Cook-Wissahickon parents fill gaps left by budget cuts

Cook Wissahickon isn’t the only school in Philadelphia to suffer a blow when it comes to budget cuts. But parents, staff and community members aren’t letting it keep them down — at least not without a fight. 

At the beginning of the school year the budget was slashed by 19-percent, resulting in the loss of a three-day secretary, assistant principal and full-time police officer.

At the same time, Cook-Wissahickon also gained 63 students, pushing enrollment to 521. With the inclusion of staff members, 589 people occupy the building on a daily basis — that’s 39 over the building’s capacity.

With increased numbers and decreased staff, Principal Karen Thomas said she and the remaining secretary are forced to take on an extra workload.

“I essentially am doing my job plus those jobs that were lost,” said Thomas. “We have a great full-time secretary, but there is just simply not enough help for her to do everything required day to day.”

Home and School Association (HSA) president Carol Haslam said parents at Cook-Wissahickon, which tend to be very involved with the school, have refused to let their children’s education suffer.

Haslam said HSA is hosting several fundraising events for the school, including ‘Ladies Night Out’ at Manayunk Brewery on Nov. 30. The shopping and social event will feature several local vendors while raising money for the school.

Parents pitch in 

In addition to fundraising, several volunteer opportunities are popping up.

“In light of the things we’ve lost at the school, a lot of people have stepped up to the plate,” she said, citing the school’s new volunteer clubs program taught by parents. “Half of [the parents running these clubs] come in during their lunch hour.”

Kelly Phillips Erb comes to the school on Mondays during two of the school’s three lunch periods to hold Green Club meetings.

Phillips Erb said the club stems from the Wissahickon Sustainability Council, a parent-run organization that seeks ways to reduce the school’s general maintenance costs.

Thomas said one of the reasons the school is faring better than some Philadelphia schools is because of dedicated parents.

“We have such a strong family network here that we were able to fill a lot of gaps left by budget cuts,” Thomas said.

‘Everyone wants this school to succeed’

Jose Peguero, whose daughter is a first grader at Cook-Wissahickon, is one of those parents.

“I believe in education,” Peguero said, explaining why he puts so much energy into his daughter’s school. “A good school is an anchor in a community.” 

Not only does Peguero go to most HSA meetings — oftentimes scribbling notes — but he also plans to volunteer his Temple fraternity’s services to the developing volunteer tutoring program.

The program is meant to fill the void of teachers holding tutoring sessions. Due to the loss of stipends and increased class sizes, teachers no longer tutor.

Haslam said peer tutoring began last week and the volunteer tutoring program for adults will be implemented on Nov. 29.

Although budget cuts have proven devastating for the school, Peguero said he would rather send his daughter to Cook Wissahickon than private schools.

“I wouldn’t be paying for what this school is doing,” he said.

Katie Katz, who owns Bernard Katz Glass, said she volunteers to teach art in her daughter’s classroom.

“This is our future,” said Katz when asked why she volunteers. “Everyone wants this school to succeed.”

The school’s main worry for next year is receiving an influx of students from school consolidation.

The Philadelphia School District recently included Roxborough’s Levering Elementary School in a list of recommended school closures. Under the proposed plan, Levering Elementary students would be reassigned to Dobson Elementary, Cook-Wissahickon Elementary or AMY Northwest Middle School. 

Although Thomas said she told superiors the school could not handle more students, she is unsure whether or not room will be made for more.

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