Menu
Paid Advertisement
view counter

February 2013 Vol. 20. No. 4 Focus on A Downsizing District

Theme articles

40 years ago, Germantown-King pairing marred by neighborhood rivalries

By

by Benjamin Herold, video by Kimberly Paynter

on Jan 31, 2013 03:51 PM

Martin Luther King High opened in 1972 as part of an unusual experiment. To make sure the new school in West Oak Lane enrolled a mix of poor and middle-class students, the Philadelphia School District decided that every student from the city's Northwest would attend King for 9th and 10th grades, then move on to nearby Germantown High for 11th and 12th grades.

It was called the "paired school" model.

"I think the experiment was to try to bring us together to bridge the gap of the cliques, the gangs that were out there," said Elisha Morris, a student in King's inaugural 9th-grade class.

"It seemed to have worked — for a minute."

Today, District officials are pursuing a massive school-closings plan that has some parallels with their predecessors' experiment of 40 years ago.

Germantown is one of 37 city schools targeted to be closed. If the School Reform Commission approves the plan, hundreds of students from across the Northwest would be thrust together inside King.

Germantown's 99-year-old facility is now two-thirds empty, but many students, parents, and community leaders are worried that merging the two schools will spark violence between youth from rival neighborhoods.

Morris, now 55, shares those concerns.

"I think it's going to be ugly," he said.

A brand-new school

King opened its doors on Feb. 8, 1972.

A photo in the old Philadelphia Bulletin shows about a dozen teens lined up in the snow outside the building. The young man closest to the camera has a notebook under his arm and a pencil tucked between his ear and his Afro. His friends are smiling.

"We were happy as all get out," remembers Morris. "We're like, 'Wow, we got a brand-new school to go into.'"

As a middle schooler, Morris served as a student representative on a committee that planned the "paired school" experiment. But he quickly turned against the idea.

"As soon as you started feeling at home, they started saying you're going to Germantown for 11th and 12th grade," he remembered.

Morris started organizing his classmates to fight the District's plan.

They took their protests all the way to the school board.

Al Banks was one of the students who caught the "four years, not two" fever.

"We were going to take over," said Banks.

The King students wanted their own mascot and school colors. They wanted a single school's name on their diploma. They wanted to stay with their teachers.

Being uprooted after 10th grade, Banks said, "just didn't feel right."

District officials held firm, but the idea of sending every kid in Northwest Philly to both King and Germantown was losing support.

"The adults still wanted the experiment," Morris said. "The students were like, 'Heck, no. Enough of this crap.'"

Gang violence

Before long, the "bring kids together across neighborhood lines" part of the District's plan fell apart, too.

Deborah Cunningham Alexander knows as well as anyone about Northwest Philly's longstanding neighborhood rivalries.

"I was from Dogtown. My boyfriend was from Haines Street. And we were right there on the cusp of Somerville," said Cunningham Alexander, ticking off the names of three of the biggest — and most notorious — neighborhoods in the area.

The fourth is known as the Brickyard.

"Brickyard, you just didn't want to be in," she said. "They were crazy."

Most kids just tried to avoid trouble.

"If you saw a whole crew out there fighting, you went around it. You stayed on the bus and got off at the next corner," said Cunningham Alexander.

But for many students, the neighborhood wars seeped into every part of high school life.

Kenny Greene, for example, had a crush on a girl in his 10th-grade social-science class.

"She was, like, super-smart," he remembered.

But Cheryl Downing lived in the heart of Brickyard. If Greene wanted to go out with her, he had to prove himself to her brothers and the Brickyard crew.

It started with the one-on-one fistfights known as "fair ones," Greene said.

"Then it progressed on to, 'OK, we're going down to Haines Street, or we're going down to Somerville and roll on somebody,'" he remembered. "Which meant we were going to beat somebody down."

Greene himself never got in serious trouble.

But on Dec. 5, 1972, King High made the news again. The headline in the Daily News read "3 stabbed in school gang clash."

The mayhem started in the school cafeteria, when 15 students from four different gangs started brawling. Two additional students were beaten with metal pipes.

Michael Davis, one of the victims, told a reporter at the time that "gang warring will never stop."

Asked by the reporter whether he wanted it to stop, Davis gave a telling answer: "I'm not sure."

