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District gets specific on impact of community input on school closing recommendations

By Benjamin Herold on Dec 16, 2011 11:11 PM

by Benjamin Herold for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

District officials are genuinely listening to what the public has to say about their proposal to close nine schools, Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd told the School Reform Commission on Friday. 

Since announcing a package of 31 facilities recommendations last month, the District has so far hosted six community meetings. Already, said Floyd, public input gathered during the meetings has made a difference.

In Roxborough, for example, Floyd said that District staff are taking seriously a community-generated counterproposal. Rather than close Levering Elementary and moving AMY Northwest into the empty building, as the District is recommending, some parents want to co-locate both schools at Levering. Floyd said that District staff have already done a walk-through at Levering and will soon do one at AMY Northwest to gauge the feasibility of that alternative.

In North Central Philadelphia, meanwhile, some current high school juniors are worried that the District’s plan to close FitzSimons High and convert Rhodes High into a middle school will prevent them from earning a diploma from the school they’ve attended since 7th or 8th grade. The District is looking into it, said Floyd.

And in University City, District staff are bending over backwards to accommodate parents from Drew Elementary, also slated for closure. After hardly anyone from the school showed up at a December 7 meeting at West Philadelphia High, said Floyd, the District scheduled an extra meeting in the region, this time to be held inside Drew.

“We don’t want to use the excuse that we had two community meeting and [parents] didn’t come,” said Floyd. “So we’re going to go to the school.”

After the meeting, Commissioner Lorene Cary said there is value in such an open-minded approach.

“If you really get the community [to participate], you really do get a chance for that wisdom to influence this proposal,” said Cary. 

For supporters of two popular schools that have been targeted for closure, however, there are still no guarantees.

Both Isaac Sheppard Elementary in Kensington and E.M. Stanton Elementary in South Philadelphia are tiny, surprisingly well-performing neighborhood schools housed in ancient buildings. So far, there appears to be little middle ground between shuttering the schools altogether or keeping them open as-is. 

Though Sheppard and Stanton both have intensely loyal followings, Floyd touched only briefly on each during her presentation. 

E.M. Stanton parent James Wright remains nervous.

“[Floyd] definitely hears us, but we don’t really know how that information is getting to the decision-makers,” said Wright, the father of a Stanton 6th grader. 

As a result, Stanton supporters have tried to take their case directly to the commissioners. Someone connected to the school has testified at all but one SRC meeting held since the November 2 school closings announcement. On Friday parent Donna Thomas told the commissioners, “E.M. Stanton has brought gifts out in my children that I didn’t even know they had.”

Commissioner Cary said the message of Stanton supporters is getting through.

“They have done their own community, long-term, organic, beautiful turnaround,” said Cary after the meeting. “They want to make sure that they keep it as strong as possible. I think that’s exactly what they should do.”

But, said Cary, when the time comes to vote on Stanton’s fate, she may not be able to take part. Many Stanton students, she said, attend a program at the nonprofit organization Cary runs at a site a few blocks from the school. 

The community dialogue on the District’s proposal continued Saturday at 10 a.m. at Lincoln High in the Northeast. Floyd said she expects the “rich dialogue” to continue.

“All you can ask when you go through a process like this is for people to be engaged and give you another way of looking at it,” said Floyd.

The SRC must still hold an official public hearing to kick off the state-mandated 90-day window for public comment before a vote can be taken to close any schools. Officials said Friday that no date has yet been set for that hearing, but it won't take place before the new year.

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 FoundationFollow our coverage of the facilities master plan community meetings, and discuss school-specific issues in our forum.

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Comments (19)

Submitted by SOS 60 on December 17, 2011 11:30 am

Thanks, Ben for questioning Lorene. One point, I do think we have had speakers at every meeting since Nov 2 and including Nov 2. And I am concerned about the Lorene's statement. What qualifies as "conflict of interest?" Where is the line drawn? How many degrees of separation between any affiliations amongst any of us? There is no exchange of funds between the school and Art Sanctuary, Bainbridge House and Art Sanctuary.......and this year, not sure there is much programming for children at the neighborhood location of the Art Sanctuary. But I am checking now.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on December 17, 2011 12:39 pm

We got a glimpse Friday at how the new SRC would handle conflicts of interest. During the resolution review, Pedro Ramos noted that there was a resolution on the docket involving a gift from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation and that he sits on the board of the foundation and wanted to make sure he was declaring that at the appropriate time. Chief Counsel Michael Davis responded that even though this was not a voting meeting, it was the appropriate time to acknowledge the conflict of interest and then provided a litany of steps that would be taken to comply with state ethics law. One of those was that Ramos should recuse himself from discussion as well as from the vote on that resolution.

In the case of Cary and Stanton, it seems the procedure would be to get a ruling on whether this represents a conflict prior to engaging in further discussion of the issue.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on December 20, 2011 7:58 am

I understand what Ms. Cary is referring to. In my neighborhood, the library afterschool program is anticipating fewer participants due to proposed SD changes. Even if there is no money involved, she means she could not be as impartial as she should be to make a good decision.

Submitted by SOS 60 on December 17, 2011 11:22 am

Ben, Oh, perhaps SOS missed the "special budget meeting?" Where there speakers allowed there? Was the meeting very publicized? I think SOS heard about it the day of.

Submitted by Benjamin Herold on December 17, 2011 1:57 pm

Yes, SOS 60, that was the meeting the Stanton supporters I spoke with on Friday referred to as the only one at which SOS has not had a presence.  The school's supporters have been amazingly persistent and consistent in making their case about why Stanton should be kept open.  Floyd did say on Friday that another meeting between District staff and Stanton supporters has been scheduled...I trust SOS will keep us posted on how things develop.

Submitted by SOS 60 on December 17, 2011 12:12 pm

and who asks for and gets a ruling. The commissioner?

Submitted by Paul Socolar on December 17, 2011 2:00 pm

Davis did not explain how the process should work from beginning to end (eg, who can report a potential conflict of interest). He just rattled off some steps that would be taken as a result of Ramos having disclosed the conflict, including some documentation. This was the first clear statement I can recall from the District counsel to the SRC that a conflict of interest requires commissioners to recuse themselves from discussion of the topic.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 17, 2011 4:01 pm

How exactly does co-location of two under-enrolled schools save money? Seems there would still be two individual school budgets. Collapsing Levering's program, as was the original plan, and moving AMY to that facility is where there will be dollars saved: saving the $200,000 rent that the district pays for AMY and having just one individual budget for that school at its new location. (An individual school budget for Levering would no longer be needed and those monies would be saved, reallocated, etc.)

This particular co-location scenario seems to basically imply keeping the existing programs of both of those schools with their low numbers. AMY's numbers wouldn't drastically increase considering some families may choose to leave AMY because of the relocation. DId they survey AMY's parents/families to see if they'd be keeping their children enrolled after the move to Rox.? Levering's extremely low enrollment would not change, would it? Are their numbers going to suddenly jump as a result of co-location? (Remember, there will be two separate schools a K-5 Levering?? and AMY Middle 6-8.)

If the majority of classrooms right now at Levering are extremely under-enrolled -- keep in mind this is the main reason there's a plan to collapse the program there, how will co-location solve that? Will the 70-80 students who reside in Levering's catchment but who attend Shawmont, Cook-Wiss and Dobson then be forced to return to Levering so that the classrooms at Levering would be filled to a normal capacity? What are the enrollment projections for next year for both of those schools?

Would AMY still be a magnet program if it was co-locating with Levering? That's an interesting question if you think about it. I can imagine how students not being able to "get in" to AMY from Levering would feel. This isn't against AMY in any way. It has to do more with the school climate of two completely different schools......there are a lot of implications for co-location, both positive and negative, and a co-location decision should be well thought out.

Remember, the original idea was to also have the Levering facility house Parkway NW High School. SInce the SDP is just beginning the next phase of it's FMP implementation, there is way more to come. The SDP has to think short-term solutions for long-term goals, and co-location of AMY with Parkway makes far more sense.

Hopefully, the most reasonable choices will be made for all schools involved.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2011 8:17 am

The FAR larger point is we shouldn't even remotely support this destructive budget but rather rail against it en masse instead of giving tacit approval by playing along. The US is NOT broke--Wake Up. Wall Street has larger profits than at any time in the past as do the main corporations. We are being lemmings again and what else is new?

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on December 20, 2011 8:06 pm

Of course you are right, and I'm grateful that it's not just me pointing out what you have written. One has to wonder if Ms. Floyd read the fmp, where it states that there is more than one kind of capacity... meaning not just the physical number of seats in a building.

The counterproposal was generated by some of the teachers and then uncritically voiced by some of the current parents at Levering, and really sheds light on why so many parents (who live in the school's catchment area) enrolled their kids elsewhere. It shows a lack of awareness of a larger context, an inability to face and grapple with hard facts to the point of denial, and really a self serving perspective, "devil may care" about the rest of the S.D. So it was with the admin... filter down..."I've got my slice of the pie, that's all I need to worry about." plus... "let's all be happy...problems, there're no problems here!"

Submitted by Sheppard Advocate (not verified) on December 17, 2011 5:14 pm

Sheppard is a small building, but to say it is "tiny" or "ancient" (sounds like they were built during the Roman Empire) is an exaggeration - there are smaller schools in the Northeast, in buildings not much older and no one is suggesting they close, because the district knows middle-class parents are aware of their rights and they won't tolerate politicians messing with their kids' education. The move to close schools in impoverished areas is directly related to the expectations that parents in those neighborhoods will not fight to keep their schools open.

Children's fates should not be determined by their parents' understanding of how to organize. The SRC and district should act to preserve the right of every child to have a quality education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2011 5:01 pm

Neither Stanton nor Sheppard is tiny but the hook up is in the works with Gamble and Evans respectively. Mark it down.

Submitted by Another Sheppard Supporter (not verified) on December 19, 2011 6:13 pm

You keep saying this all over the web site. In the case of Sheppard, this doesn't seem to be the case. Gamble and Evans are scoundrels, but they don't seem interested in Sheppard at this point.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 19, 2011 7:24 pm

I think you have me confused with someone else. However, I agree Gamble and Evans are pond scum. Gamble surely wants Stanton in Point Breeze. Sheppard I know little about but money is the reason they want to close it.

Submitted by Another Sheppard Supporter (not verified) on December 20, 2011 6:57 pm

They want to close it because they overbuilt DeBurgos. Now they want Sheppard kids to pay the price.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2011 6:43 pm


Submitted by SOS 60 on December 20, 2011 3:30 pm

E M Stanton is not in Point Breeze neighborhood. Ask anyone familiar with that part of the city

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2011 6:53 pm

I work there, Skippy. We see Gamble every day at least once. I can also throw a baseball to my apartment on Christian St. I think I know Point Breeze.

Submitted by SOS 60 on December 20, 2011 3:08 pm

Also agree with Sheppard Advocate that characterizing both buildings as ancient is misleading; unless ancient connotes valuable in this case! In fact, E. M. Stanton's construction date, 1925, makes it much newer than most of the original and now highly valued construction in that neighborhood, circa, mid - late 19th century.
This is Philly not Phoenix, so let's keep age of buildings in context.
To say that a building built in 1925 is by definition worse or less efficient than one built in 1964 is a questionable assumption.

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