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University City students recommend merger with Robeson

By the Notebook on Jan 24, 2013 04:06 PM
Photo: Charlotte Pope

by Charlotte Pope

Students from University City High fought their school's closing on their home turf Wednesday night, after following Superintendent William Hite from forum to forum, throughout the city.

Under the District’s plan, the University City building will close, and the students will be given the option to transfer to neighborhood alternatives, which include West Philadelphia High, High School of the Future, Sayre, and Overbrook. Paul Robeson High School’s building is also slated to close, with the Health Related Technologies and Human Services programs to be relocated as citywide admission academies at Sayre.

The prevailing opposition came from students concerned about the collisions between school cultures that would come with co-location. How would schools handle student discipline and mediation among peers? The recommendation was made by students from University City to merge the school with nearby Robeson, with students from both schools favoring that outcome. Multiple student petitions were presented to Hite.

Matthew Gilliam, a University City senior, stood alongside his younger peers.

“Our problem with these recommendations is a lack of concern for community-based learning and safety,” Gilliam said.

“Our students are being sent to West Philadelphia High, and since the beginning of time, these two schools have not gotten along. With our students getting mixed in with that type of crowd, the dropout rate is just going to shoot right back up, and our success rate is going to fall right back down.”

Rhonda Davis, a junior at University City, supported the idea of a merger with Robeson, long considered a sister school.

“I don’t feel comfortable with the future, and I don’t feel as if spreading us out across the city is a good thing whatsoever. I just think it is going to be chaos,” Davis said. “I don’t even like the thought of it. I think it is going to be dangerous for everyone -- students, staff, faculty -- this is a dangerous transition to have to make.”

Andrew Saltz, a 10th- and 11th-grade English teacher at Robeson, would potentially be making the transition to Sayre, a move he finds difficult, considering differences in neighborhood climate and rates of in-school violence.

“These kids are not going to go to Sayre,” Saltz said. “Every kid has told me that they are not going, and not because they are being unreasonable, but because they are absolutely terrified.” Saltz said he also relayed that message to the superintendent and staff.

“They are going to go to charters. They are going to be home schooled. They are going to find whatever avenue they can to get out,” Saltz said.

At the close of the meeting, University City students rushed into the lobby to put on a school-spirit pow-wow before District staff had a chance to leave. The pow-wow quickly became a rally of students dancing in a circle, cheering the name of their school and calling on friends to take the center and lead a chant.

“You cannot relocate culture,” Davis said, before rushing to join the demonstration of school unity.

Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.

