East Falls civic votes in favor of establishing a ‘Friends of Mifflin’ group

The East Falls community has pledged to partner with Thomas Mifflin Elementary in hopes of cementing the public school as a viable option for neighborhood families.

Members of the East Falls Community Council unanimously approved a motion to that end during the civic’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Monday night.

The Friends of Mifflin School Committee will operate under the umbrella of EFCC.

“The purpose will be to find out how this community can assist the school in its mission to teach the children who are eligible and will be attending the school,” said Tom Sauerman, president of EFCC.

Sauerman noted that in the early stages, neighbors will simply be there to listen. He emphasized that there is no specific agenda at the moment.

Community members packed inside the East Falls Presbyterian Church on Monday to show their support for the committee.

“I just can’t think of anything more beneficial to the school and the community,” said Cynthia Kishinchand, who has worked with the school for the past 17 years through the East Falls Tree Tenders program.

“When you have a good school, your community keeps families in the community,” said Linda Norris, a noontime aide at Mifflin. “We need each other to make it work.”

‘We need all of the help we can get’

Asked about the committee on Tuesday, Mifflin Principal Leslie Mason, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, said it was an exciting and important opportunity given the School District of Philadelphia’s ongoing and severe budgetary woes.

“We need all of the help we can get,” said Mason, who came to Mifflin in 2009. “To have a bunch of parents and neighborhood folk willing to band together is amazing.”

Mason said a core group of residents, staff and parents will sit down this Friday to start discussing the partnership’s goals.

Among other things, Mason would like to see an expanded music program and a playground installed at the school. Music lessons are only available once a week to students in third through eighth grade.

Preparing for a likely bump in enrollment 

The decision to work closely with Mifflin comes as the school is taking what many in the neighborhood view as a positive turn – a change in direction attributed, in part, to Mason’s presence.

The move also comes at the tail end of a tumultuous year for both the city’s public and parochial school systems.

Two resulting school closures will likely lead to a bump in enrollment figures at Mifflin.

Citing a need to right-size the system’s plant capacity and address ongoing budget woes, the District recommended in November that several schools close. The suggestions, part of the district’s Facilities Master Plan, included William Levering Elementary in Roxborough.

The school’s dwindling enrollment numbers and a lack of students from its catchment area landed it on the district’s list.

In late March, the city’s School Reform Commission, which had the final say in matter, finalized the closure with a unanimous vote. The SRC also voted to shutter seven other schools during a packed hearing inside the district’s North Broad headquarters.

An East Falls parallel

The St. Bridget School in East Falls will also close at the end of this academic year.

Declining enrollment and rising operational costs led the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to study its facilities and determine which should be closed and merged with existing institutions.

In January, a Blue Ribbon Commission recommended that St. Bridget end its longstanding tenure in East Falls and combine with Holy Child Elementary to form a new regional school in nearby Manayunk.

School officials unsuccessfully appealed the decision. A subsequent push by the community to keep the doors open was also fruitless.

The newly formed St. Blaise Regional Catholic School, however, does not currently have enough students to operate next year. A final decision will be reached June 18.

Mifflin Principal Mason told NewsWorks in mid-April that she expects an additional 100 students to be on the enrollment books by next school year.

If a mid-April open house at the Conrad Street school is any indication, a number of those new enrollees will be former St. Bridget students.

Mifflin Elementary currently has 249 students.

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