanton’s defenders were devastated.
“I’m hurt. I’m hurt really bad,” said Tracey Lester, a Stanton grandparent and vocal supporter.
In Philadelphia’s Far Northeast, within city lines but long its own sprawling world, the traditional neighborhood public elementary school remains a popular option for families with young children.
Take William H. Loesche Elementary, at Tomlinson Road and Bustleton Avenue, almost in Bucks County.
The school serves nine of every 10 public school students living within its attendance zone. Just 6 percent of families choose to send their children to charter schools. The school, like most others in that section of the city, has remained untouched by the District’s multi-year push to close dozens of schools and convert others to charters.
Across a large swath of North, West, and South Philadelphia, however, it’s another story.
Although some Philadelphia students and communities were glad to have a reprieve and felt that their voices were heard, supporters of a moratorium on school closings said that they hadn’t changed their minds as a result of Superintendent William Hite’s revised recommendations that would shutter 29 instead of 37 schools.
The updated plan only “underscores the need for a moratorium,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan. PFT went ahead with a rally Tuesday at Meade Elementary School in North Philadelphia to protest the closings, even though Meade was spared.
[Updated: 2:24 p.m.]
The revised school closings plan to shutter 29 instead of 37 schools will save less money but will result in fewer students being transferred to lower-performing schools and traveling more dangerous routes, according to Superintendent William Hite.
The new plan “is a result of listening to a lot of input from the community,” Hite said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “We had lots of proposals, not just from the community, but from elected officials … and we analyzed those to see if, in fact, they were better recommendations.” About 4,000 people attended community meetings around the city.
If the revised plans are adopted, about 14,000 students -- instead of 17,000 -- will be displaced.
by Bill Hangley Jr.
Students, community advocates, and Philadelphia School District officials agree: Closing high schools this year will make getting into college even tougher than usual for next year’s seniors.
“I want to go to college, and I’d have to meet all new counselors, all new teachers,” said Keith Harmon, a junior at Germantown High. “I have to get my letters of recommendation, [and] I wouldn’t really know nobody. I wouldn’t know who to go to.”
Harmon’s classmate, Quinisa Powell, put it more simply. “It will be hard to start all over,” she said.
by Bill Hangley Jr.
The School District’s deadline for alternative community proposals for its closure plan has now passed, and all 38 proposals received have been posted on the District’s website.
The alternative plans represent a wide range of responses to the District’s recommendations. Some are highly detailed blueprints endorsed by powerful officeholders and complex proposals citing multiple partners, while others are brief plans from community groups and individuals.
One consistent theme: Many schools propose addressing under-utilization by expanding their program offerings or grade spans. Some suggest bringing in new schools to share their buildings. In a few cases, schools offer alternative plans that they believe are cost-neutral and will meet the District’s overall goal of saving money.
The School District has scheduled six more community meetings around school closings for next week. These meetings will focus on individual schools or groups of schools involved in closure and relocation.
They will take place Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Feb. 11-13.
Schools must close. Some buildings in Philadelphia are just too expensive to maintain. The process will be painful -- this much we can all agree on.
As I listen to the public discourse and read different editorials supporting or opposing school closings, I am disappointed by the lack of knowledge as to the specifics of recommended closures. Those who call for no school closings at all, as well as those who agree with all proposed closings, have not dug deeply enough into the School District's plan. I support closing schools that are poorly utilized, are in poor condition, and have high operational costs. It is what school districts do, both in times of fiscal security and insecurity. Some of the recommendations in the District's Facilities Master Plan meet these criteria, and some do not.
by Charlotte Pope
The biggest fear for the young students who came out to the school-closings meeting at Overbrook High School on Tuesday night was clear: Would their safety be at risk?
In a room of about 300 people, some of the youngest voices in the school-closings debate took the floor at the West Philadelphia school to relay their concerns about the hazards of traveling across unknown neighborhoods, bullying, and increased conflicts among students.
"I want my school to stay open, where I feel safe," said Judea Williams, a 3rd grader at Gompers Elementary, one of the schools slated for closure. "I don’t want to have to watch my back all of the time. If I move to Beeber, I will have to be in school with a bunch of 8th and 7th graders, and I don’t want to be around them because they might have fights. The little children that are tiny might get hurt.”
Nearly a thousand angry students and parents from North Philadelphia turned out to a community meeting Tuesday night to challenge the School District’s school-closings plan, which would hit their neighborhood especially hard.
“How do you justify closing 12 schools in North Philadelphia?” asked Shamiah Simms, a 6th grader at T.M. Peirce Elementary, 23rd and Cambria Streets.