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At four-hour meeting, SRC gets an earful on school closings

By the Notebook on Dec 20, 2012 11:38 PM
Photo: Brad Larrison/For NewsWorks

Students from Bok Technical High joined hundreds of protesters who marched up Broad Street to show their opposition to the District's plan to close 37 schools.

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

Hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and activists packed into Thursday night’s meeting of the School Reform Commission to challenge the Philadelphia District’s controversial proposal to close 37 city schools.

During a meeting that lasted more than four hours, the commissioners heard a long list of complaints, accusations, and counterproposals from more than 30 speakers. They also approved the sale of three vacant school buildings, including the historic former home of West Philadelphia High.

For many in the crowd, the evening began with a candlelight vigil organized by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), an alliance of labor and community groups. About 200 protesters marched up Broad Street from City Hall to School District headquarters, waving signs and chanting “save our schools.”

“I’m worried about my kids,” said Hakim Lane, the father of two children at Duckrey Elementary, one of a dozen schools in North Philadelphia that have been targeted for closure. 

If approved, the District’s school-closing plan would result in roughly 17,000 children being assigned to different schools, most of which perform no better academically than those they now attend. Officials say the closings are needed in order to save roughly $28 million annually. Opposition has been intense. 

“These are incredibly painful discussions,” acknowledged Superintendent William Hite at the outset of the meeting. “I know how much each school means to its respective community."

Contingents from Bok Technical High, McCloskey Elementary, the Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson, and the Promise Academy at University City High were among those who packed the auditorium at 440 N. Broad St. 

“University City is the best thing that ever happened to me,” said senior Christian Warrick, flanked by four of his peers, all wearing crisp blue Promise Academy blazers.

“I refuse to see my family torn apart. My heart just won’t allow it.”

University City has the capacity for more than 2,500 students, but now enrolls only 500. Under the District’s plan, University City students would be reassigned to West Philadelphia High, Overbrook High, Sayre High, or the High School of the Future.

The students, who attended all four of the community forums hosted by the District in recent days, said they have come to understand that officials need to address the District’s inventory of half-empty facilities, including University City High. But they told the SRC that they are fighting not for a building, but the academic program and culture inside it.

“We don’t want to merge with another school,” said senior Glen Casey. “We just want to be together.”

Again and again, speakers questioned the closing plan. Some accused the District of not fighting for more funding, while others complained that traditional public schools are being “starved” while charter schools are being expanded at a rapid – and costly – pace.

“How come neighborhood schools, where my children and the majority of our children go, are expected to swallow the District’s profligacy and make up for it in the form of closed schools?” asked parent Rebecca Poyourow.

Kia Stroman, the mother of two children at McCloskey Elementary in Northwest Philadelphia, was one of many argued that the District’s sweeping recommendations are poorly thought-out.

“I want to know how does the plan support teaching and learning for our students,” said Stroman, ticking off a list of questions about how the proposal to move McCloskey students to F.S. Edmonds Elementary would impact class size, safety, and student commutes. Plus, McCloskey rates higher on the District’s academic performance index than Edmonds.

“The bottom line is if you can’t answer these questions today, that tells me you can’t make an informed decision to close McCloskey,” she said.

Throughout the meeting, the commissioners generally listened quietly, occasionally asking follow-up questions or requesting new information or analysis from District staff. After the meeting, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said he welcomed the feedback.

“I have every expectation that at the end of this process, not everybody will happy, but at least we can be comfortable that we’ve been fair and the decisions [have been] considered,” he said.

Ramos also said he was encouraged that the District was able to sell three more empty buildings, saying the moves would bring resources back to classrooms.  The buildings that were sold were:

  • The former home of West Philadelphia High, located at 4700 Walnut St. It will be sold for $6 million to WPHS Venture Partners. The asking price was $6.5 million.
  • The Educational Services Building at 427 Monroe St. in Queen Village will be sold for $1,205,000 to Queen Village Lofts LP. It was listed at $1.2 million.
  • The former Roberto Clemente Middle School at 3961 N. Fifth St. will be sold for $1 to a “for-profit entity to be formed and owned by principals of Nueva Esperanza LLC.” It had been listed at $250,000.

All three of the properties are slated to be converted to residential units.

The one-dollar sale price for Clemente initially raised eyebrows. But District staff said the building, which is contaminated with asbestos and has sat vacant for a decade, had been appraised as worthless.

“The condition of Clemente is worse than deplorable,” said Art Haywood, the vice president of Nueva Esperanza.

Haywood said his group wants to turn the school into low-income housing.

The resolutions authorizing all of the sales include provisions to prevent speculation and encourage the buyers to move quickly to redevelop the properties.   

All three passed unanimously, 4-0. Lorene Cary is still on a medical leave from the commission.

