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Hite stands firm on closures plan, but hints at possible changes

By the Notebook on Jan 31, 2013 06:08 PM

by Bill Hangley Jr.

The last of the Philadelphia District’s school-closure meetings wrapped up quietly at Northeast High on Wednesday night, where District officials made plain once again their intention to stay the course on a plan to close or relocate 44 schools by September.

School Reform Commission member Feather Houstoun told the audience that despite a recent City Council vote in favor of a one-year moratorium on closings, her support for the plan hasn’t wavered.

“At this juncture I would not vote for a moratorium,” said Houstoun to a smattering of boos. “I have heard nothing that suggests that [it] would change the outcome significantly a year from now. I have had people say to me they need more time to plan the closures. And I think the planning of the closures, the content of that, happens when the decision has been made.”

Houstoun did not close the door to adjusting Hite’s plan. “I may hear something when Dr. Hite and his team come back and talk to us more,” she said. “I know that’s not a happy answer, but I’m telling you the truth as I have always told you.”

While avoiding any specifics -- “we haven’t had a lot of time to analyze,” he said -- Hite hinted that the closure meetings could result in some changes to his recommendations. His staff will be “thinking differently about what buildings to use as receiving schools as opposed to the ones we recommended,” he said.

Hite promised that the next round of planning, which will include as-yet-unscheduled public meetings in February at each affected school, will deal with specific school-by-school issues.

He said his team will also be focusing on several broad “themes,” including safety, transportation, and special education. More information on all three areas would be available before the SRC votes on a final closure list on March 7.

Hite was also pressed for more information about the District’s plans for new Renaissance charter schools and Promise Academies. Although he confirmed that such plans are in the works, he shared no new details.

The Northeast meeting drew only about 100 attendees -- not surprising, as no actual closures for the region are proposed. Instead, the District recommends shrinking two elementary schools (Carnell and Lawton) and sending their middle school students to Harding Middle School, while adding grades at Stearne Elementary.

The District also proposes moving the Alternative Middle Years (AMY) program from James Martin School in Port Richmond to the Penn Treaty Middle School in Fishtown (about two miles south). Hite heard testimony from a string of parents and AMY staff suggesting that families won’t follow the program if it moves.

“If you take something good, and put it someplace not so good, you’re not going to make it better, you’re going to bring it down,” said one parent.

Hite said he hopes AMY doesn’t lose its current support and promised a closer look at its transportation policies. But he indicated that families who have grown used to having good programs nearby should expect to make some sacrifices.

“Buildings don’t make the program -- the adults in the building who are teaching the students, the parent participation, all of those things together are what are producing the results we’re seeing at a school like AMY,” he said. “There’s a reason we want to expand that type of program to a larger space.”

Just what kind of financial support will be available to expand or improve AMY or other relocated schools is not yet clear. Hite and his team have repeatedly indicated that money “freed up” by closings and consolidation will allow them to improve academic options District-wide. They have $19 million set aside next year for that purpose. Those funds, however, will be spread thin, as they’re earmarked not only for improvements at all of the District’s remaining schools, but also to support three as-yet-unnamed Renaissance charter transformations.

Hite promised additional information about programs, transportation, and transition costs in the “school-by-school” plans, but how detailed those plans will be remains to be seen.

Those kinds of promises didn’t do much for students like Isaiah Santiago, a junior at Northeast, who came to Wednesday’s meeting to ask Hite how closings were going to help schools like his, already cash-strapped and crowded.

“I play the trumpet, which I bought myself, no help from the school,” he said. “I want funding for my school, so I can progress, just, in my life. There’s holes in the walls, full of trash. The music stands don’t even work.”

In the face of comments like that, Hite and his team remained firm in their position that the closure plan is a financial necessity.

Later, Hite acknowledged that the first year’s savings won’t be as big as the $28 million routinely promised, due to the as-yet-unknown cost of the “one-time investments” needed to relocate programs and fully decommission buildings. He promised that the SRC would get an overall assessment of those one-time costs before it votes.

He also said that specific school-by-school costs -- the cost of moving CTE programs into new buildings, for example -- may not be available. “What this will cost will have to be part of the conversation,” Hite said. “It may not be school-by-school, it may not be that granular, but we would want the total cost. If it’s going to cost this amount of money, we’ll have to say it’s going to cost this amount of money.”

