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School closings to be announced in October

By Benjamin Herold on Apr 8, 2011 10:07 AM

Sweeping changes for School District facilities are on the horizon, but few of them will happen this year.

Thursday evening's presentation on a proposed three-year facilities master plan indicated that the District plans to shed up to 50 buildings, radically overhaul the grade configurations of schools across the city, change the way it delivers programs like career and technical education, and continue its uneasy collaboration with the city’s growing charter school sector.

But the draft plan unveiled during an open session of the School Reform Commission included only a limited set of recommendations to take effect in the 2011-12 school year. No buildings are slated to be closed next fall, only four schools would be affected by proposed consolidations, and just seven surplus properties are set to be listed for sale.

“This is not the right time to just launch into closing buildings, renovating, and everything else unless you have a good plan,” said District Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery. 

The draft plan released on Thursday, which Nunery described as a “work in progress,” is a response to the District’s 70,000 empty seats, hodgepodge of grade configurations and program offerings, and widely varying building utilization rates

Currently, the District enrolls roughly 155,000 students and uses about 67 percent of its building capacity, officials say. By 2014, enrollment is expected to drop to 145,000, but the District wants to reach 85 percent utilization, which would mean shedding over 40,000 seats.

Although the District is facing a projected budget shortfall of $629 million next year, officials said the primary goal of the “rightsizing plan” is not to narrow the gap, and cautioned against expecting major savings resulting from the plan.

"Even though the economic impact would help us, it would be better if the communities are stronger," said Nunery.

The full plan, which will detail all of the proposed closures and other changes, is now expected to be made public in October. That timeline will allow for three months of public comment before the SRC votes on the plan in January 2012. 

“It’s an entire package that we would present to the SRC. We’re not going to do it piecemeal,” said Danielle Floyd, District deputy for strategic initiatives.

A new direction

Big changes are set to begin in 2012-13, including what appears to be a total policy reversal regarding middle schools and small high schools.

An “educational framework” to guide the facilities plans, laid out by Associate Superintendent of Schools Penny Nixon, calls for a renewed focus on middle schools serving grades 6-8, which had been vanishing from the District.

“One of the most important things [is] that we felt…that students needed the opportunity to have three years to prepare for high school,” said Nixon.

Overall, the plan calls for moving towards just four grade configurations (K-5, K-8, 6-8, and 9-12) wherever possible, a direction that was warmly received by Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky.

“In a world where choice is an important component of the educational system, it just will work a lot better if there is more standardization of the grade configurations,” said Dworetzky.

The District currently has schools with 25 different grade configurations, officials said.

The framework also calls for a move away from high schools serving fewer than 1,000 students.

“Small schools come at a cost,” Superintendent Arlene Ackerman told the SRC.

“There is a place where small schools become fiscally not viable, and we have them at the expense of another school.”

Ackerman added that the District believes the key elements of small schools, such as personalized learning, can be created in schools serving 1,000 or more students.

"School size guidelines" outlined by Nixon called for 450-600 students in K-5 elementary schools; 450-800 in K-8 schools; 600-800 in middle schools; and 1,000-1,200 in high schools. "Some exceptions will remain," said Nixon.

The elimination of middle schools and the creation of small high schools were two central tenets of the District’s $1.7 billion capital program, initiated by previous CEO Paul Vallas.

“I think this is really the setting forward of Dr. Ackerman’s vision, and it is more consistent with good educational practice,” said Nunery. “Finally, we’ve got a superintendent who is trying to put things in an order and make sure that there’s a sequence [and] logic to it.” 

Also part of Thursday’s draft plan was a call for dramatic overhauls of how the District delivers key services like early childhood education, special education, and career and technical education.

Potential changes to special education were not clearly spelled out, but changes to early childhood services would include discontinuing pre-K programs in high schools and middle schools and moving pre-K classes out of off-site leased locations.

And a major overhaul of the District’s CTE programming is in the works, with District officials citing the misalignment of current CTE offerings with current growth industries, as well as questions about the success of CTE programs based in neighborhood comprehensive schools. 