Also approved by the SRC Thursday was a $32.5 million contract renewal with the Maramont Corp., which provides meals to District students. Officials said the renewal would increase the percentage of District students who have access to full-service cafeterias from 32 percent now to 51 percent by the 2013-14 school year.

The commissioners also discussed a proposed policy, long in the works, that would stiffen the requirements that companies seeking to contract with the District not be tax-delinquent.

Each year, Philadelphia schools are deprived of hundreds of millions of dollars in possible revenue because of tax deadbeats.

“We need to make a statement,” said Commissioner Wendell Pritchett.

The policy could come up for a vote in January.


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 (28)

Submitted by Helen Gym on December 21, 2012 12:00 am

A couple of things worth noting: 

1) I would be curious about appraised market value of the Monroe St. building. $1.2 million is a tidy sum but not necessarily market value.

2) The SRC also approved an $805,000 contract for Michelle Rhee's The New Teacher Project, an outfit openly promoted by the Philadelphia Schools Partnership. The money will go toward recruiting and training 45-55 new interns at a cost of $15K-$18K per person ON TOP OF their salary. In questioning the District, it turns out the money comes from Title 2 funding which can go toward among other things reduced class size, guidance counselors, professional development, and parental engagement efforts.

It's not the most expensive contract we've seen but given the constraints on our schools and the choices we face, it's yet another stunning indication of how public schools are being consciously or neglectfully starved of all possible options.



Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 21, 2012 5:47 am
The "cheerleaders" who presented for the New Teacher Project are another examples of "facts versus truths." They can not convince me that the School District could not partner with area universities to support and recruit 45 - 55 new teachers in "hard to place positions" for far less than $15,000 - $18,000 per person. There already is a program at Penn for math and science teachers. For example, I know of two math teachers in the Penn program that were at one Phila. high school who are now at charters because they School District had no position for them. This is only one case. I assume the Great Philly Schools privatization group / Phila. School Partnership encouraged hiring a group run by Michelle Rhee - they have the same agenda. Once again, the losers under the Nutter Administration / SRC are School District of Phila. students.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 7:24 am
I'm not a proponent of TNTP but I think you're very optimistic if you think the district is getting and retaining a large number of Penn students. Especially undergrad Penn Graduate School of Education graduates who didn't just get their M.Eds. through Teach For America. For any number of reasons Philly is not the district of choice for most teachers. Its pay is worse than the suburbs. The administration is horrible at 440. Principals are a mixed bag but almost universally bad at the large high schools.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 21, 2012 8:39 am
This program is not Penn GSE nor TFA. It is program where students have to commit to teach 3 years in Philadelphia schools. Granted, teaching in Philly is not as lucrative as the suburbs and the administrators are often incompetent. Nevertheless, relying on privatization programs like TNTP are not a long term solution. That said, there are many universities in Philadelphia - not just Penn - who the School District should collaborate with to fill high needs areas. (Most TFA science and math teachers I have worked with do not have a science or math undergraduate background. They learn "tricks" for teaching but do not have the content background to provide teach higher level courses. This is a disservice to all students in neighborhood schools. )
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 23, 2012 1:25 am
You are exactly right. There need to be systems to help the SDP attract and retain teachers who will teach and teach well in the District for many years. The first way to do this would be to make pay in Philadelphia higher than surrounding districts. The pay for teachers in Philadelphia should be higher since the working conditions are worse than many suburban districts and the students are needier. There are needy students everywhere, but more of them in Philly. In Lower Merion, the application for teachers says that applicants should have 3 to 5 years of teaching experience. Philadelphia needs to be in a position where it can have the leverage to hire the best teachers. However, this leverage comes from having more resources, and these resources need to come from Harrisburg.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 21, 2012 8:17 am
Many TFA also do not stay in the classroom - they want to be administrators or have administrative positions. There are a few who stay but most of them planned to teach anyway. Look how many TFA are in Penn's doctoral program. They don't want to teach K-12 - they want to tell other K-12 teachers how to teach. There also are a lot of administrators who were TFA. TFA preaches that they are "the chosen ones" - not the workers in the trenches.
Submitted by PhillyMiddleSchoolTeacher (not verified) on December 21, 2012 10:42 am
I have to object to these sweeping generalizations. Our school has had excellent results from the TFA fellows who have come to us. Frankly, anyone willing to accept the immense challenge of teaching in this district should be appreciated, not resented. Yes, some are now seeking to be administrators -- ambition is not a crime. Some are back in a doctoral program, sometimes because they couldn't find a placement in a school that was well-run enough to actually teach. Some have strong content knowledge, some do not.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 21, 2012 11:04 am
No one should be allowed to be an educational administrator without at least 10 years of actual teaching experience. Without a legitimate background of legitimate experience teaching, you can not possibly comprehend what the art of teaching requires. If you do not understand teaching itself, how can you possibly say that you should be a leader of teachers?
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on December 21, 2012 6:47 pm
Well put...please repeat often and loudly
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 21, 2012 6:11 pm
Agreed! Far too many administrators in Philadelphia spent little time teaching. Even if they did 5 years, they often only taught a couple of years and then had administrative tasks. It takes at least 10 years to hone the craft. Far too many administrators know neither instruction nor curriculum. It is particularly bad when an elementary administrator moves to high school. Most are not humble enough to admit they don't know what they are doing.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 4:11 pm
The TFA folks I've seen are scared to death from day 1 and not much changes. To put it mildly, they have no shot to understand the urban population since whatever they learned in college, is useless in Philly Schools. Well intentioned, I guess but useless.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on December 21, 2012 1:04 pm
There is (was) a program at Penn, the Leonore Annenberg Teaching Fellows program, that selected highly motivated and strong undergrads willing to commit to teach in West Philly schools for three years. They got a master's degree and then a placement. But few could stay in the system let alone West Philadelphia because of the chaotic and shrinking public school system, at least partly as a result of all of the "turning around," "renaissancing," and consequent bumping by more senior teachers. Also, Penn students interested in urban schools would love to teach in Philly public schools. I don't think salary would be the obstacle. Ackerman kept Penn at arm's length, and this shriveled some of the infrastructure that had been in place to create a pipeline to Philly schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 2:03 pm
Ackerman kept everyone at arms length. She didn't really work with TFA, either (there is virtually no TFA-alumni leadership in the SDP. Some people may say that's good. Some may say bad. Either way, it's very rare for a city with almost 10 years of TFA.) Part of the reason TFA people go to charters so often in Philly is that the District, at least under Ackerman, wasn't very welcoming. Ackerman actually once told a a room full of TFA teachers basically "We don't need you, so if you don't like my decisions, just leave.". She seemed utterly disinterested in partnerships with anybody, regardless of whether they were "traditional," "reform," etc. One of the problems for all motivated teachers trying to teach in Philly is the convoluted hiring process. Due to a combination of turmoil plus the seniority-based placement system, most highly motivated potential teachers would have to turn down actual job opportunities in other districts (or other fields) and "hope" that there was a place in some SDP school. Most suburban districts and many charters offer the chance for a must more specific and advance-notice job, which is quite appealing. Take someone with a math teaching preparation, weighing the following three options: 1) Teach math at Lower Merion HS, 2) Teach Math at Mastery at Simon Gratz, or 3) "maybe" teach something math-related somewhere in the SDP at a school you've never seen with a principal you've never met. Even if all three options were offered at the same time, with the same level of certainty, the SDP option is very unappealing. And the fact that it's actually uncertain and comes along several months later makes it even less likely to attract a young teacher who has other options.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 21, 2012 11:49 am
