Reality of Levering closure sinks in for parents and faculty

Sadness has now largely been tempered by inevitability.

As Levering Elementary students returned to class Monday after a week-long spring recess, parents appeared resigned to the reality that the Roxborough-based school will close at the end of this academic year. 

After more than a year of speculation and multiple community meetings in recent months, the city’s School Reform Commission voted unanimously on March 29 to close Levering.

The School District of Philadelphia recommended in November that the school close as part of its Facilities Master Plan, an effort, aimed in part, at addressing ongoing budget woes. Levering’s declining enrollment and lack of students from the school’s catchment area landed it on the list.

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For Cathy Zajko, the SRC’s decision was bittersweet. As a life-long Roxborough resident, she is sad to see the historic neighborhood school close. Her second-grader, though, will now be heading to Green Woods Charter School, one of the city’s most highly regarded public schools.

“I’m actually happy that this opportunity came about because I might have not applied to the charter school and she wouldn’t have got in and I feel that’s a better school,” said Zajko as she stood inside the schoolyard.

Standing outside of her car on Monastery Avenue, Tara Broughton was a bit more upset. If the school had stayed opened, her daughter would have been the third family member to graduate from Levering. Both Broughton and her mother attended the school.

“My daughter has been here since she was two and 10 months. She’s now in the seventh grade and now she won’t get to graduate,” said Broughton. “She’s sad, but she understands. There’s nothing we can do.”

Broughton, though, wasn’t all that surprised by the closure. She sensed danger several years back when Cook-Wissahickon expanded from a K-5 to a K-8 school. Cook-Wissahickon students, she said, often headed to Levering after finishing fifth grade.

“When they made all the schools go to the same grade, there was no reason for them to come here,” said Broughton, whose daughter will attend Eastern University, an 8-12 grade charter school on Henry Avenue.

Levering’s first-year Principal Gina Steiner will also be looking for a new post along with the school’s 17 teachers. She’s already started looking over the list of vacancies.

“I’m starting my application process,” said Steiner, a 25-year School District veteran. “It’s about what will be a good match for me and the school community.”

As she sat in her office, Steiner said she’d been mentally preparing for this moment for some time now.

She did briefly attend last month’s SRC meeting, leaving after it was announced that two schools initially slated for closure, E.M. Stanton and Issac Sheppard Elementary schools, would not be voted on and would remain open next year. Levering’s fate seemed to be officially sealed.

The SRC voted to close a total of eight schools.

School District officials will meet with Levering parents on April 19 to discuss the closure and what options are on the table for families as they search for new placements.

“It’s going to be a difficult process from now until June,” said Steiner.

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