Hite said the 13 school-closure hearings had been “emotional” and “painful,” but it was a process he knew was coming when he took the job. “There’s nowhere in the country where someone is going to make a recommendation about closing a school and people are going to be happy about it,” he said. “This issue is wrought with emotion, with fear, with anger, and we understood that coming in.

“I don’t take it personally -- I understand what people are struggling with,” Hite said. “We’ve tried to be as respectful as we possibly can.”


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Comments (30)

Submitted by teachmyway (not verified) on January 31, 2013 8:39 pm
He didn' t answer questions about the Rennaisance and promise academies becasue seats have already been allocated to charters for Rennaisance schools. It is a done deal, KIPP already said their are getting more seats, where are they coming from? Public school children. ridiculous
Submitted by Hiram (not verified) on January 31, 2013 8:45 pm
The "hinting of possible changes" is not surprising. Changing up closure plans at the last minute to give off the impression that district officials are listening and being responsive to the community is not a compromise, as they'll try and sell it to us, but a tactic. Having been through enough school closings hearings and district wide processes in my 4 years in NYC, where over 100 have already been closed...I am no longer excited by the idea of "possible changes." Like most negotiation situations, school district officials all over the country have always led out with a large number of schools they "intend to close." They expect a massive response in opposition, and then shrink that list down in the name of "compromise" and being "responsive to the communities demands." Reality is, they've always had a real target number of schools they wanted to close. They exaggerate the number or schools up for closure so that when the push back comes, they can scale that number down to the one they've always wanted in the first and are able to sell it back to us as being responsive and willing to compromise. As something "we all can agree on." Let's not be fooled by a false victory when some schools are taken off the list. This is an attempt to pacify a growing movement of community pushing back against a privatization process lacking in transparency, accountability, and true community engagement.
Submitted by walkaway (not verified) on February 1, 2013 12:58 am
Hiram, You're exactly right. We saw this play out last year with the so called saving of Stanton. The pacification of a few, at the expense of the majority is unacceptable.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2013 9:09 am
Principals just received a letter this morning (on a day with no students in the building) that a meeting with Dr. Hite has been scheduled for tomorrow evening (Thursday) for parents of children who attend the schools on the closing list. Parents will not receive the letter until tomorrow, the day of the meeting. Hmmm.....
Submitted by Jim (not verified) on February 6, 2013 11:52 am
So parents are going to receive a letter that the principals are meeting with Hite? I don't understand the reason for that.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on January 31, 2013 8:18 pm
Anyone who has been involved in a labor struggle has experienced the common management tactic of management proposing an onerous contract which causes panic in the rank and file. When the final contract is ratified, management has taken some of the worst proposals off the table and everyone is relieved, barely noticing that their living standards were still lowered with the final settlement. Having attended the community meetings or watched them on streaming (how pathetic are those commercial interruptions that cut into someone speaking, many from Bill Gates’ Microsoft, of all companies!), I believe a similar process is in operation here. I believe the SRC basically knows which schools they are going to close (their ultimate goal is to close at least 60 after all), and the meetings are just fine tuning for a few they were’t sure of, listening to parents to find out how they can overcome community opposition, and finding out what are the best schools to transfer students to. The deficits year after year since the SRC took over management in 2001 and the starving of the schools under their successive Superintendents, which have led to bare bones cuts in support staff and resources, have lead to many unsafe and distressed public schools. The funding and resources have, in recent years, poured into charter schools which have deliberately been built up as an alternative to the starved public schools. (I do not fault any parent for putting their child in a charter school. Children grow up fast and a parent must deal with now.) Now they are proposing to make young children walk as much as a mile through unsafe neighborhoods and sending older students into combined schools which have a history of neighborhood rivalry. What do you think are the chances that they will suddenly declare an emergency and discover funds in the bankrupt school system or city government this fall to open more charters which parents will enroll their children in out of desperation. This is not a labor dispute. This is a dispute between communities and the state government whose policies are carried out by the SRC. Unlike union workers who are relieved that the cuts are not as bad as feared, the communities will find no relief. Most of these schools will be closed in a cynical disruption of communities and turmoil in the lives of thousands of children to promote a political agenda! Ms. Lynch gave away some of the game plan Wednesday night at the Northeast High meeting. She said the SRC is already in consultation with real estate interests who are interested in the buildings of schools being abandoned by the SRC. How much input have these real estate interests and charter management companies had in which schools will be closed?
