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District reduces number of planned school closings from 37 to 29

By Paul Socolar on Feb 19, 2013 10:48 AM

[Updated: 2:55 p.m.] 

The Philadelphia School District has released a new closings plan, lowering the number of schools it plans to close from an initial 37 down to 29, after weeks of contentious community meetings and public protests.

Ten schools escaped the closings list, but two schools not previously named are now targeted for closing: M.H. Stanton Elementary in North Philadelphia and Beeber Middle in Wynnefield.

​The new plan would have Beeber students move to Overbrook High School, which would serve grades 7-12 and take students from Cassidy, Gompers, and Overbrook elementaries (the latter two now removed from the closings list).

Penn Treaty Middle School will become a "middle secondary school" under the revised plan - receiving 9th-11th graders from Carroll and Douglas high schools, which are both still targeted for closure.

Five schools in North Philadelphia that were slated to close -- Duckrey, Meade, Morris, Strawberry Mansion High, and the Military Academy at Elverson -- will remain open. Vaux High School, slated for conversion to an elementary school, will instead close. Changes in the region will also result in shifts in which schools receive displaced students.

McCloskey, Cooke and McMichael elementaries were the other schools spared under the new plan.

The District modified its plan for University City High School, where students had urged the District to allow them to stay together as a community. The plan for University City now reads: "Students in grades 9 through 11 who  wish to remain together will be offered assignment at Benjamin Franklin High School."  

Two schools slated for relocation will be allowed to stay at their current sites: Lankenau High School and AMY at James Martin.

But keeping those two buildings open will be offset by the closing of Vaux and Roosevelt Middle School, which had been proposed as the site for a consolidated military academy. While some of the closing schools are in buildings that will remain in use for some other program, in all 29 buildings will close and presumably be put up for sale.

Highlighting the outpouring of feedback and alternative proposals, Superintendent William Hite said in a statement:

“I am grateful for the time and energy that our community spent voicing their concerns about the Facilities Master Plan. Although I wish we could have avoided closing any school, I do believe that the amended recommendations address the concerns from many parents, students and residents. I hope that we can move forward in minimizing disruption for our students and providing better options for families.”

Here is the revised plan's breakdown of the changes to the closings and relocations by planning region:

North-Central (West of Broad)
Meade Elementary School, Duckrey Elementary School, Morris Elementary School, and Strawberry Mansion High School will remain open. Vaux will not become a K-8 elementary school; the program and building are recommended for closure.

Furthermore, a new recommendation – the closure of M.H. Stanton’s program and building – is being added. This recommendation will not be included in the set of actions to be considered and voted on by the School Reform Commission on March 7, but will receive a vote at a later date.

North-Central (East of Broad)
The Philadelphia  Military Academies will merge at the Elverson building. As a result, the Elverson building will remain open. AMY at James Martin will remain at its current location and expand its enrollment.

Northwest 
Lankenau will remain at its current location. McCloskey Elementary School will remain open and expand its grade organization to become a K-8 elementary school. Cooke Elementary School will remain open at its current location. The Roosevelt building will be closed rather than converted into a high school building for use by the Philadelphia Military Academies. 

West
The District is no longer recommending that Beeber be converted into a K-8 elementary school. Gompers will remain open at its present location. Overbrook Elementary will remain open at its present location.  McMichael will remain open at its present location. Furthermore, a new recommendation – the closure of Beeber Middle School’s program and building -- is being added. This recommendation will not be included in the set of actions to be considered and voted on by the SRC on March 7, but will receive a vote at a later date.

There were no changes to the recommendations for the South-Central, Southwest, and Northeast regions.

The projected savings from the revised plan are $24.5 million, down $3.5 million from the initial recommendations. The District acknowledges that savings will be "much lower" in the first year due to transition costs.