Comments (5)

Submitted by Annoy (not verified) on February 1, 2013 8:19 am

B. Herold tweeted - "Still blown away by this: 6300 #phillyeducation HS students live in attendance zones of King & G'town. 5,000 go to charters, magnets, etc." I don't know why this is shocking. The Northwest area includes wealthier neighborhoods - Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill - and plenty of private schools (Germantown Friends, William Penn Charter/Friends, Shipley, etc.) There has also been a huge charter push at the high school level with a lot of political backers - Imhotep (recruiting athletes seems to be their speciality), West Oak Lane Charter (Dwight Evans ... need I say more), ETC. Then, there is Central and Girls High - certainly a choice for many in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. (How many from Mt. Airy / Chestnut Hill are at Masterman?) Saul and Roxborough are also in the Northwest. So, I'm not surprised at all. There are many options for other than Germantown and King.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 2, 2013 4:59 am

Interesting article.

The "Paired School" idea pretty much sums up how the PSD has been running schools into the ground with mismanagement and stupidity over the last 40 years. What sort of idiot through that kids should have to move halfway through highschool to help make some social engineer feel good about himself.

So, it was deemed perfectly reasonable to force two schools together when integration and social equity were the goals. No howls of protest from the teacher unions or other establishment groups then.

But when you talk about a bankrupt school district trying to close a 30% utilized 100 year old facility and consolidate it with another underutilized facility, now many of these same forces are up in arms. The irony is maybe these two schools wouldn't be so underutilized if the idiot social planners hadn't tried (and failed) in playing God back in the 70s.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 3, 2013 6:44 am

I wonder what might happen if members of both neighborhoods focused on how the negative mentalities and behaviors associated with neighborhood rivalries have destroyed these schools...not the district's planning. Misplaced anger? Destruction from WITHIN is the TOLERATED culprit. Why are the adults sanctioning the rival mentality of their children and grandchildren? Leaving a legacy of that's-just-how-it-is? Why is it ok to give in to the status quo of ignorance? However, appropriate planning is absolutely necessary. Makes no sense to run an underutilized building. Include in planning how to RETAIN students. They ARE leaving for a reason. If not, another cs will crop up to replace GHS & we'll be right back where we started. So much to consider.

Submitted by Cheryl Johnson (not verified) on February 11, 2013 9:40 am

I am a graduate from King Germantown, class of 76. While attending King Germantown I did notice some fiction with students. Within different neighborhoods.In fact I was part of making MLK a four year school. I was part of the protest. As a female the transition was fine. There were more gang wars back then, where as today there are drug dealers wars.

As parents we should focus on the parents, teaching their children how to accept different people life styles. Meaning school is for your future, their education, not a social event. This is life, there will always be people you might not like, or personaliaties clash.. These children want to be grown, will grow up and knock that chip off your shoulder and get along with different communities. Go to school for YOUR future!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2013 12:05 am

As someone who grew up in the northwest back in the 70s and 80s, I remember the idea of attending King or Germantown was used as motivation to perform well in elementary and middle school. I never understood the idea of a mixed income local school. My parents made a lot of money and probably wouldn't have allowed us to attend either school anyway. What has happened is that parents in Chestnut Hill, East and West Mount Airy just send their kids to Chestnut Hill Academy/Springside, Germantown Friends, Crefeld etc. and I do not blame them. I think that original decision helped lead to massive"White Flight" during my childhood as I saw the neighborhood get darker and darker as I grew up. Mount Airy in recent years is becoming less segregated and this school decision may just reverse that. If i live on Woodbrook Lane, Allens Lane or Gorgas Lane, Why should my kid be forced to attend M.L.K. with kids who live in Brickyard, Haines Street etc.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Table of Contents

Philly Ed Feed

Print edition

Click Here
view counter
Click Here - Paid Ad
view counter
Click Here
view counter
Universal Family of School is Recruiting Talented Teachers
view counter

view counter
Click Here
view counter
Keystone State Education Coalition
view counter
Click Here
view counter
Click here
view counter
Advertise with TheNotebook.org
view counter
Click Here
view counter
Reserve your ad in the next edition of The Notebook
view counter
Top

Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300
notebook@thenotebook.org

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy