Meetings to determine what’s next for William Penn High School will take place this fall between School District staff and representatives of the surrounding North Philadelphia community.
The high school has a future because the School District’s plan to close down the deteriorating facility encountered strong opposition from the Coalition for the Revitalization of William Penn High School, and because Superintendent Arlene Ackerman withdrew her support for closure at a crowded June 24 School Reform Commission meeting.
Over three months last spring, a coalition of community groups, alumni, current students, parents, and neighbors gathered over 2,000 petition signatures and presented testimony on community concerns.
While District officials said the school was performing badly and too expensive to repair, the testimony highlighted a history of neglect of both the building and the academic program, the number of school closures in North Philadelphia, and flaws in the plans for reassigning students – as well as community visions for a revitalized school.
In August, the SRC authorized the District to “temporarily close” the buildings for at least two years in June 2010, and to either “repair, renovate and/or demolish and rebuild” the school. Last year’s 11th grade class will remain and graduate from the school, but younger students were reassigned to other schools.
“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” said Ruth Birchett, founder of Heritage Leadership Grassroots Institute and a long-time North Philadelphia activist. She said the community has to make sure they’re involved in the decision-making process.
Leadership of the coalition came from Bunmi Samuel of Friends Neighborhood Guild, along with the office of State Representative W. Curtis Thomas.
Samuel said that in addition to improved schooling, coalition members would like adult classes and small business programs that serve the community.
He is hoping more diverse groups from the neighborhood get involved, as well as others interested in redeveloping schools. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-989-9809.