Green Woods Charter works to clear up ‘misinformed rumor’ in midst of expansion plans

The Green Woods Charter School is still exploring a possible move to Manayunk’s Germany Hill, but the school’s leader says it is working to combat what she calls misinformation about the project.

Green Woods officials first met with members of the Ridge Park Civic Association in June for preliminary discussions about moving to a 1.3-acre parcel on Germany Hill, the 20-acre wooded area bounded by Fountain, Smick and Mansion Streets, and Parker Avenue.

The civic association didn’t meet over the summer, but reconvened late last week. At that meeting, the school — and the possibility of up to 1,000 students — was a topic of discussion, but Green Woods officials weren’t in attendance.

The School Reform Commission granted Green Woods’ charter expansion in April, giving it permission to grow to an eventual 675 students, in three classes of each level, in kindergarten through eighth grade. In order to do so, it will have to move from its current location off Hagy’s Mill Road in Roxborough, on part of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.

Jean Wallace, Green Woods’ CEO, said school officials decided not to appear at the meeting, in part, because talks with the property owner were still very preliminary and the school wasn’t yet in a position to answer specific questions. She said school officials thought the meeting would be for a continuation of preliminary discussions, not a public hearing on a plan which technically doesn’t exist yet.

“People were going to want to know specifics, and I don’t blame them, but we’re just not at that point yet,” she said. Also, she said, Green Woods officials are concerned about what she called “a misinformed rumor” printed on flyers urging people to come to the meeting.

According to the flyer, prepared by RPCA board member Marlene Schleifer, the idea of the school moving to Germany Hill isn’t objectionable in itself, but plans for expansion “possibly bringing more than 1,000 students” to the site are.

“If they have plans to have 675 students in grades K-8, I think there’s no doubt that adding grades 9-12 will push their enrollment to 1,000,” Schleifer said in an email this week. The civic sought to have the school agree not to expand past 675, but school officials are reluctant to make that commitment.

Schleifer provided details of an email exchange between RPCA board member Patti Brennan and Eustace Wolfington, Green Woods’ real estate advisor, in which the school declines to rule out future expansion.

“I do not feel we can limit our student enrollment nor the grade level of education,” the email from Wolfington reads. “Although we have no immediate plans to offer [high school] level education, it would be irresponsible for us to agree to close the door on that opportunity for our students in future years or generations.”

Wallace didn’t dispute that members of the Green Woods community have discussed the idea of a high school expansion in the long term, but said it’s not something they are currently planning.

“We were really taken aback by that (flyer),” Wallace said. “I would be thrilled, in the next six years, to expand to 675 students — I can’t think beyond that.”

“The idea that the community is focused on a rumor — and a misinformed rumor — of our growth to 1,000 is an unwarranted obstacle that seems to be getting in the way of honest dialogue,” Wallace said.

RCPA board members also expressed some frustration at what they say has been a lack of responsiveness on the part of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. and his office, despite repeated attempts to discuss Green Woods and Germany Hill.

Schleifer said she reached out to Jones and his staff in June, and again in August, seeking to talk about ideas including a possible land swap for some of the city-owned property on Germany Hill, and to share information about the school possibly moving to Manayunk, but to no avail. The Fairmount Park Commission owns about 12 acres of the Germany Hill site, but the rest is privately held.

Members of Jones’ staff did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphily.com.

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.