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Comments (19)

Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 19, 2013 10:31 am
how the district can recommend strawberry mansion stay open is insane. vaux, germantown, and mansion were the worst schools on the list. to not close them is an insult to that community. it affirms that an ineffective and isolated high school education is good enough for the young people in that neighborhood.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2013 11:29 am
What about Pepper and ComTech? Have they already sold them to the airport? Pepper had a wonderful proposal.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2013 12:24 pm
Pepper and Comtech should merge. There is no way I would go from Pepper to Tilden. Tilden has nothing to offer students from Pepper.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2013 3:06 pm
If Hite were telling the truth about listening to the community, then he would not be closing two more schools. Did anyone at any meeting say "Please close Beeber" or "Please close Stanton"? Is the district going to have sufficient community meetings for the people at these schools to speak against these closings? And what good would it do them to come up with any kind of alternative? Closing them IS the alternative. This is a truly base move on the part of the district and the superintendent. Shame on them. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 20, 2013 12:33 am
Lisa, I was at both meetings at Overbrook HS. There were several speakers who requested that the District close Beeber instead of Overbrook ES and Gompers. I live fairly close to Beeber and while there will be some opposition to closing Beeber, the vast majority of the people in the neighborhood see closing Beeber as the most desirable option. Only 22% of the middle school students in Beeber's catchment attend Beeber whereas 66% and 60% of students in the respective Gompers and Overbrook ES catchments attend those schools. (Gompers also takes a large number of "overflow" students from Mastery Mann.) Beeber doesn't have a particularly good reputation among people in the neighborhood. There also isn't strong support in the research literature for the stand-alone middle school model. A middle school within a K-8 or 7-12 school makes more sense, especially given the fact that most teachers (besides special education) are certified to teach either elementary (K-6) or secondary (7-12). Making a middle school on its own floor/wing in an elementary school building or a high school building can provide a middle school setting without the need for a separate building. I oppose the closing of public schools, but I also look at the economic perspective. Keeping open a school like Beeber, with very low utilization, is inefficient. How can we expect people in Harrisburg to listen to the District's pleas for more money if there are schools operating at 20% capacity? What I think would be a good idea would be to force charters into District-owned buildings, even if it means putting more than one charter in a building like Beeber. It has been necessary to replace the buildings for some schools (e.g. John Barry ES and West Philly HS), but there needs to be a lot of scrutiny of the money that has gone toward brand spanking new buildings for schools like Pan American Academy CS in Fairhill/Kensington or Green Woods CS. EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2013 4:08 pm
How are they keeping Strawberry Mansion open and closing the Elementary School; LP Hill, which is attached?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 19, 2013 6:37 pm
it's a disgrace that the district refused to listen to the robeson kids or the uni kids. they had great propositions, plans, questions, etc. i hate how much they congratulated these kids on being so poised, honest, intelligent, and articulate, but then shooed them away. how can they sleep at night? AND WHY ISN'T ANYONE MOVING INTO 440? so are we rewarding cheaters? it seems so if strawberry remains open. furthermore, how much does good ol' principal linda factor into THAT decision. this is all so rotten.
Submitted by Linda K. (not verified) on February 19, 2013 9:28 pm
seems as though some building locations sell better than others...note what Penn, Drexel, Temple, and the Airport will buy and who will create senoir citizen and condo housing.... Linda K
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 20, 2013 12:48 am
Linda, I think that you're right about the real estate. Real estate shouldn't factor into school closing decisions at all. Demographically, there are fewer K-12 students in University City's catchment due to the growth of Penn, Drexel, and the commercialization of the area around UCHS. The same was the case for the demographics of Drew ES. That said, UCHS sits on PRIME real estate. There is absolute, 100% certainty that the District will be able to sell UCHS's property, and sell it for a nice amount of money. We've all heard of the schools that sit vacant for years. From the District's point of view, UCHS is the best school to close because there is ABSOLUTELY NO QUESTION that they could sell the property. I wouldn't be surprised if Penn and/or Drexel has offered the District money for the UCHS property. And if that hasn't happened, we all know that the District probably approached Penn and/or Drexel and asked them if they would want that property. And the answer to that was likely a resounding "Yes." EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2013 8:45 pm
but the uchs community still had a fine plan of moving into other buildings. this team (hite, etc.) owes it to the history of the destroyed black bottom neighborhood to service the minority kids in a white-zone. or at least do right by them and move them (as a community) to a better location. hello, hs of the future.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on February 19, 2013 11:43 pm
