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At last school-closings forum, ideas for Northwest Philly's own plan

By the Notebook on Dec 20, 2012 01:52 PM

By Connie Langland

Don’t close Germantown High. Reconfigure it as a preK-12 school.

Same with McCloskey Elementary. Don’t disperse students; convert the school to K-8 and, in the process, expand the Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds.

At Wednesday evening’s fourth forum on planned closings, it became clear that parents had done their homework and drawn up plans that would preserve at least some favored neighborhood schools, keep children closer to home and minimize disruptive transfers that could fuel teen-on-teen conflict.

And it appeared that District Superintendent William Hite Jr. and his staff were taking notice.

Karyn Lynch, chief of student services and a close aide to Hite, ventured into the audience several times to jot down names and numbers of parents who pitched alternative plans when they got their two minutes of microphone time.

Hite signaled that he was taking the input seriously. “Some may be acted on, some may be rejected, some may be changed,” he said.

But Hite stood firm on the inevitability of closings, saying the District must “arrive at $28-30 million in savings or we will fail to operate.”

The forum at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in the West Oak Lane section drew about 300 people — the largest audience of the four forums held over five days and possibly the best organized. Supporters of half a dozen or more schools slated for closing organized themselves into cheering sections, with banners, school colors and ideas to put forward. For the record, the event was no less raucous than the others.

Numerous schools had their defenders: Germantown, the military academies, McCloskey, Cooke Elementary, Kinsey Elementary and University City High. (No surprise there: students from University City have proven strong advocates for their school at all four forums.)

Most of the Northwest schools affected by the closings plan, which includes grade reconfigurations and other changes for those staying open, had visible contingents. These included Emlen, Pennypacker, and Edmonds elementaries, and Leeds Middle School.

Cooke parent Melanie Haynesworth and teacher Jenna Silverman argued that their school was being sacrificed to consolidation, forcing students to be transferred to schools with weaker indicators of success.

“Cooke has space, stability and structure,” said Haynesworth.

“Scores are up. Incidents are down. We have a stable staff. And now you’re going to ask my children to walk across Broad Street?” asked Silverman, near tears. “We’re family.”

The plan shows there’s space at Logan and Steel elementaries to absorb Cooke students, noted William Montgomery, planning specialist for the District.

At times, it seemed Hite and his staff were determined to win over skeptics with courtesy. Someone from the District acknowledged nearly every speaker with a standard response: “Thank you for that question,” or “Thank you very much for your question,” or “That is a very good question.”

But the meat of their responses rarely satisfied audience members as comments from Hite and others veered from the specifics of a school’s situation to the general needs of the District.

Montgomery, for one, kept the focus on the particulars of reconfiguration and unused space, prompting one parent to complain that the administration responses “sound like a real estate convention — I’m hearing nothing about the educational benefits.”

Parent Sharron Gaymon made a strong case for the merits of not closing McCloskey, citing multiple indicators, including test scores, attendance and staff stability.

“It took a long time to build parent-principal trust. Now McCloskey is a well-established school. Our children are losing,” she said.

“Yes, McCloskey is doing a good job,” Hite responded. “But we have to think about academic progress for all students. We want all our schools to perform like McCloskey.”

Gaymon was followed to the microphone by parent Leslie Young, who pitched an alternative to closing the school: Make McCloskey K-8, with the school absorbing students from what is now Leeds Middle School. That proposal drew loud applause from the audience.

And grandparent Sharon Mitchell Fulton pitched the idea of preK-12 classes at Germantown High. As she made her way back up the crowded aisle, Lynch, Hite's aide, was there to gather contact information.

Before the question and answer period, State Rep. Cherelle Parker rallied the crowd. And at the end of the meeting, District officials called on Alyn Waller, pastor of the huge and influential Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, to make closing remarks.

Waller, who had previously organized his congregation in opposition to the Boston Consulting Group’s blueprint for reconfiguring  the District, was similarly upset about the closings plan and the lack of input from those affected.

He vowed that the Northwest Philadelphia community would take charge of this process from now on and formulate an alternative to what the District plans to do.


