Why does Strawberry Mansion High enroll only 235 out of 2,267 eligible students?
At the School Reform Commission meeting on April 26, Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite stated that of 2,267 students who live in Strawberry Mansion High School’s catchment area, only 235 of them are enrolled in that neighborhood school.
His theme echoed a flier that the School District has circulated in the Strawberry Mansion community titled “Envisioning the Future of Strawberry Mansion High School.” The premise is that the Strawberry Mansion community is not supporting the comprehensive high school and that therefore, it must be phased out and replaced with a yet-to-be-defined education complex.
The flier says: “Few students are choosing Strawberry Mansion now,” citing an enrollment of just 294 students. The implication is that the students and the community are to blame for the school’s current lack of support. In April 1992, Strawberry Mansion had 1,600 students. The school was known for its science club, named Science Force 2000, which won many awards. It had thriving art and music programs. It had begun to revive its football team that had been suspended for many years. Heroic efforts were made in the recent past to turn the school around, with little support from the District.
What caused the decline in enrollment? An economic, social, and psychological war was waged against the school over many years.
In the school’s lobby stands a knight in armor, the football team’s mascot. This is appropriate because in the last 10 years, the school has been under siege. In the Middle Ages, if a king wanted to take over a town, he would have his knights surround it and cut off all commerce into and out of the town. When the town was reduced to starvation, the knights could easily occupy it. This is what has happened to Strawberry Mansion. Now, the school’s own symbol is a grim reminder.
For 10 years, like all public schools in this period, Strawberry Mansion was starved of classroom resources, lost counselors, had a part-time nurse for many years, and lost a library with a certified librarian. Instead of putting resources into the school to lower class sizes and bring back support staff, the school was pushed over the cliff.
At the April 26 SRC meeting, community members spoke in support of their school. In this video link, the starting timestamp for each Strawberry Mansion speaker is noted for easier viewing. They describe what it is like to live in a school under siege.
Another paragraph in the flier is titled “Hundreds of neighborhood children are going to alternative education programs in other parts of the city.” Families do not casually send their children long distances from their community school to go to an alternative school. The lack of support was obvious, and at the same time, alternatives such as charters were receiving millions of dollars from philanthropists that made them an appealing alternative.
The feeder schools for Strawberry Mansion underwent various forms of privatization. Blaine and Kelley Elementaries were made "transformation schools" with $1.5 million from the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) for their turnaround plans. Douglass Elementary became part of the Mastery system of charter schools. Gideon became a "focus school." Rhodes went from a middle to an elementary school in the Turnaround Network. L.P. Hill and Whittier were closed in 2013.
Recently, PSP gave a $945,000 grant to KIPP to open the North Philadelphia Charter School. KIPP has several charter schools in the Strawberry Mansion community. This contributed to the starvation of the school by depriving it of enrollment.
The flier ends with the heading “We are adding academic options that neighborhood students want.” This was not done 10 years ago with public school programs because it did not fit in with the corporate privatization agenda. Whether the author of this leaflet knows it or not, hiding in plain sight is the agenda of this 10-year plan, probably developed by the Boston Consulting Group in 2012, a management consulting firm experienced in hostile takeovers in the corporate world. It was a plan carried out in stealth by a series of superintendents from the Broad Foundation.
All of this chaos is to drive students from Strawberry Mansion in order to bring in outside contractors to provide corporate education reform programs to transform Strawberry Mansion from a public school responsible to the community into a school contracted to corporate profit-making interests for which education is secondary.
What is happening to Strawberry Mansion is a microcosm of what is happening to the School District of Philadelphia as a whole.
Ken Derstine is a retired Philadelphia public school teacher. He writes based on 37 years of experience and observation in the School District of Philadelphia.