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 31, 2013 10:53 pm
Ken, Regarding your statement that Ms. Lynch "said the SRC is already in consultation with real estate interests who are interested in the buildings of schools being abandoned by the SRC. How much input have these real estate interests and charter management companies had in which schools will be closed?": Is anyone doing FOIA requests to find out about these potential real estate deals? EGS
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 1, 2013 1:18 pm
First of all, Gompers has been a target of St. Joe's since I went there many moons ago. I've been told Gompers has already been sold and that wouldn't surprise anyone who knows the deal on Hawk Hill. Feather's words come from Corbett's mind. She hasn't had an original thought in a very long time and EVERYBODY who knows her, knows that. To call her a joke would be giving her far too much credibility. She really is a pathetic figure who will say whatever Corbett tells her to say----and I mean whatever !!!!!
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 1, 2013 3:54 pm
Joe, What you said about Gompers is not true. I know people who work at Gompers and at St. Joe's. I was told by a couple of people at Gompers that the School District approached St. Joe's about buying the building and St. Joe's said they are not interested. St. Joe's doesn't have money right now to buy the Gompers property because they have already bought the Cardinal's mansion and the old Episcopal Academy. If you asked the union rep at Gompers, she would say the same thing. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 5:07 pm
EGS---With all due respect, be careful what you think you know which just ain't so as the late, great Reggie Bryant liked to say. The Catholic Church is the richest institution in the history of the world and has been for 1500 years. The Jesuits, of which I was a member for 7 years, has resources that even the Mafia can't approach. Ask Vincent Hughes about negotiations between St. Joe's all up and down City Ave. for a mile in both directions as well as across City Line Ave.into Lower Merion. If St. Joe's wants the property, the deal is made. Having said that, Gompers would be demolished and likely for another parking lot with access the buildings closer to the street. I always reserve the right to be wrong and I also enjoy reading your posts. We'll see what happens, of course, but I know for a fact that several years ago, St. Joe's rescinded an offer when they realized that Gompers' value was plummeting.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 1, 2013 5:46 pm
Joe, Just FYI, I attend Saint Joe's. EGS
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 1, 2013 7:33 pm
Yes, I thought so. I went there too, of course, so long ago, the St.Joe--Villanova Game was a big deal. I think Lincoln was President then.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 1, 2013 5:02 pm
EGS--Sorry, That post about St. Joe's and the Jesuits was I. I forgot to change Anonymous to Joe. My computer skills like my hair, are not so good.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on February 1, 2013 3:16 pm
Oops, I was wrong. I said in the above message that the SRC would open more charters in the fall. They're going to announce more charter schools on February 11th. Hite has been looking at the audience reassuring everyone that no charters have been opened since last year. He knew this was in the works. How do you build trust this way or don't they care? Now we know why the February community meetings were cancelled! More public schools to be given to charters from the Philadelphia Inquirer
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 3:35 pm
They have always been upfront about continuing the Renaissance process. Not sure how you missed it.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on February 1, 2013 7:02 pm
Upfront is never what this group is about. They are a traveling medicine show selling all kinds of cons. This is a stepping stone on their career path. After they have privatized a significant portion of Philadelphia public schools they will move on and leave us with a mess. They sat through all the community meetings listening to parents and children begging to not have their schools closed. All the meetings were about was sizing up the new customers for the charter management companies. Renaissance schools were only mentioned in the past tense a few times. This plan was never presented at any community meeting. (I attended all of them or watched them on streaming.) This in another instance of how there is no transparency to any of this and it is completely undemocratic. This is what it is what this corporate education reform is really all about:
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 2, 2013 4:45 pm
I was at a facilities community meeting where the Renaissance schools were brought up and they responded that there would be additional Renaissance schools this year. I was also at the SRC Monday meeting where the Renaissance program was reviewed and indicated that it would continue this year. "While Jordan wants to see a moratorium on new Renaissance charters, Gallard said the District wants to continue growing the initiative. " Not saying that I agree with the decision, just that they haven't been hiding it.