Here is a breakdown of the proposed closings and relocations

School to close - Facility to close (28)

  • Carroll, Charles H.S.
  • Cooke, Jay
  • Douglas, Stephen A. H.S.
  • Duckrey, Tanner
  • Fairhill
  • Ferguson, Joseph C.
  • Fulton, Robert
  • Germantown H.S.
  • Gompers, Samuel
  • Hill, Leslie P.
  • Kinsey, John L.
  • Leidy
  • McCloskey, John F.
  • McMichael, Morton
  • Meade, Gen. George C.
  • Morris, Robert
  • Overbrook Elementary
  • Peirce, Thomas M.
  • Pepper, George M.S.
  • Reynolds, Gen. John F.
  • Shaw, Anna M.S.
  • Sheridan West Academy
  • Smith
  • Strawberry Mansion H.S.
  • Taylor, Bayard
  • University City H.S.
  • Whittier, John G.
  • Wilson, Alexander

Facility to close - School to relocate (6)

  • AMY at Martin (co-located with Penn Treaty MS)
  • Carnell Annex at Fels (grades 7-8 to St. Bernard in Dec., then to Harding M.S.)
  • Lankenau H.S. (co-located with Roxborough H.S.)
  • Parkway Northwest (co-located with Leeds M.S.)
  • Phila. Military Acad. at Elverson (merged with Acad. at Leeds at new site: Roosevelt)
  • Vare, Abigail (to G. Washington)

Facility to close - School to be absorbed into another (3)

  • Bok, Edw. W. Technical H.S. (CTE programs relocate to South Phila. H.S.)
  • Communications Tech H.S. (CTE programs relocate as an academy within Bartram H.S.)
  • Robeson H.S. (programs relocate to Sayre H.S.)

School to relocate - Facility stays in use (2)

  • Motivation H.S. (to Turner M.S. building - current site stays in use as Penrose Elem.)
  • Phila. Military Acad. at Leeds  (merged with Acad. at Elverson at new site: Roosevelt) - current site stays in use as Leeds M.S.


School to close - Facility stays in use (5)

  • Lamberton, Robert H.S. (facility stays in use by Lamberton Elem.)
  • Pratt, Anna B. (facility stays in use for pre-K)
  • Roosevelt, Theodore (facility to house Phila. Military Academy)
  • Vaux, Robert H.S. (facility to house a new elementary school)
  • Washington, George Elem. (facility to house A. Vare Elem.)
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Comments (9)

Submitted by tom-104 on December 20, 2012 2:02 pm
They may tweak their plan for a few schools like they did with Stanton last year, but they are just diverting attention to a tree so people do not see the forest fire . Overall, however, they are following the same ALEC/Broad Foundation script like other urban school districts such as Chicago. Document shows Emanuel administration had detailed school closing plans from the Chicago Tribune “An internal Chicago Public Schools document obtained by the Tribune shows for the first time that the Emanuel administration has weighed how many elementary and high schools to close in which neighborhoods and how to manage the public fallout. Labeled a "working draft," the Sept. 10 document lays out the costs and benefits of specific scenarios — revealing that the administration has gone further down the path of determining what schools to target than it has disclosed. While schools are not listed by name, one section of the document contains a breakdown for closing or consolidating 95 schools, most on the West and South sides, as well as targeting other schools to be phased out gradually or to share their facilities with privately run charter schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his top school leaders have said they are in the early stages of making difficult decisions and that the city cannot afford to keep operating deteriorating schools with dwindling student populations in the face of a billion-dollar budget deficit. The document goes well beyond what the administration has outlined to the public.” Read more:
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 2:28 pm
Difficult decision may indeed need to be made. That's not the problem. Its the deception, the inequity, the lack of transparency, the distortion of the truth, the lack of shared sacrifice..... The list goes on and on...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 6:40 pm
What's the deception, inequity, lack of transparency, distortion, and lack of shared sacrifice? So many of the critics throw these words around. Can you be more specific? What should have been done differently that would still yield some type of action? Endless input sessions aren't a solution.
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on December 20, 2012 7:53 pm
well put
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 3:38 pm
Yes, it's not even complicated. Create a crisis so you can "fix" it your way. Little by little, ALEC et al are becoming more exposed for what they are. Democracy itself is at stake here and if people accept this abuse, people deserve what they get.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 7:49 pm
McCloskey is a wonderful school with much community support. I look forward to the announcement that it will stay open.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:08 pm
McCloskey will stay open. It is only on the list to serve as a diversion. It' an old, old trick in negotiations. You make a list of things you want (demands), BUT you also include a few things on that list that you know that you either cannot get or don't really want anyway. Then when negotiations take place on the final plan in March, the District will take off McCloskey and say "See we listened to you and removed a school" (or two), while keeping the schools they really wanted to close on the list. McCloskey has nothing to worry about .
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 10:08 pm
Wasn't that Brenda Leigh Johnson up there?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 9:01 am
Dr. Hite stated that he wants the other school's to perform as well as McCloskey, yet they plan to close the school. If in fact, that is the case, why aren't they closing Masterman and Central those students could help booster the performance at other schools.

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