by Patrick Kerkstra, for PlanPhilly
NOTE: This meeting was originally scheduled for tonight (Thursday, January 19), but took place on January 18 instead due to the SRC meeting schedule.
The School District of Philadelphia weighed a lot of factors before settling on the nine schools it proposes closing to eliminate some of the 70,000 empty seats in the city’s public school classrooms: enrollment, demographic trends, the age and condition of the building, to name just a few.
If pluck and persistence had been part of the formula, E.M. Stanton Elementary School never would have made the list of targets.
Dozens of the school’s parents, students, teachers turned out Wednesday night - as they have time and again - to make the case that their school deserves to be saved. The occasion was the 11th of 17 district community meetings that have been held across the city to discuss the district’s facilities master plan.
Typically, district officials start the meetings with lengthy presentations about the plan. They describe the research behind the recommendations, explain their goals and briefly get into the conditions of the specific neighborhood where the meeting is being held.
Wednesday night, though, the district glossed over its explanation: the audience was full of meeting veterans who had heard it all before. There are only 234 students enrolled at Stanton, and the building, located at 17th and Christian, is over 90 years old, poorly equipped by the district’s current standards, and only at about 50 percent of capacity, according to the district’s calculations.
Those figures have made Stanton a target, both now and in earlier years. But there are other facts, Stanton supporters said last night, that the district needs to give greater consideration to. Academically, Stanton is by far the highest performing school on the list of nine, with a school performance index score of two, meaning it is in the top 20 percent of district elementary schools academically.
The school also boasts an active and engaged group of parents, teachers, staff and community members, as evidenced by their vocal support for the school at last night’s meeting and many others. The Stanton group entered the session - which was held in the auditorium of South Philadelphia High School - wearing matching yellow shirts (that said S.O.S., for save our school), holding signs and singing the gospel classic “I Feel Like Going On.”
“We are fighting for our lives,” Susan Kettell, a former Stanton teacher and current volunteer, said at the meeting. She talked about how the school had made creative use of its empty space, turning it into art classrooms and a dance studio, which is used by the school’s new dance company.
“When you see all that’s happening at the school, and then to hear we’re going to be closed, we can hardly believe it,” Kettell said. “If we weren’t doing well, maybe we could see it.”
Stanton, though, is doing quite well, audience members insisted. They peppered district officials with detailed questions, principally Danielle Floyd, the district’s deputy for strategic initiatives who is taking the lead on the facilities plan.
They questioned the district’s methodology for counting instructional space in the school, a crucial metric, as it helps determine just how underutilized Stanton actually is. They noted that if Stanton were to close, it was likely some students would be transferred to Chester A. Arthur Elementary, a lower performing school. They suggested the district consider expanding Stanton’s catchment, so the school would have a better chance to fill its empty seats.
“I hope this is a genuine process. I hope that everything we’re saying will actually be considered,” said Temwa Wright, a parent with a sixth grader at Stanton.
This was the first facilities meeting where no members of the School Reform Commission were in attendance. Neither was acting district superintendent Lee Nunery. Floyd said the Nunery was held up on SRC business.
But throughout the evening, she said the district appreciated the persistence of Stanton’s supporters, and would indeed carefully weigh the feedback it had received. The district had prepared some extra research material for this session, including a list of answers to questions that Stanton supporters had asked over the last month.
“From our perspective, at every SRC meeting we’ve seen the Stanton supporters. I think we appreciate the passion, the dedication,” Floyd said. “This is not a done deal. This is something that is a proposal.”
The SRC will make the final call on the facilities plan, including whether to accept or alter the district's list of recommended school closings.
The next community meeting on the facilities plan is scheduled for Tuesday Jan. 24, at the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
This story is a product of a reporting partnership on the District’s facilities master plan between PlanPhilly and the Notebook. The project is funded by a grant from the William Penn Foundation. Follow our coverage of the facilities master plan community meetings, and discuss school-specific issues in our forum.