A massive jigsaw puzzle
The scope of the proposed changes is dizzying.
All told, buildings housing 21 elementary schools, 11 high schools, and five middle schools would be shuttered.
That’s the easy part.
In some cases, the administrative staff and academic program in a closed building would be disbanded; in others, staff and programs would be moved into a new building. In a few instances, select programs or academies would be spared and relocated; the career and technical programs at Bok, for example, would be relocated into South Philadelphia High.
The District also wants to create four new K-8 elementary schools. Each would involve a complicated series of moves.
In North Philadelphia, for example, the district would close Vaux Promise Academy, a high school, and send the school’s 278 current students to other high schools. Then, the District would close Meade and Reynolds Elementary schools, both of which are nearby. The 735 children currently attending those schools would be reassigned to a newly created Vaux Elementary School. To compensate for the closing of Vaux High’s academic program, a new Promise Academy would be created elsewhere in North Philadelphia.
One school, Motivation High in Southwest Philadelphia, would be moved wholesale into a vacated middle school building.
Two other high schools – Communications Technology and Robeson – would be folded back into neighborhood high schools (Bartram and Sayre, respectively) to operate as academies.
And three schools would be “co-located” inside of existing buildings. In one example, Lankenau High would start sharing space inside Roxborough High. Both schools would retain their current administrations and academic programs.
In addition to the closings and relocations, 22 schools would undergo grade changes.
In Northwest Philadelphia, for example, F.S. Edmonds, Pennypacker, Emlen, J.B. Kelly, and Wister Elementary schools would all lose their 6th grades and become K-5 schools. Those changes are part of a complex series of reorganizations that includes a merger and relocation of the city’s two military-themed high schools. This merged operation would be housed at the current Roosevelt Middle School, which has been targeted for closure.
Hite acknowledged the potential for widespread confusion.
“We have no doubts that this announcement will likely spark tremendous controversy, angst, emotion, and concern,” he said. “Most importantly parents and students may be unconvinced that such drastic measures are necessary.”
Hite said the District has already begun troubleshooting potential problems. He said officials would emphasize safe school environments and safe routes to and from school as part of its transition planning.
Some activists criticized the lack of transparency in the District’s process for arriving at the proposed closings.
“I resent the fact they didn’t have any conversations with the stakeholders in the community,” said Simmons, who has provided support services to students at Germantown High for a decade.
“It doesn’t seem the School District cares. They’re looking at figures on a piece of paper.”
Others reiterated their concern that outside consultants from the Boston Consulting Group, paid for with private dollars, exerted undue influence over the selection process.
“BCG has had unprecedented access to building information, financial data, and high level decision makers while parents have had to settle for limited information in public forums,” reads the statement from Parents United, one of the groups that filed an ethics complaint last week over BCG’s role in the district.
Over the coming weeks, District leaders and members of the School Reform Commission are certain to keep getting an earful.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at South Philadelphia High, Hite will present the plan directly to the public at a series of four community meetings. And starting in January, District staff will also host a series of 16 community forums to gather feedback on specific recommendations.
Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said, “There’s a chance we could reconsider” some of the proposed closings. But Kihn narrowed that window almost as quickly as he opened it.
“We’ve gone through an elaborate process here. The intent is not to change the recommendations,” he said.
Last year, the SRC ultimately approved eight of the 10 school closings recommended by District officials.
The commission has already waived a portion of the Pennsylvania school code, allowing for an expedited vote on the recommendations.
This story was reported as part of a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.