"We've got to meet the labor market where it is," said Nunery, citing "health services, hospitality services, and technology-related fields" as "high priority occupations" with which CTE programs should align.

Cost estimates for those plans were not provided.

Immediate impact

In its effort to achieve some immediate efficiencies next fall, two pairs of District schools are slated for consolidation. 

Lamberton Elementary and Lamberton High, which share a building, as well as Hancock Elementary and LaBrum Middle are to be merged into single schools under one administration. Neither will involve the closure of any buildings. The District did not indicate whether the two consolidations would be subject to public hearings and go through the process required under state law when a school is closed.

One traditional District school, Ellwood Elementary, will lose a grade, going from K-6 to K-5, allowing the closure of a leased annex.

The District also intends to close Elkin Annex this year, temporarily relocate and renovate Bridesburg Elementary, and list seven unused school buildings for sale. 

Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch tentatively forecast that the District could generate $12.5 million in savings and revenue for next year from the proposed changes.

In addition, the SRC is being asked to adopt a new “target utilization resolution." The new resolution would formally call for the District to reach a “utilization goal of 85 percent” by 2014.

Officials are also proposing the SRC adopt revisions to the District’s existing “rightsizing policy,” originally adopted in August 2009. According to the plan, prior to implementing any closures, consolidations, or other “rightsizing actions,” the District will take an extensive series of steps, including:

  • Provide adequate notice to students and families
  • Ensure equal or better educational options
  • Notify and inform teachers of placement options
  • Create transition plans and determine transition costs
  • Develop a safety plan
  • Determine impact on transportation

And District officials are asking the SRC to adopt a new “Adaptive Reuse Policy” to guide the sale and disposition of surplus properties and future closed buildings. [Editor’s note: Notebook news partner PlanPhilly will be taking an extensive look at the proposed policy soon.]

Despite the budget crunch, officials were adamant that the primary goal of sales of buildings is not to make money. Educational and public reuses of District facilities would be prioritized over private uses, in part by allowing the SRC to issue discounts off of fair market value for educational and public uses.

“We think there are going to be some neighborhoods that can use those buildings in very wise ways to benefit that local community,” said Nunery. “We could use the cash, there’s no question. But I think this is the 'doing well by doing good' theory.”   

Nunery acknowledged that charter schools are likely to be among the primary suitors for District facilities up for sale.

“What we hope to do is say, 'We have areas of the city that are underserved or overcrowded - would you consider growing there?'” he said.

Some charters will be growing next fall as part of the plan. Two current Renaissance elementary schools – Smedley and Mann, both run by Mastery Charter Schools - are slated to add 6th grades next year, and Simon Gratz High, recently awarded to Mastery as part of the second round of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative, is poised to add grades 6-8, most likely beginning in 2012. 

“We’re thrilled,” said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon. “It makes sense for the kids, and it sounds like it makes sense for the District.”

Ethel Allen Elementary, a District-run Renaissance Promise Academy, is also slated to go from K-6 to K-8.

Officials provided no cost estimates for the further expansion of the Renaissance initiative, already the subject of some uncertainty.

The District has rescheduled its upcoming series of community meetings to solicit public feedback on the plans and proposed policy changes. They will begin Tuesday, April 12 from 6 -8 p.m. at Bartram High, 2401 S. 67th Street.

Officials also said that community members would be represented in the evaluation of proposals for the re-use of District facilities.

The SRC is expected to vote on revised policies at its May 18 meeting.

Additional reporting by Celeste Lavin.

