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School closings don't address real problems

By the Notebook on Dec 12, 2012 05:25 PM

by Dawn Hawkins

The impending announcement that the District will close dozens of schools at year’s end is another wrong-headed reform measure by District leaders. It is a blow to students and parents who place their hopes for the future in a good public education.

My 12-year-old son attends L.P. Hill Elementary in Strawberry Mansion, which will be closed at the end of this school year. Nothing about this decision will improve the education he receives. In fact, school closures have never been shown to improve student achievement. The challenges that my children’s schools face are overcrowded classes, inexperienced teachers that lack support, and children coming from poverty and very challenging lives whose needs are not being met.

Rather than address the needs of our schools and our students, the leadership of our District will move to close dozens of schools, leaving thousands of parents across the city to wonder where our new schools will be, what they will be like, how we will get our children to schools that are farther from home. And what will happen to our neighborhoods left littered with vacant school buildings?

This is the biggest threat we have seen to Philadelphia's public schools in a long series of attacks in recent years. Nurses have been laid off, programs cut, NTAs let go. Class sizes have increased after Gov. Corbett cut $1 billion from education. We have seen Mayor Nutter give out millions of dollars in property tax breaks to Comcast -- money that could have supported our schools -- and then tell those of us who were appalled at the closing of so many schools to “grow up and deal with it.” 

Just a few months ago we saw the School Reform Commission approve charter school expansions that will cost the District $139 million over the next five years -- money the District clearly didn't have to spare. So while Superintendent Hite and the members of the SRC keep saying that the District is in grim financial shape, that they have no choice but to close these schools, anyone who is paying attention knows that this decision is not the result of the District and the SRC having no choice. These closures will be the result of choices made at every level of government and by District leadership that have led to the sacrifice of my son's school and about 40 others.

We may be facing the loss of up to a quarter of the schools in the District. This is a huge price to pay to save just 1 percent of the School District's budget. And the District might not even save that much. When Washington, D.C., closed 23 public schools a few years ago, they thought it would cost $9.7 million to shut those buildings down, but the actual price ended up being closer to $40 million, according to an auditor's report. The leaders of our schools have not explained what makes their estimates more reliable.

Instead of closing so many schools to save a small amount of money, we need leaders who will work with students, parents, and educators to address the real problems facing our children: the budget cuts, the attacks on unions, the increased time spent on testing instead of real learning, the subjecting of our children to unproven educational experiments and failed policies that threaten their futures.

They should implement proven solutions that will support children like mine to achieve their potential. We need smaller class sizes and wraparound services, like counselors and nurses, to support students who are coming from challenging circumstances. If instead of closing our schools, the vacant spaces in buildings were used to supply students and communities with needed services, our schools could become valuable centers of community support. But our District leaders have given no thought to alternatives like this.

If our representatives and school leaders would rather close schools than stand up for the kind of education our children need, it's time for parents, students, and educators to take that stand. As a member of the community organization ACTION United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), we are calling for a moratorium on school closures until the impact of these closures on students, parents, school employees, and neighborhoods can be fully understood and alternatives be considered. 

Call ACTION United to join our stand for good schools for all children – 215-839-3390.

Dawn Hawkins is a parent of a 6th grader at L.P. Hill School and a member of ACTION United.

The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author. The Notebook invites readers to submit posts on current topics in education. Send submissions to

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Comments (10)

Submitted by Another Parent (not verified) on December 12, 2012 6:24 pm
Thank you for your article, Ms. Hawkins. The School District is expanding charter "seats" while leaving public schools behind. For example, World Communications Charter was given a 5 year renewal even though its test scores are abysmal, it was charged with nepotism and its finances are in disarray. Meanwhile, neighborhood schools will be closed. How can Dr. Hite and the SRC look us in the eyes and claim to be equitable and fair?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 12, 2012 6:40 pm
The purpose is NOT to correct real problems. The goal is to make money for the crooks AKA Pols and their buddies, the Charter operators and isn't that an appropriate word.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on December 12, 2012 7:11 pm
thank you for your concise, logical analysis of the situation. would that nutter, the src, hite and other powers that be saw so clearly the web they are so willingly getting entangled in.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 12, 2012 8:32 pm
If the District had any sense, they would change enrollment patterns at public schools in order to consolidate enrollment. Then, they would force charter schools to use the empty District buildings instead of charter schools using their own buildings. Some charters use old Catholic school buildings, but others use other buildings that never housed a school until the charter came.
Submitted by Sir Frederick Mercury (not verified) on December 12, 2012 10:46 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2012 9:41 am
Its all about money going into their pockets. They don't care about the future of these kids. How many of their kids r in the public school system. There kids go to charter schools that's why the charter schools r going more money. Its all a scam. They want the public school to fail. And these kids aren't learning anything. Just learning to take a test. They r being setup to fail so they can depend on the government the rest of their lives. We r becoming a 3rd world country.
Submitted by southphillyparent (not verified) on December 13, 2012 1:22 pm
25 percent of kids at LP Hill are reading/doing math on grade level. One in four who are ready for life after Hill. That is half (or fewer) the kids performing on grade level at even other struggling neighborhood district schools with the same percentage of kids in poverty... for example Taggart, Anna Day, Kirkbride... and many others where more than half of kids are reading/writing on grade level. The tragedy here is how long 3/4 of the kids who go through LP Hill have been allowed to fail. Closing schools is hard, for sure. But let's not pretend that many of these schools have been meeting the needs of families -- they haven't.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2012 2:16 pm
Since you appear to know so much about this school, let me fill you in on some other things about this school. There are children who attend this school who are homeless. The teachers and staff donate clothes and other necessities to these kids. There are kids from broken families that have major issues. Since the PSD removed nurses, counselors and school psychologists from schools that needs them, it is difficult for the schools to adequately help everyone. This is not unique to Hill. The PSD reduces school budgets and sets up schools to fail and then closes them when they do fail. Six principals in five years; just like other schools on the closure list. Changing standards with little input from teachers. Do you notice that most of the closures are in North Philadelphia where kids need the most help and the schools are not budgeted to actually make a difference with these kids? Schools can't meet the needs of these families because they are not structured nor funded nor staffed to do it. Instead of lecturing, why don't you do something about it and use your writing talents to get the PSD to put the critical pieces in place to help kids in every school.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2012 5:11 pm
So homeless kids don't deserve to read and do math on grade level?? Parents don't want charters or district schools, they just want schools where the adults view it as their job to overcome those obstacles not cite them as reasons kids can't read
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 13, 2012 3:08 pm
It sounds like the charters will be running all the schools in a few years. It's what the parents want.

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