The plan to keep McMichael open makes logical sense because it is the only school in the Mantua neighborhood. It is odd that the District wanted to close McMichael and keep both Locke and Martha Washington open, even though Locke and M. Washington are 3 blocks apart and in the same neighborhood. The plan to close Beeber instead of Gompers and Overbrook ES is the preference of most people in the neighborhood. Given the choice of the neighborhood elementary and no Beeber or K through 8 at Beeber, the vast majority of people want the neighborhood elementary schools. Both Overbrook ES and Gompers are at pretty high utilization. I was at a neighborhood meeting and Gompers' principal, Phil DeLuca, made a convincing case that the utilization calculations in the FMP for Gompers were incorrect. The vast majority of the "empty seats" among Gompers, Overbrook ES, and Beeber are at Beeber. The vast majority (77%) of middle school students who live in the Beeber catchment do not attend Beeber (See http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/f/facilities-master-plan/individua...). However, 66% of the students living in the Gompers catchment attend Gompers, plus a large number of students from outside of the catchment (primarily "overflow" students from Mastery Mann) and 60% of the students living in the Overbrook ES catchment attend that school. Prior to the school closings plan, the District had planned to increase utilization at Beeber by moving 6th graders from Cassidy and Gompers to Beeber. Overbrook ES's 6th graders already go to Beeber. However, Overbrook ES can accommodate 6th graders by moving the Head Start classes to another school, such as Gompers. I support the well-written Wynnefield-Overbrook Community Proposal (http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/f/facilities-master-plan/community...) plan, by Sam Reed and others, which advocates for making Beeber into a community school with social services in part of the building. Alas, the District is unlikely to approve that plan. I don't know if that plan costs the District money, but it would be difficult to implement it on the District's current, hasty timeline. I'm happy that Gompers and Overbrook ES will remain intact and the District appears to have listened to the loud, supportive overtures of those defending Gompers and Overbrook ES. Overbrook HS has plenty of room for 7th and 8th graders. Hopefully, the building will be organized in such way that the 7th and 8th graders can have a middle school within Overbrook HS. My only concern is that Beeber not become a neighborhood eyesore. I wonder if the District will lease or sell it to a charter, and if that happens, if the charter will be able to use such a large building at a high utilization rate (75% or higher). EGS
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 24, 2013 10:28 am
The closure of McMichael would also have meant non-contiguous catchments as Belmont Charter (a Renaissance charter before there were Renaissance charters) has a catchment that sits between McMichael and Locke and Martha Washington. If the school district in any way did things strategically, it would have made Belmont Charter's enrollment expansion approved over the summer by the SRC dependent on an expanded catchment or accepting students from closing schools. McMichael was a late addition to the closing list and now it will be staying open and getting additional funding as a Promise Academy. The community, including Drexel which is sometimes seen as a mastermind in the neighborhood, has been kept in the dark through all this. The district should be questioned if the school was added to the list so it could be removed and what it really means to stay open if the Promise Academy designation means by definition high staff turnover. The district should not be playing games with the neighborhood of Mantua.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 20, 2013 8:30 am
comm tech gets to pick its kids and still underperforms. close it. pepper is pepper. close it. if nayone cries about closing beeber or stanton, they should be committed. this is not a conspiracy. these schools need to be closed.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2013 3:12 pm
Please clarify "Pepper is Pepper."
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 24, 2013 9:00 am
And you are an authority on Pepper and Comm Tech because....? Comm Tech received students from disciplinary schools in 2011-12 who had no interest in the programs. Also many parents sent their kids to Comm tech because it was considered a safer option with no interest in the programs. Pepper & Comm Tech have been neglected by the SDP for years because it is not a real politically active area. I live in Southwest and know how hard the staff work in spite of the District
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 20, 2013 3:03 pm
let me put it this way, pepper supporters have some nerve looking down their noses at tilden. your test scores are equally bad, but pepper is in corrective action for the 8th year.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 20, 2013 4:45 pm
Neither school is better than the other. Both located in Southwest Philadelphia. That entire area is a mess. Same kids and both schools have low socio economic status families. I would not hardly argue one school over the other.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 24, 2013 9:36 am
thanks for clearing it up for me. comm tech, which has admissions requirements, seems to admit a high number of uninterested students. pepper is plagued by those dreaded disciplinary school transfers. and everybody's working hard. so with the hand you've been dealt, this is the best you can do? It wasn't good enough. that why they're closing the schools. where I see your confusion is this: with so many performing at unfluxuatingly low levels, why was our school selected? there you have a point.

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