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Comments (25)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 3:15 pm

Is Constitution HIgh School gone?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 4:08 pm

No time soon, the District took a ten year lease out on that building and they are in year 5. So I expect that school to be around longer than Ackerman. Plus the school spent a bunch of money in remodeling costs less than 5 years ago.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 4:31 pm

I assume which small high schools stay and which are combined with other schools (or closed) will be very political. The schools with a lot of institutional support / "parents with power" will stay and the others... Lamberton is no longer a separate high school - it is now K-12. I assume they might make some schools share staff/space. Constitution and SLA cost the SDP over $2 million/year for rent. They should at least have to move to a neighborhood HS (e.g. Ben Franklin) with space. I don't know how they are going to "shrink" Northeast, Lincoln, Frankford, Edison and Washington - they are large buildings with thousands of students.

What is most interesting, to me, about the SDP plan is the "cluelessness" about high schools. Once again, people with elementary/middle experience are making the decision. (e.g. Nixon ran a middle school; I have no idea if Nunery has any K-12 teaching experience; Ackerman's background is early elementary; ETC.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 6:48 pm

In addition,

The district appointed an administrator with only K to 6 teaching experience to run the second-largest high school in Philadelphia (Edison).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 5:23 pm

I would assume that when Constitution and SLA's leases are up, some things will definitely change. Whether it's closure or combining schools, time will tell. But those aren't the only schools like that. What happens with
Comm Tech
The Parkways
Business Tech

Then on the flip side you have:


This whole idea is going to cost the district more than they save in planning and execution and these people aren't smart enough to get it right. The easiest thing to do is have comprehensive high schools with magnet programs and vo-tech programs. You can keep the long standing string academic magnets but no need for Sayre, Vaux, Lankenau, Randolph and the rest of those schools to even exist.

Close Rhodes and Fitz and send all those kids to Dobbins
Close Vaux and Bus Tech and send them to Franklin
Fold Comm Tech and Motivation back into Bartram
Sayre into the new West Philly HS
Robeson can be a magnet annex of West Philly or close
William Penn Should be renovated and house multiple Magents (Bodine, FLC, SLA, E&S)
- Bodine, and FLC's buildings are old and both could fetch large money due to location if sold. E&S could be sold to Temple
Randolph back into Dobbins
Mansion should close

And they are probably paying some dumb @$$ 250K to come up with ideas 20x worse that what I just came up with in 2 minutes.

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on April 8, 2011 5:32 pm

 Isn't sad the phrase "open meeting of the SRC" has to be used, instead of just assuming that the public can witness the decision making process of its school board?

Our first plans to right-size the district are to make a brand new grade configuration (Gratz as a 6-12) and increase seats in schools that we do not receive reimbursement for (Mann and Smedley) Is this a Facilities Master Plan or a Mastery Improvement Plan?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 6:36 pm

In addition, the district appointed an administrator with only K-6 teaching experience to run the second-largest high school in Philadelphia (Edison).

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 8, 2011 10:12 pm

And Edison was told to brace themselves for a slew of rejects from Gratz. That came directly from an Edison HS teacher today. They put that administrator there so that the school can fail and be turned over to another charter operator.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2011 12:15 am

All non-"Promise Academy" and non-charter neighborhood high schools will become dumping grounds for Promise Academies and charter schools. Audenreid, Gratz, Olney, Southern, ETC. will dump their "non compliant" students in the remaining neighborhood schools. This will give an excuse for Ackerman et al to further take over neighborhood schools. What a vicious cycle...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2011 11:53 am

Promise Academies are not dumping kids. At least not mine. Every time we try to "21" a student for violence, persistent disruption, harrassment, etc., the district sends him/her right back. Promise Academies do have some advantages, but they are definitely not getting the option of moving kids out. (And I've received three or four students who've been basically kicked out of other neighborhood high schools). In fact, this is actually an area where the District didn't follow through. There is no Parent Pledge, etc. From a discipline standpoint, I don't see any difference between the Promise Academy and other schools. It's a much better environment, mostly through having teachers who are in the building every day and teaching consistently (it's rare for more than 1 or 2 teachers to be out, and it was late October before any of the teachers my students have was out), so there aren't very many completely wasted periods, which helps a lot with reducing the opportunities for serious misbehavior. But when students do choose to do ridiculous things (severe harrassment, fighting, etc.), not much happens.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2011 10:00 am

Small high schools come at a cost? Large ones come at an even greater students. I have directed my students to consider the smaller high schools, because they are under control, have lower incidents of violence and they will be known by their teachers. I hope they don't dismantle the smaller schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2011 11:10 am

I find it interesting that they dismiss small high schools, yet both of this first-year Promise Academy high schools are pretty small (both less than 800 students). Odd to dump the extra investment into a model you don't consider part of the future.

