First round of school-closing hearings focuses on safety and student stability

Protesters, armed with bullhorns and signs, shut down part of North Broad Street on Thursday night as the first of three consecutive school-closing hearings got underway inside the the school district’s building. Concerned community members showed up to tell the district their revised plan just didn’t go far enough.

In Superintendent William Hite’s opening statement, he noted that one-half of students in the Northwest attend school outside their neighborhood, and the current utilization rate is 64 percent. If the proposed changes go into effect, the projected savings are $122.5 million citywide over the next five years. 

The district released an updated school-closings plan on Tuesday, bringing the total number of proposed school closures down to 29 from an original list of 37. While 10 schools were removed from the list, two, M.H. Stanton in North Philadelphia and Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia, were added to the list. Two schools in the Northwest, John F. McCloskey Elementary in Germantown and Jay Cooke Elementary in Logan, initially slated for closure, will remain open under the new plan. If the plan is approved, McCloskey would move from a K-6 school to K-8.

Impact on Northwest Philadelphia 

Germantown High, Robert Fulton Elementary and John L. Kinsey Elementary remain on the chopping block. The district is now recommending the city’s military academies merge at the school’s Elverson campus, located in North Philadelphia. The original proposal called for the two campuses to merge at the current location of Roosevelt Middle School in Germantown. It is now recommened that the Roosevelt building be completely shut down. Roosevelt students would be relocated to Leeds Middle School.

Major safety concerns were cited throughout the meeting, namely the further distance via unknown neighborhoods many children would have to walk if their school is moved. Potential class size and the negative impact that changing schools can have on kids were also raised as issues.

School Reform Commissioner Pedro Ramos said, “Part of the success of how this goes into effect will be how well we manage the public safety of students walking to school, whether it is three blocks, or nine blocks.”

A parent challenged Hite to “walk in his shoes” in order to understand the impact that the further distance would have on his family. Later in the night, the Superintendent said he planned to follow through on the request.

‘Keep public education in Germantown’ 

In Northwest Philadelphia, the proposed closures would remove public education options in central Germantown, leaving 1,300 students in that neighborhood to attend schools in different areas, according to state representative Stephen Kinsey, who was on hand to speak on behalf of Germantown schools. He added that closing the schools would impact small businesses in the area as well.

“Work with us,” Kinsey said, “we are willing to concede the closing of Fulton, and the closing of Roosevelt. Move these students into Germantown High. Keep public education in central Germantown.” Utilization at Germantown High is 29 percent, according to Danielle Floyd, the district’s deputy for strategic initiatives.

Community member Christina Moresi agreed, adding that by taking students away from their schools, the district is jeopardizing their stability and access to nearby resources, like the Wyck Historic House, where she is the youth program coordinator.

Parent and community member, Rashon Moore, said he stayed in Philadelphia so that his kids could attend the Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds, adding that the change in proposal was a surprise to parents and that, “learning is much more conducive,” at the Leeds campus.

In the end, Moore acknowledged that difficult decisions have to be made, adding, “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.”

Full day hearings, will continue through Friday and Saturday at the school district’s headquarters at 440 N. Broad St. Community members have the opportunity to add to public testimony until March 4.

The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the District’s recommendations March 7.

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