Parents, teachers, students, community activists and elected officials again packed the Martin Luther King High School auditorium Thursday night with concerns, recommendations and questions for Superintendent William Hite and district officials regarding the plan to close 37 school buildings and relocate or reconfigure dozens more.
Similar to other school-closure meetings, many held signs, chanted and shouted cheers regarding the numerous Northwest Planning area schools involved.
Fighting for Northwest schools
Minutes before the meeting began, supporters of Jay Cooke Elementary School near Loudon and Broad streets chanted, “Stars are born at Jay Cooke.”
First in line to address district officials was student Shamar Haynesworth.
“We don’t want Jay Cook to close,” Haynesworth said. “We have a valuable school. It’s great.”
Melanie Haynesworth, Cooke’s Home-and-School group president, then said she was amazed that her son has taken such a vocal stand.
“It’s the importance of keeping the school open,” she said. “We have a health center there and numerous programs in the school. And if you close the school, those programs are gone, too. You have a health center where almost 200 people … still utilize that building.”
Other parents and teachers from Cooke — which is located in the city’s Logan section — spoke about the distance students would have to travel to attend other schools, neighborhood safety, test scores and technological advancements in classrooms.
Hours after Council calls for school-plan moratorium
Earlier Thursday, City Council voted 14-2 to approve Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s resolution calling on the district to wait a year before closing any schools.
Hite addressed this news to the MLK auditorium crowd.
“We appreciate the call for extra time,” Hite said. “We actually acknowledge and appreciate the fact that [the resolution included] acknowledgement that we do have to close schools at some point, but they’re asking to put that off.
“What schools? Well, that’s why we are having these meetings so that we can hear input about the original recommendations,” he continued. “The recommendations will go to the [School Reform Commission]. The SRC will decide on how we [respond to the] resolution from City Council.”
Pushback from community activists
Jasmine Rivera, southest regional director of Action United, and Ted Stone, of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), maintained that they offered Hite many suggestions in an effort to keep the schools open.
“We have had conferences and town halls across the city, and we proposed a plan on Dec. 18 at the school board,” Stone said to Hite. “Has the school board considered our plans as alternative means to close the schools?”
Hite responded that, “I’ve met with your organization on two different occasions. There are parts that we agree with. There are parts that we are going to pursue.”
Rivera said she was not satisified with Hite’s response, claiming that he is working to privatize public education in the city.
“In Cincinnati, they were facing a similar situation,” she said. “Instead of just giving in, they decided to get creative and they created community schools, wrap-around schools. So they utilized that extra space.
“Within one year they were able to bring up their graduation rate by 40 percent because they actually cared about the quality of education,” Rivera continued. “This is just giving in to what [Pennsylvania Gov. Tom] Corbett wants. Thirty-seven schools this year, then, what, 50 next year?”
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, and state Sen. Shirley Kitchen were in attendance, along with representatives from Sen. Leanna Washington and Rep. Rosita Youngblood offices.
Thursday’s was the seventh of nine public meetings scheduled to discuss the Facilities Master Plan.
It was the second (and final) session focused on how the proposal would impact Germantown High School, Roosevelt and Leeds middle schools, and Cooke, Edmonds, Emlen, Fulton, Kelly, Kinsey, Logan, McCloskey, Pennell, Pennypacker and Wister elementary schools.
The final public meetings will take place Tuesday and Wednesday nights at South Philadelphia and Northeast high schools respectively.