I don't think it's a nefarious conspiracy. I think it's a lack of actual long-term planning. Every plan the District makes only address one specific thing, without considering the big picture.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 9, 2011 11:00 am

Good point about the promise academies...they do have VERY small sizes. I don't think it's a conspiracy either. I just think that smaller high schools make more sense, although they aren't entirely practical in terms of budget. But they are better for students.

Submitted by Ms. Chips (not verified) on April 9, 2011 11:55 am


1. Why is is considered acceptable, or at least not challenged (oh...I forgot for a moment that we cannot challenge Queen Arlene's destruction), to ignore the last 20 years research of what works in school size & grade configurations?

2. Is the SRC, the city, the state, Fed Dof E going to allow this sure plan for failure?

3. Are the majority of teachers going to continue to lie low & not effectively protest? Mass demonstrations are fine attention getters, but there has to be more to get political action.

And make no mistake: this "plan" has been in place at least since the Queen arrived. And it makes perfect sense: If we have no public schools, we certainly don't need public school buildings. It is being presented as a response to the current fiscal mismanagement (which would get everyone involved fired in the real world). The large HS principals were told last year which small programs they were going to have relocated to their buildings, and to begin planning for this integration. The small schools were NOT told, so considerable energy & money was(is) being spent to improve programs that were not going to be continued, and teachers hired for these programs were misinformed about the longevity of their careers at that location, and parents seeking small, safe, success oriented schools for their kids were lied to. And, of course, the kids came pawns. Again.

Submitted by lcr3002 (not verified) on April 10, 2011 9:25 am

There will be some exceptions.....of course there will be. How can the SDP possibly take 3,500 students (Northeast HS) down to 1,200? And the reality of the HS where I teach is that we are retaining more and more students every year instead of students dropping out in large numbers every year. So, we will be over 2,000 starting in September, and most likely 2,200 the following year.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2011 10:04 am

Based on the large number of small schools and schools which exceed 1200 (Washington, Northeast, Frankford, Lincoln, Central), I imagine there will be many "exceptions." Then, what is the point of the 1000 - 1200 configuration? Is it to consolidate the smaller HSs that aren't either being "charterized" or "Promised?" (combine Academy at Palumbo with Furness, Parkway CC with Ben Franklin or Constitution with Ben Franklin, SLA and FLC since they both are project based) Is it to cut down on principals? (instead of 6 principals at 6 small schools in Kensington will there be 2 principals for 6 schools?)

As usual, the SDP leaves many more questions than answers when it comes to high schools.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2011 8:24 pm

Ackerman and her friends are being told what to do by the big money folks. The whole thing with charters is a charade, a tool for politicians to help their friends out under the guise of helping educate kids. This is all one big farce and all clear thinking people who can connect the dots, see it for what it is.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2011 9:14 pm

Bill Gates and Eli Broad think they know more than anyone else because they have money. Neither one of them has a clue as to what life is like for these kids.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on April 10, 2011 9:23 pm

Ackerman is a product of the Broad Foundation program - many of the people she brought to Philly are also connected. A few very wealthy individuals are having enormous power over a public good - public education - at the expense of the public (which includes students.)

Submitted by Auj (not verified) on April 11, 2011 10:24 pm

Regardless of all the political issues that go around the world, I believe in the power of education and how it should be valued much. Many students and young people today just see it as it is. And this is because they are being swallowed up with all the hype of the modern technology. So it is really important that issues about education be fully vocalized and involve the young people as well to build up more of their awareness.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 11, 2011 10:10 pm

Interestingly, those "small schools," where there's a family atmosphere and AYP is generally a done deal are Ackerman's least favorite. She hates magnet schools - ironic when they're the ones that never cause her problems. She wants to see all students separated from the friends and adults who know them as individuals and tossed into an ocean of strangers, where teachers will barely get the chance to get to know them because classes are so full.