Submitted by Annoy (not verified) on February 1, 2013 4:23 pm
Already existing charters were given very generous "expansions" last year under Darden. Performing Arts Charter in South Philly was given a 1400 seat high school to add to their 800 (?) seat K-8 school. That is opening a new school. Freire charter opened a 5 - 8 school in Center City. This is an "addition" to their 9-12 high school in Center City. Niether of these neighborhoods are in need of another school.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 1, 2013 5:01 pm
Bingo !!! They don't care, Ken. Hite was despised down South for flat out lying to the people so why would anybody trust him now. Lots of people gave him the benefit of the doubt and paid a price for it. He's doing exactly the same here. When you don't care, you have nothing to lose.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 31, 2013 11:44 pm
all you have to do is look at all the building going on around University City high to see y they want to close that highschool down
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 6:02 am
440 is being sold and those people are moving into the Strawberry Mansion HS building. The LP Hill building is to be sold to a charter operator.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 3:57 pm
Hite and Ramos have said they owe more on 440 than it is worth.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 4:23 pm
Another one of Vallas's great moves. Does anyone realize that one of the main reasons of doing away with the old school board building on the Parkway was not financial at all. One of Broad's tactics to "create churn" and make school districts more vulnerable to takeover is the dismantling of the symbols of the community and its institutions. He wanted to do away with 21st Street because of what it symbolized to the community of the school district. It was part of the games Vallas played. Now we are footing the bill.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 1, 2013 4:39 pm
There is already a medical company leasing part of the 440 building.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 9:05 pm
Are you that stupid?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 9:35 pm
The signs are props from the "Do no Harm" drama being filmed there. It's not really being used as a hospital.
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on February 2, 2013 10:21 am
that makes sense in a could get quite a few dollars for the 440 for sure
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 10:11 am
I don't understand a few things..or perhaps I understand all too well. 1. This is all part of the FMP and yet there has been nothing addressing issues of overcrowding in those schools there are packed. Why? 2. How can they claim this will save money but when pressed for numbers state, "We're working on them" or other such garbage? 3. How come when pressed on safety concerns, the response has been, "Well, we know it's an issue but..."? 4. If this truly is part of a plan, how come they can't release any of the information regarding Promise/Ren Charter schools? Shouldn't they be part of the long term plan? 5. If part of the argument for a lot of this is "parental choice" how do you take away 37 choices? 6. Have catchment areas been looked at for these schools? Is there anyway to look into redrawing those? They are more poorly constructed than most gerrymandered Congressional Districts. 7. Since this is really, truly, part of a plan to better the education of our youth (YEAH, right!), what exactly is the plan? Has anyone bothered actually going to the parents and asking what they need/want? For those that choose charters/privates why do they do so? What do they do that is so much better (if it really is) that can be duplicated District-wide? Afterall, outside of specialty programs, charters are suppose to lead to new things that can go say, behavior management strategies for whole-schools. 8. If wanting to do similar things to charters and schools that "work" is the District willing to look at and tell parents, "Look, your kid HAS to wear their uniform or else...", "Your kid didn't come to school for 45 days, they aren't passing. Better luck next year."??? Until the District is willing to lay it out there and actually hold firm on what it professes to believe (HAHAHA), then this is all just a sham.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 1:11 pm
Ms. Houston made those comments in response to questions put to her by me and others about whether or not she is considering the moratorium in light of the concerns expressed by parents and students at the community meetings. Her response was that since the financial situation has not changed, she could not support it. If the SRC members are only considering the financial aspects of this potentially devastating action, then what was the purpose of all of these meetings? Were they waiting for someone to come up to the mic with a detailed financial analysis--or a large check? Hite was also asked about the next round of meetings which have been alluded to, with no real details. They will be public meetings, Ms. Lynch answered, but the SD has no schedule yet. Hard to see how this is all going to happen before the end of this month. And they never explained why they cancelled the February public meetings. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 7:22 pm
Once you read this your questions will be answered:

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