Helen--Thank You for all your efforts on the kids' behalf. The SRC is following the script layed out by ALEC and others of that ilk. Drain the resources of the inner city poor to make the rich, richer all done under the guise of "choice." It's comforting to see some serious resistance but much more is needed. It's the classic example of Might vs. Right. As Vincent Hughes likes to say, "Elections matter" and the elections of 2010 allowed these slithering types all over the country to use a business model to rob the poor. I call it the slumlord mentality coming to education in the inner cities where poverty and hopelessness ride side by side. They're like somebody robbing the poor box at church then decrying the evils of mankind. Glad folks are catching on more and more. Their abuse of the kids is stunning and Corbett and yes, Nutter too, love it. UNTIL we demand, by any means necessary, that our schools be funded fairly, they won't be and I'm speaking about the real schools not their masquerading cousins, charters.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 4:49 pm
Yes -- thank you for reminding us the Nutter has had no real public contribution to all of this and that his deputy for education has been at the district for a whole year now, "supporting" the staff. Nutter and Shorr are not being held accountable-- they set things in motion and then conveniently disappear from sight.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 4:03 pm
Nutter will be just fine after he slithers out of the Mayor's position. He should be SCREAMING at Corbett for Corbett's setting up the kids for failure but instead he and the suck ups called the SRC, are doing Corbett's bidding for him, playing the chumps and fools for Corbett. Uncle somebody comes to mind !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 11:28 am
They gave away Monroe Street. Who bought it and who did they know?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 21, 2012 12:37 pm
What a waste of $805,000.00! In these times all money should go directly to services to children like small class size for elementary students and reading and math specialists. When are we really going to put children first! It is the little things like that that shows us what is really going on here.
Submitted by Fatty (not verified) on December 21, 2012 6:52 am
I do understand about underutilized buildings being closed or combined, but clearly whoever came up with this list does not come from Philadelphia and by no means are thinking of the safety of our children.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 21, 2012 7:33 am
Helen's comment illustrates perfectly what I spoke about last night. There used to be two SRC meetings each month: a planning meeting where resolutions were discussed, and the voting meeting two weeks later. Now, resolutions are not released until the only monthly meeting-- the voting meeting (and they are never ready until after the meeting begins). People could sign up to speak at both meetings. Michelle Rhee and her organization Students First have become more influential over the past few years, contributing large amounts to politicians who support corporate reform and pushing anti-teacher/anti-labor legislation. There should have been an opportunity for those who are aware of her record and want to stop her from making incursions into Philadelphia to speak. It also illustrates my point that the real decisions are being made behind closed doors, including those of the PSP. Those of us who were denied admittance to the Penn Foundation board meeting last month have sent letters to the board members of PSP and the members of the Great Schools Compact committee requesting they open their meetings to the public. It is a violation of the public trust that the people whose future depends on the schools are denied any chance to take part in the process where the real decisions are made. Lisa Haver
Submitted by garth (not verified) on December 21, 2012 8:22 am
I think that the SRC is already starting to make real estate deals and is discussing purchase prices with charter operators for the schools that are closing in June. If a public school building reopens immediately as a charter school, that's a different kind of closing then what's being discussed at these meetings. The SRC has to be honest enough with the public school community to say "We're closing 27 schools, and 17 are reopening as charters. Here's the list of the ones that are reopening, and here's the ones that are no longer going to be schools". I also feel that a careful analysis should be done on the total number of charter and public schools operating in each neighborhood. The SRC acts like the charter schools are completely separate and distinct from the public schools, That is a misguided mind set.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 21, 2012 12:21 pm
Garth--NO, they aren't misguided. They're doing exactly what they've been directed to do by the huge money corporate giants. This is all bought and paid for and has been in the works for 10 years. Our "leaders" have sold us out for money and more importantly are setting up the inner city kids for failure at every level. The SRC/Nutter don't deserve any benefit of the doubt. Look at the facts ! As a point of reference, look the The Daily News article on Corbett today. This is a nation wide attack on worker rights and the democratic party by the Tea Part Nuts like Corbett and their corporate puppet masters. That's all it is.
Submitted by Gerald Wright (not verified) on December 21, 2012 10:02 am
10pm?! I couldn't stay that long. I'd like to share three main observations of last night’s meeting. 1. The amount of police presence was outrageous(and they had real guns). I counted at least six marked cars, what appeared to be one unmarked car (probably civil affairs unit), numerous (didn't count them) police bike police and a host of civil affairs officers in the lobby. These were in addition to school police. The level of police presence suggested that the SRC was very much interested in crowd control. I wish their planning for the education of our children was as focused. 2. The students that I heard speak were excellent. They spoke eloquently and represented their schools well as communities where teaching, learning, and positive growth and development occurs. The students that spoke did their homework themselves, it appears. They were comfortable with their presentations, their point of view and demonstrated a conscious understanding of what they were saying. They were not simply reading a script prepared by a coordinator or teacher. I felt that Commissioner Deworsky was the most sincere in his acknowledgement of the quality and excellence the students portrayed. 3. The SRC Commissioners and Superintendent appeared to be prepared to only listen but not to engage on substantive issues. I don't believe there was any intention or willingness to engage in a dialogue. Therefore, when people talked about disrupting the growth of existing learning communities and the emergence of such efforts, which I don't think the FMP adequately considers, there wasn't engagement or probing questions from the SRC or the Superintendent. Overall, I thought some myths about public school students and the desire for public education may have been challenged last night. But are the SRC and the Superintendent big enough (or able) to do the right thing. Do they even care? Or have they gone so far down the road they are traveling that they are now spokes persons for the charter and voucher movement and private interests, intentionally or unwittingly. --Gerald Wright
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 28, 2012 4:47 pm
Lisa, are your union strategy and planning meetings open to all? When you discuss plans for union leaders salaries and positions held on the books at district schools, are rank and file included in the process? Didn't think so. You create battles to keep membership from seeing the side deals and lack of leadership in your gang.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 28, 2012 8:00 pm
I agree that everything about the union should be open and transparent. The same goes for the SRC, the Great Schools Compact, the BCG, and you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 3, 2013 6:16 am
One small correction... Clemente has not sat vacant for the past ten years. Until the winter break, I taught there and kids studied there.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 4, 2013 9:11 am
Anonymous--you are confusing the current Roberto Clemente school building on Erie Avenue with the original school building at 5th and Luzerne. It is the old site that was sold the other night.
Submitted by ion (not verified) on July 22, 2014 10:19 am

This is depressing. I wonder what will happen to the school buildings that were soled. I'm sure a lot of people had tear in their eyes and I can understand why. echipamente profesionale

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