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Community in Northeast Philly discusses overcrowding, parochial schools closings

By the Notebook on Jan 11, 2012 04:53 PM

by Patrick Kerkstra, for PlanPhilly

For most Philadelphia neighborhoods, plummeting public school enrollment is a fact of life. In Northeast Philadelphia, however, there is a different problem altogether: too many students, and too few seats.

Northeast High SchoolOvercrowding and a perceived lack of investment in Northeast schools, particularly the behemoth Northeast High, were the dominant topics yesterday evening as school district officials met with local parents, teachers and students as part of a series of meetings on the district's facilities master plan.

About 60 community members attended the meeting - the eighth of 17 scheduled sessions around the city - which was held in Northeast High's well scrubbed but clearly aging auditorium. At most of the sessions, the focus has been on closing schools (the district has identified nine schools for potential shutdown). In the Northeast, though, the district hopes to build new schools.

Citywide, district schools use about 67 percent of available classroom space, according to district tallies of enrollment and capacity. But in Northeast Philadelphia, the figure is 94 percent, well above the 80 percent the district considers ideal.

That number could grow higher still, in light of the mass school closures now planned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which includes a number of schools in the Northeast.

“There’s going to be an impact on public schools, there’s no question about that,” said Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery.

Danielle Floyd, the schools official managing the facilities master plan, said the district would like to embark on a major building effort in the northeast, including a pair of new high schools, a pair of new K-8 or middle schools and a replacement building for Austin Meehan Middle School, among other projects.

But as real as those needs might be, Floyd said, a lack of funds may prevent the district from embarking on those projects.

“I want to be very clear, we have some challenges in being able to meet those goals,” Floyd said.

Northeast High social studies teacher Chris Frank asked district officials why there had been so little district money spent on his school. Teachers and students had learned to cope with the crowded conditions, he said, but they could do much more with better labs and more modern facilities.

“We haven’t seen much investment in the physical plant here. It looks much the same as it has since 1954,” Frank said at the meeting. “We are doing a great job and our students are succeeding, and we don’t see the level of investment from the school district that reflects that.”

His remarks were met with applause.

Floyd said that the district had made some investments in the school that couldn’t easily be seen, such as elevator repairs, and a network technology overhaul, investments she described as “behind the wall stuff that’s necessary to keep the building going.”

Samantha Branam, the mother of a kindergartner at Rhawnhurst Elementary School, asked district officials about the presence of asbestos at the school, which she worried was making her son sick. Floyd responded by saying she would set up a meeting with parents at Rhawnhurst to address the asbestos concerns.

As at all other facilities meetings to date, a member of the School Reform Commission was in attendance. This time it was Chairman Pedro Ramos, who continued the SRC’s nascent attempts to reach out more to the community it serves by holding an impromptu Q-and-A with Northeast High students after the meeting.

The next facilities master plan community meeting will be held tonight, at 6 p.m. in West Philadelphia at the High School of the Future, 4021 Parkside Avenue.

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 (25)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 5:59 pm

Just so happens the Northeast is generally white-big coincidence. Here comes more segregation 101. Get used to you, good folks. UNLESS we stop it, it's over for the disenfranchised.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 6:05 pm

Apparently it's been awhile since you actually looked at the data from the District regarding Ethnicity. The demographics of the city have drastically changed and the Northeast is truly a "melting pot."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:45 pm

In comparison with North, West and even South Philly, the Northeast is lilly white.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:58 pm

Do your research before you post your ignorant comments.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:40 pm

OK, Skippy--Don't let the facts get in the way of your needs.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 8:49 pm

Here NEHS's demographics: 34% African American, 22.8% Asian American, 21.8% European-American, 17.9% Latino/a, and 3.5% other. I'd call that ethnically "mixed."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 9:41 pm

I will try this 1 more time. By COMPARISON, the white population is FAR greater in NE Philly than anywhere else in Phila. That is, was and will be my point. Schools in the Northeast have always received more and better supplies than their peers in the dregs of West Phila. for example. If you don't finally get my point, I can't help you further.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 10:25 pm

If you have heard of Penn Alexander, I can't help you, either.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 11:47 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 8:24 pm

Generally white??? - I don't think so. According to school district data, the student population of Northeast High School is African American 34%, White 21.8%, Asian 22.8%, Latino 17.9% and Other 3.5%. It also has a poverty rate of close to 60% and very large ESOL population made up of many first generation immigrants. All of these students deserve the same level of investment as the students in the Promise Academies.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 9:01 pm

We'll see what happens but I am likely older than you and have seen the ugly hand of racism lots of times, including segregation strategies right here in Phila. Look what's happening in the Penn Area and around South Street just to name 2 places. The tendency to separate and conquer is alive and well in my opinion and I am white. Of course, all kids deserve the same but that has NEVER happened in Phila. in my memory so I have my doubts. Hopefully, you have a less jaded view and are right. We'll see.

