by Dawn Hawkins
The impending announcement that the District will close dozens of schools at year’s end is another wrong-headed reform measure by District leaders. It is a blow to students and parents who place their hopes for the future in a good public education.
My 12-year-old son attends L.P. Hill Elementary in Strawberry Mansion, which will be closed at the end of this school year. Nothing about this decision will improve the education he receives. In fact, school closures have never been shown to improve student achievement. The challenges that my children’s schools face are overcrowded classes, inexperienced teachers that lack support, and children coming from poverty and very challenging lives whose needs are not being met.
Rather than address the needs of our schools and our students, the leadership of our District will move to close dozens of schools, leaving thousands of parents across the city to wonder where our new schools will be, what they will be like, how we will get our children to schools that are farther from home. And what will happen to our neighborhoods left littered with vacant school buildings?
This is the biggest threat we have seen to Philadelphia's public schools in a long series of attacks in recent years. Nurses have been laid off, programs cut, NTAs let go. Class sizes have increased after Gov. Corbett cut $1 billion from education. We have seen Mayor Nutter give out millions of dollars in property tax breaks to Comcast -- money that could have supported our schools -- and then tell those of us who were appalled at the closing of so many schools to “grow up and deal with it.”
Just a few months ago we saw the School Reform Commission approve charter school expansions that will cost the District $139 million over the next five years -- money the District clearly didn't have to spare. So while Superintendent Hite and the members of the SRC keep saying that the District is in grim financial shape, that they have no choice but to close these schools, anyone who is paying attention knows that this decision is not the result of the District and the SRC having no choice. These closures will be the result of choices made at every level of government and by District leadership that have led to the sacrifice of my son's school and about 40 others.
We may be facing the loss of up to a quarter of the schools in the District. This is a huge price to pay to save just 1 percent of the School District's budget. And the District might not even save that much. When Washington, D.C., closed 23 public schools a few years ago, they thought it would cost $9.7 million to shut those buildings down, but the actual price ended up being closer to $40 million, according to an auditor's report. The leaders of our schools have not explained what makes their estimates more reliable.
Instead of closing so many schools to save a small amount of money, we need leaders who will work with students, parents, and educators to address the real problems facing our children: the budget cuts, the attacks on unions, the increased time spent on testing instead of real learning, the subjecting of our children to unproven educational experiments and failed policies that threaten their futures.
They should implement proven solutions that will support children like mine to achieve their potential. We need smaller class sizes and wraparound services, like counselors and nurses, to support students who are coming from challenging circumstances. If instead of closing our schools, the vacant spaces in buildings were used to supply students and communities with needed services, our schools could become valuable centers of community support. But our District leaders have given no thought to alternatives like this.
If our representatives and school leaders would rather close schools than stand up for the kind of education our children need, it's time for parents, students, and educators to take that stand. As a member of the community organization ACTION United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), we are calling for a moratorium on school closures until the impact of these closures on students, parents, school employees, and neighborhoods can be fully understood and alternatives be considered.
Call ACTION United to join our stand for good schools for all children – 215-839-3390.
Dawn Hawkins is a parent of a 6th grader at L.P. Hill School and a member of ACTION United.
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