The trend should be toward smaller schools, not the large factory school Ackerman inexplicably favors. Smaller schools would advance achievement and dramatically reduce violence. Principals of those schools have more control and are able to create a friendlier atmosphere.

This is a big problem. She needs to go before Bodine, the CAPAs, Saul and other terrific (and AYP-making) schools are gone.

She is an appalling decision-maker. That the SRC fails to see it indicates they all suffer from the same problem.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on April 12, 2011 7:41 am

I have to agree with your points. Smaller means more connected individuals. That might be what turns Ackerman off - the fact that these places become second homes with people who are willing to fight for each other.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 12, 2011 11:59 am

Like many things Ackerman and the SRC do, this makes no sense. Small high schools are better for students. They enable students, parents, teachers, and counselors to form the relationships that may keep students in school. They do not all have to be magnets--they can be special interest, or even small schools that target kids who have trouble coming to school. We would have a much better chance of reaching all students, or isn't that what Ackerman wants???

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on April 12, 2011 12:35 pm

The problem with small high school created by Vallas is they have admission requirements. Now, over half of Philadelphia schools have admission requirements. This left neighborhood high schools with students who primarily were not accepted into a site selection school. Just look at the percentage of students with an IEP in a neighborhood high school versus the small schools. No wonder it is a struggle to lift test scores.If there were small school without admission requirements (e.g. lottery) or neighborhood (e.g. Kensington schools), then the schools should remain.

Submitted by A concerned Student (not verified) on May 6, 2011 1:24 pm

Yeah. There's a rumor spreading like wild fire saying that Consitution High school is going to be shut down 2013 due to lack of payment on the lease. If not that then it's definately the lack of concern from both students and the Principal alike. In all honesty I have been a student at this school for quite some time now and can honestly say it's sloppy, unorganized, and insufficient to call itself a high school.
The Principal, who brags of fighting to get the school in subject open for 10 years, not only disregarded a serious injury occured by a student who shall remain unnamed but also lied to a class or two on opening time. The students were told "free lunches" would be available for all students. He failed to mention that the students who wanted the lunch had to be economically unsettled and ill prepared. Also a student was injured during lunch one period. A young woman, who shall also remain unnamed, kicked the young boy in the back of the head and knocked him into a table leaving a large bump on his head, knocking him unconcious for roughly 3 and a half minutes. On a normal basis something like this would be, not serious, but since an injury as such could have possibly killed the young man, it was indeed very serious. The mark left on him was also unmentionablly horrid. The Principal of this "sublime" and "newest generation school" dismissed the injury and blamed it on the young man, telling his parents that he shouldn't have been rough housing. [Since when is sitting there rough housing?]
Not to mention the "uniform code". The students were told that there would be no uniforms at this school, it wasn't until students began to attend the school, and the school year began, that the Disciplinarian and the Principal, decided to tell us that there actually was a uniform code. A collared shirt, and on red white and blue days you must wear red white and blue, completely understandable. Until you realize that there is a bias in the school about the uniform code. Certain students can come in in short skirts and leggings while others cannot. Bias. Then there is the schools ill preparedness for the simple things such as field trips. There was a field trip once to Washington, and due to both ill prepared planning and lack of information not only did the students not get home until 11 PM To 12 AM, but because the school had not put the bus company's name that was transporting the children to and from the destination was not put on the permission slip, so some students were not able to be contacted by their parents.
So in all honesty, if it is closed down, I have no complaints. The school is disgusting, lazy, and ill matched to it's "perfect reputation" that the Principal and employee's of said school try so hard to uphold. Close down Constitution High School, most people would be better off going to their Neighbor-Hood schools anyway.

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