Chaotic morning marks Roosevelt Elementary’s transformation to K-8

Janice Davis is usually happy on the first day of school.

Not on Monday.

Standing on the steps of Theodore Roosevelt Elementary in Germantown, Davis was decidedly irritated and angry.

“I’ve never felt the way I feel today,” she said. “Public school has always been good to my kids, so this is strange.”

Her three children typically walk to school, but she didn’t feel comfortable sending them on their own this year knowing that they still didn’t have their classroom assignments.

“They need to get it together,” said Davis, who lives around the corner from the school’s East Washington Lane address.

Frustration and concern were common during a chaotic morning at Roosevelt, a newly-minted K-8 school.

Outside the building, several parents clutched their children’s hands as they searched for where to go.

Inside the school’s front entrance, a pair of teachers with walkie-talkies and clipboards fielded questions and directed traffic.

Most students, it appeared, were supposed to report to an expansive playground area behind the school where staff would then lead them to classrooms.

Not everyone got the memo.

“This is a terrible first day. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said parent Shoshawn Williams.

She rated Monday a “negative six.”

Rasheta Padgett wasn’t feeling much better about the day or the school year.

As her children stood nearby, Padgett said she’s concerned about safety as students from different parts of the neighborhood merge at Roosevelt.

“I’m afraid that the kids aren’t really going to learn too much because there’s going to so much going on in the class,” said Padgett. “There’s no way they’re going to be able to teach these kids and keep them from fighting.”

Before this school year, Roosevelt served only seventh and eighth graders.

In April, the School District of Philadelphia decided it would use the building as a site for students from all over central Germantown, which lost an elementary school this summer.

Nearby Robert Fulton Elementary was one of 24 schools closed in June as part of the district’s facilities master plan, a rightsizing effort aimed, in part, at addressing a multi-million dollar budget crisis.

A pair of former K-6 schools in the area also dropped sixth grade.

As a result, Roosevelt’s student population has more than doubled.

There are now 750 students in the building. There were 321 last school year.

Jim Mulligan, an eighth grade science teacher, said the school’s new configuration made this year’s first day a bit more nerve-wracking.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Mulligan, who has taught at Roosevelt for five years.

“Teachers are going to need to work together…because we’re the only ones here for each other now. There’s no one else looking out for us,” he continued.

Roosevelt lost its assistant principal, two noontime aides, two supportive services assistants, a social worker and a counselor when the district laid off nearly 4,000 employees in June.

Mulligan said he’s “hoping for the best, but won’t be surprised by the worst.”

First-year Principal Byron Ryan, for his part, had a smile on his face as he stood by the school’s back entrance, walkie-talkie in hand.

As he waited for the signal to start ushering lower school students into the building from the schoolyard below him, Ryan appeared calm and collected.

“I’m very positive and encouraged,” said Ryan, who helmed Northeast High School last year. “It’s an exciting time for our neighborhood and our community and we’re looking forward to impacting our youth.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.