Submitted by SocialScience (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:44 pm

We are bursting at the seems at Lincoln with over 1,800 students in a building built for a MAX of 1,100. I can only imagine what it is like at the 3,200 student Northeast. Two new High Schools? How about three or four? But don't hold your breath for even one!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 7:39 pm

why should skin color be a concern? They are overcrowded...period

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 10:32 pm

Because racism is alive and well, well, not well because it's sick but it's still around everywhere, including Philly.

Submitted by Audax on January 11, 2012 11:53 pm

Where the heck would you build 1, let alone 2 high schools in the Northeast? I'm not saying we don't need them, but where and as they said, with what money? On the east side of the Boulevard, you've got Lincoln, Swenson, and Rush. On the west, Washington, NE, and if you want to go that far south, Fels. Don't forget, these schools are probably going to have sports teams, so you'd need room for a field or two (not that the District did that when they built Fels). Oh, and don't forget that NIMBYism is prevalent.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 11:38 pm

It won't be necessary to build if St. Hubert's goes on the market.

Submitted by Audax on January 12, 2012 9:54 am

Certainly a possibility, BUT that building will need renovations and then you've got the issue of it being less than a mile from Lincoln. Who does/would it serve?

I think part of the issue is figuring out which parts of the NE (if indeed it is areas of the NE and not kids from Logan who are somehow in the boundaries for certain schools) are currently bursting at the seams in terms of students and whether projections say they still will be in a decade or so. Then plan for that.

As the meeting showed, this FMP isn't really a "master plan" at all, but another short-term fix. A master-plan would've actually had information about how many schools will eventually close & where; where expansion will/should occur; and which facilities will be receiving repairs and when.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 11, 2012 11:40 pm

When bringing up the issue of race, one must remember to distinguish between the demographics of the neighborhood vs. neighborhood schools. The demographics of a neighborhood or even the city do not coincide with the demographics of a public school E.g. how many white kids in Philly actually attend a neighborhood school??? And to piggy back on another one's comment, we can not ignore racial discrimination by larger entities, such as city planners. Don't forget, this is the USA and it's all about race and class, especially in education. It's not merely about skin color, it's about economics, history and politics.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on January 12, 2012 9:08 am

Good comment. I want to know why so many immigrants want to live in the Northeast. Maybe there's not the thinly cloaked hostility/racism there. I know that my neighborhood here (which we are planning to move from) is insular and extremely (closet) racist. People would be offended to be called racist, yet I get lectured to, ignored, and put down almost as a rule of thumb by the longtime residents... really I don't know my place as a coolie...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 12, 2012 11:47 am

The real issue is not the overcrowding and numbers of schools. The real issue is that they underfund the schools in the Northeast. Compare the per pupil spending of NE, GW, LINC, FELS, and FRANKFORD with those of other regions and you will see a huge difference. These schools only get from a low of $6500 (NEHS) to a high of around $9000 (FELS) per pupil versus $12,000 -$16,000 per pupil at other comprehensive high schools in other parts of the city. The Northeast Region has changed demographically with African American, Latino, and many different Asian immigrant communities, without the increase in funding.

Submitted by debra weiner (not verified) on January 12, 2012 2:41 pm

Shouldn't the District consider buying some of the parochial schools in the Northeast that are being closed if they are in good condition and in the right locations?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 13, 2012 9:32 am

I understand the equity across all schools in the district is important. I also understand that the Northeast and its public schools are significantly whiter than other areas of the city due in part to racism. I do not understand how fighting for equity means NOT calling for investment in underprivileged ares but INSTEAD demanding that children in overcrowded schools in the Northeast be forced to continue to attend schools that aren't equipped with the capacity to meet the area's needs. Further, it always irks me when people automatically attribute Northeast schools having more resources because of its demographics and never make the connection that a school's discretionary budget is based in part on enrollment.
With that funding formula, an overcrowded school would have more money to work with rather than a school that is significantly underenrolled though previous commenters have pointing out this sometimes still works out a lower per pupil rate.

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Submitted by maria (not verified) on June 4, 2014 5:46 am
This is really bad. I believe that classrooms with fewer students are ideal. It's hardr for children to focus when there are a lot of them in a room and it's difficult for teachers to manage them as well. despre asigurari
Submitted by mirica (not verified) on June 9, 2014 5:53 am
This was the logical thing to happen after school closures. The officials should have thought about this in advance and offer a solution. web design

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