The Germantown High School community is gearing up to “fight” the School District of Philadelphia’s recommendation to close the nearly century-old institution.
Less than a week after the news broke, parents, alumni, students and staff gathered at Germantown’s hulking High Street building to kick start what is expected to be a multi-month push to keep the school open.
“We will not let Germantown High School die,” said state Rep.-elect Stephen Kinsey, a 1976 graduate, during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Principal Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi made an appearance, but declined to comment as she has since the announcement was made.
Citing declining enrollment and poor academic performance, the district recommended Thursday that Germantown close at the end of this academic year. A total of 44 schools across the city may close or relocate as part of the district’s ongoing Facilities Master Plan, a right-sizing effort aimed, in part, at addressing substantial budget woes.
Post-closure, GHS students would go to either MLK High, its rival located on the other side of the neighborhood, or Roxborough High.
Germantown enrolls just 676 students, less than half of the school’s student capacity. In 2010, the school had 943 students on the books, according to the district website.
The Northwest Philadelphia school has also consistently failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement of student performance tied to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but supporters have cited recent improvements and a changing academic culture inside the building.
During an emotional meeting, organizers focused largely on one message: all hands on deck.
“When you have people in volume, you make a difference” said Vera Primus, president of the school’s longstanding and active alumni association. “Four or five people can’t do all of this work.”
Suggestions offered at the meeting as to what the group’s first task should be followed suit. They included door-to-door canvassing, creating a phone bank and reaching out to the area’s faith-based community.
The group is also planning a Dec. 27 rally at Germantown or at nearby Vernon Park.
Taking their case to the SRC
In the immediate future, Primus said Germantown High supporters should start attending School Reform Commission meetings, beginning with the one scheduled for Thursday.
The SRC has the final say on all closures, relocations and reconfigurations. The five-member commission is scheduled to vote on the district’s recommendations in March.
Several minutes were also devoted to discussing possible counterproposals to closing Germantown. Combining Lankenau High School with Germantown was repeatedly floated throughout the evening.
Lankenau High School has history with Germantown. The Upper Roxborough school was, at one time, called Lankenau-Germantown Motivation High School.
Students at Lankenau would, among other things, participate in Germantown High School athletics. That particular connection continues today.
The district has recommended that Lankenau co-locate at Roxborough High School.
“We need to find a way to get some other students in here,” said Kinsey, who will represent the 200th Legislative District, which includes parts of Germantown, starting next month.
As the meeting wrapped up, parent Edward Marshall, said he is optimistic that Germantown can be saved if efforts focused on getting more students inside the school’s building are successful.
“That’s, technically, the real reason why they’re closing,” said Marshall, whose son attends Lankenau but plays football at Germantown.
After the meeting, senior Aliyah Muhammad, one of only a handful of students in attendance, said she was encouraged by the evening, but she’s worried.
“I don’t want to go to Germantown, [then] it gets shut down, and I’m riding by here with my children and or husband in the future and I say ‘This was my school, now it’s a prison,’ or ‘This was my school, now it’s a supermarket.'”