by Eileen DiFranco
Few managers would embark on an ambitious venture without having a well-thought-out plan in place. Those of us who have attended school-closure meetings over the last several months have heard Karyn Lynch, the District's head of student services, speak repeatedly about the School District of Philadelphia’s plan to move 17,000 students into new schools this fall. This plan, according to Lynch and a December statement from the School District, has been in the offing for two years.
The master plan, which was unveiled Dec. 13, is long on generalities and short on specifics. For instance, Lynch and Deputy Chief of Staff Danielle Floyd, who manages the facilities plan, have yet to clarify how schools with specific programs such as Lankenau -- or Parkway Northwest or AMY at James Martin -- are going to coexist in one school building that is run under a different style of leadership and has a different school culture.
Parents are also worried about what will be -- for them and their children -- a profound transition. At a community meeting at Martin Luther King High School in January, Floyd assured a Lankenau parent that the District was in the process of planning the relocation. Her words carried the implicit understanding that the District, with its skeleton administrative staff, had planned for all contingencies.
As the union representative at Roxborough High School, where Lankenau is supposed to relocate, the only thing I knew, and continue to know, is what is written in the Facilities Master Plan: “Lankenau will be co-located at the Roxborough High facility and retain its special admissions status.” Beyond that sentence and a brief and unproductive site visit from Lankenau staff earlier this month, there has been no discussion between the two schools about how this plan would take effect.
When Floyd advised concerned Lankenau parents at that meeting that Roxborough High was composed of two buildings, she gave the impression that one building could be turned over completely to Lankenau for the school's sole use. In reality, we have one school building with a wing that is attached, on all three floors, to the main building. All the science labs, the gym, and the music room are located in the new wing, and the library, cafeteria, and auditorium are in the main building. There is, in fact, no way to keep the student bodies separate.
This lack of separation leads to other unaddressed questions. How will discipline be addressed in hallways and gathering places shared by two different student bodies? Will there be two sets of rules? What happens when a Roxborough staff member sees a Lankenau student misbehaving, and vice versa? How much additional money will have to be spent to create another administrative office with different telephone lines? Will the PA system be separated? Will there be any sharing of resources? How much will this relocation cost? These are just my questions. I’m sure many other stakeholders have additional questions.
Putting two distinct student bodies with two different school cultures in one school building is a daunting task. Planning for such a venture cannot be done on the fly. Aside from whatever plans the School District might have, the staff of both schools, the parents, and indeed the students should be meeting regularly to figure out the nuts and bolts of how this relocation is going to work. It is, ultimately, the staff of both schools that will be held accountable for the success of a project that no one in either school particularly welcomes.
The mass relocation of schoolchildren without adequate planning places an inordinate burden upon already stressed families and schools. The generalities that I have heard at community meetings are reassuring to very few. A move of this magnitude requires more than great expectations and promises that might not be kept. It requires the type of plan where a parent who asks for specifics is answered in kind.
Eileen McCafferty DiFranco, R.N., is a certified school nurse who has proudly served the schoolchildren of Philadelphia for 23 years. She is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.