Photo credit (second photo): Charlotte Pope

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Another English Teacher (not verified) on January 24, 2013 6:16 pm
Just to add: Robeson and Uni have a long-running feud. The Uni kids (who are as good as advertised) proposed the idea as a way to keep their school together. Robeson students will take almost any alternative to Sayre. Robeson also proposed moving to 440. Dr. Hite said that building was being reserved, possibly for schools on lease.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on January 24, 2013 7:48 pm
this isn't a bad idea. uni has made progress on improving the environment as a promise academy. sayre, despite the infusion of the programs, continues to be a disaster. there have been several good recommendations given during the community meetings. what has not been helpful has been the shills sent to disrupt the process.
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on January 24, 2013 11:06 pm
Who are these "shills"? Do you mean people who have nothing whatever to do with either school but have some other agenda, some personal/self-serving agenda and in the past have actually been given the power to realize their self-serving (and ultimately destructive) agendas?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 25, 2013 12:11 am
The District spent over $62 million on the High School of the Future, a school that was unnecessary! People need to be scrutinizing the District's past decisions. I can understand why some legislators in Harrisburg would be reluctant to provide more money to Philadelphia, in light of the of wasteful spending that the District has had. Of course, legislators also have other reasons for slashing the District's budget, but the District's administration has been wasteful for many years.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 6:17 am
The School Reform Commission, with the help of the two mayoral appointees, has been running the School District for over ten years. In other words, the District has been managed by the state. They appointed Superintendents that ran the School District into the ground. So why is it OK for the legislature to be "reluctant" to fund the District and make schools and communities (up to 60 is their eventual plan) pay for their mismanagement.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 25, 2013 12:56 am
I keep hearing about "collisions between school cultures" and how students from the schools don't get along. Like the language of empty seats, the language of students not getting along is getting old. Students need to learn to get along. This is a part of life in the real world. There will always people with whom one may not get along. Instead of trying to keep these animosities, people need to learn to find common ground, build bridges, and at the least, be cordial. With the assault on neighborhood institutions such as schools taking place, people need to come together and stand up to the powers that be.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 2:04 am
The threats about what "will" (versus might) happen if some high schools are closed also have to stop. It amazes me when adults make these claims. Yes, this is Philadelphia and some people are very tied to their little corner of the world. That said, by the time someone is 14 or 15, they should learn how to move in more than an 8 block area. West Philly has an abundance of high schools. It has two new, West and School of the Future, three not so old buildings (Sayre, Univ City, Lamberton) and one old (Overbrook). Mastery also has Shoemaker and there are some small special admits (Robeson, Parkway West). Closing a few schools should not be so dramatic and threatening. Univ City should have 2000 students and it has 500. Univ City has had a Department of Labor grant which has pumped millions into the school. Not much has changed - it certainly hasn't increased enrollment. It has a top heavy administration and that hasn't helped. Robeson also hasn't attracted a lot of students considering it is special admit. While school closings are never easy, the School District has to stop charter expansion (including the "seats" granted last year) and make all high schools viable. This will require consolidating some schools.
Submitted by Another English Teacher (not verified) on January 25, 2013 5:10 am
That's a great idea, and it will probably happen - after a lot of people get hurt. The students live in the world where they can get hurt by walking in the wrong neighborhood. I don't mean to trivialize what you are saying, but we need to acknowledge the city we live in. Does the District have a program to stem the predicted violence? And is this program any more effective than the hundreds of other programs which have failed to do so?
Submitted by walkaway (not verified) on January 25, 2013 10:40 pm
Thanks for making some sense. Obviously these belittlers have never taught in a school where students have been killed for crossing the wrong line.
Submitted by walkaway (not verified) on January 25, 2013 10:03 pm
Oh Education Grad Student, your name is fitting. Whether or not this is getting "old" to you it's a reality. As a West Philly High Grad, Philly comprehensive high school teacher, and former education grad student--I'm telling you that your oversimplified criticism is insulting and I'm embarrassed for you. These neighborhood issues between students are REAL. The go back decades when someone's family member got harmed in one place, or when another community got more than the other. These "collisions" you belittle cause countless lives to be lost EVERY YEAR and they are learned at a young age when kids are taught to STAY SAFE BY avoiding certain neighborhoods. As much as any person would want kids to "get along" if you know anything about urban cities, you'd know these things are rooted in historical issues for a number of complex reasons. In Chicago there was even a death when Duncan began his mass closures. Parents and students have a right to flag safety concerns (especially when it's the number one issue in the dist). Step out of the ivory tower--realize that 6 mnts is not enough time to resolve this and grow up.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 25, 2013 12:59 am
I keep hearing about "collisions between school cultures" and how students from the schools don't get along. Like the language of empty seats, the language of students not getting along is getting old. Students need to learn to get along. This is a part of life in the real world. There will always people with whom one may not get along. Instead of trying to keep these animosities, people need to learn to find common ground, build bridges, and at the least, be cordial. With the assault on neighborhood institutions such as schools taking place, people need to come together and stand up to the powers that be.
Submitted by Former UNI Student (not verified) on January 26, 2013 10:12 am
Unfortunately, the agenda at UNI is being driven by a few of the adults in the building. This was the same tactics they used to blackmail us into accepting the Promise Academy model. The new tactic is to overblow the neighborhood issues in order to control the plan to close the school. Please provide me with hard data that suggests that UNI has increased it's Math and Reading scores since it became a PA. It's a lot of hogwash by some of the adults who only care about themselves.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 30, 2013 7:53 pm
funny how the adults have nothing to gain from this. also funny is how (as a former uni student as well) our neighborhood issues reach farther back than us. SOME THIRTY YEARS. funny how since becoming a promise academy, the math and reading scores have risen every year. i don't know what school you went to... you sure didn't go to my uni.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 30, 2013 7:38 pm
and last i checked, you can't control what those kids say. they have no reason in the world to trust an adult. this is all them.

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