Levering parents ‘devastated’ by school closing proposal

Parents at Levering Elementary in Roxborough are expressing disappointment and frustration following the School District of Philadelphia’s announcement that it may close the Ridge Avenue school.

Citing needs to cut plant capacity, address declines in student enrollment and an ongoing budget crisis, District officials this week recommended that nine schools be closed by 2014. Eight of those schools would be closed starting next fall.

While the SRC has the final say on the suggestions, part of a package of downsizing measures, those interviewed by NewsWorks weren’t optimistic that Levering would be saved.

“I’m devastated,” said Carrie Townsend. “I can’t imagine them going to any other school.”

Townsend, a Germantown resident, has two daughters at Levering – a first and a sixth grader. She said she was drawn to the school’s small classroom sizes and the one-on-one attention students get as a result.

It’s a situation Townsend said was hard to find and one she thinks could remain in place if top-level officials at the District took a pay cut. Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s hefty salary and severance package quickly came to mind.

“When I first read it I thought about her and that big bonus,” said Townsend. “That $65,000 could have gone into these nine schools they’re trying to close.” 

Mark Reynolds from the Logan section of the city was equally upset about the announcement. He’s seen his son Justin, a third grader at Levering, flourish since he took him out of a neighborhood school closer to home.

“He’s bringing home A’s and B’s and he doesn’t have to worry about fighting as much as studying now,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds said it will be hard to find another school that can match Levering’s attention to academics. He may consider sending his son to a charter school, but hopes he can avoid another school search.

“It’s unfair when you have kids that maybe deserve a little better education, a little more attention and they can’t get it,” said Reynolds.

For Roxborough resident Sue Hitchner, it’s about history.

“We’re trying to emphasize the importance of the historical value, the historical landmark of it being a school. The whole Roxborough, Manayunk community was founded by the Levering family,” said Hitchner. The school dates back to the mid-1700s.

As a member of Levering’s Home & School Association, Hitchner has been reaching out to politicians and local businesses since rumors about a possible closure were first spread to try and save what many see as a community asset.

“We’re going to do whatever we can,” said Hitchner, who has two students at the school.

Gina Steiner, Levering’s first-year principal, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

If the SRC approves the District’s recommendations, the school’s historic building would not be scrapped, but rather be used to house AMY Northwest Middle School, a 6-8 school that’s currently leasing space at a church in Mt. Airy.

Levering students would have the option to attend AMY Northwest in addition to Dobson Elementary, Thomas Mifflin Elementary or Cook-Wissahickon Elementary.

Most parents interviewed before school Thursday weren’t sure yet where they’d send their child.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Townsend.

“We were looking forward to him graduating from the school,” said Reynolds.

On Nov. 17, the District will kick-off a set of 17 community meetings it has scheduled to get feedback from residents.

Five elementary schools will be up for discussion. In addition to Levering, Harrison, Sheppard, E.M. Stanton and Drew elementary schools may close. FitzSimons and Strawberry Mansion high schools, along with the Philadelphia High School for Business and Pepper Middle School, are also on the chopping block.

Levering Elementary is the only school on the list from Northwest Philadelphia.

School District officials said the SRC will likely vote on the school closings, included in the District’s 31 plant recommendations, sometime in spring 2012.

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