Northwest Philly reacts to Philadelphia school closings proposal [Updated]

This story was updated throughout Thursday.

Northwest Philadelphia is home to six of 37 schools which the School District has proposed to close by the end of the school year.

The schools slated to close are Germantown High School, Theodore Roosevelt Middle School and Robert Fulton Elementary, which are located in Germantown. Also on the list are John F. McCloskey and John L. Kinsey elementaries in West Oak Lane and Jay Cooke Elementary in Logan.

The closings would affect more than 2,600 students in Northwest Philadelphia.

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The School Reform Commission, which has the final say in the matter, is expected to make its decisions in March.

Meetings scheduled

Philadelphians concerned with recent school closures can go to a citywide information session hosted by the school district. 

The Facilities Master Plan Meetings will review the specifics of the plan and the timeline for implementation. Superindendent William Hite and other district officials will be at the meetings.

There are four Facilities Master Plan meetings scheduled in 2012. All are from 6 to 8 p.m., expect where noted.

For interested Northwest Philadelphia residents, a meeting on Dec. 19 at Martin Luther King High near West Oak Lane is likely the most convienent option.

The rest of the meeting dates and locations are as follows:

Dec. 15, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. South Philadelphia High School

Dec. 17, Sayre High School

Dec. 18, Edison High School

There will also be a series of citywide community forums for residents to attend.

The forums will provide information about the Facilities Master Plan recommendations and will give attendees a chance to talk to district representatives.

There are sixteen Facilities Master Plan Community Forums scheduled in 2013:

Jan. 8, Temple University

Jan. 9, Edison High School

Jan. 15, Martin Luther King High School

Jan. 16, Bartram High School

Jan. 22, Overbrook High School

Jan. 23, University City High School

Jan. 29, South Philadelphia High School

Jan. 30, Northeast High School

Feb. 5, Temple University

Feb. 6, Edison High School

Feb. 12, Martin Luther King High School

Feb. 13, Bartram High School

Feb. 19, Overbrook High School

Feb. 20, University City High School

Feb. 26, South Philadelphia High School

Feb. 27, Northeast High School

As word of the proposal filtered out into the community, many shared their reactions with NewsWorks.

A state representative-elect reflects

News that Germantown High School is slated to close didn’t “sit well” with State Rep.-elect Stephen Kinsey.

Not only is the Haines Street school part of the 200th Legislative District that he’ll soon lead, it’s also his alma mater.

“I live and bleed Germantown and Germantown High School,” said Kinsey.

Kinsey learned about the possible closure of Germantown on Wednesday during a private meeting with Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite and a delegation of state representatives from Philadelphia.He was a bit surprised. “I was under the belief that students at Germantown were showing some progress,” he said.

Moving forward, Kinsey said he’ll be on the hunt for more details about the school district’s plan. He’s particularly interested in knowing what school options Germantown High students will have for next year.

According to the district’s recommendations, students will have the option to transfer to Martin Luther King High School or Roxborough High School.

Kinsey is also concerned that, once vacated, the building will sit untouched – much like Germantown Town Hall, which sits directly across the street. He fears the same will happen with Fulton Elementary, which is also part of the 200th.

“We can’t just have that building sit and rot,” he said.

A Councilwoman reflects

Ninth District City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who represent parts of West Oak Lane, was surprised to learn that McCloskey Elementary may close at the end of the academic year.

She didn’t get word until she got back to her office following Thursday’s City Council session.

“I’m not very happy,” said Tasco, noting that the current network of schools in her district has “worked for years.”

Tasco said she’s particularly concerned about the distance McCloskey students may have to travel if the Pickering Street school building closes. But she’s also worried about potential problems that may arise if students from different neighborhoods transfer into one or two nearby schools.

“The whole dynamics of mixing all of these neighborhoods together could be problematic,” said Tasco.

Tasco implored Northwest Philadelphia residents to attend a public information meeting at Martin Luther King High School on Dec. 19.

The scene at Germantown High

On Thursday morning, parents were more concerned about the relocation than any of the students outside the High Street school.

An 11th grader who identified herself as “Lexus” got the news of her school’s closing in a text from a friend who goes to Martin Luther King High School Promise Academy.

“She said, ‘You know you coming to King High? ‘Cause G-Town getting shut down,” Lexus relayed.

MLK and Roxborough High are listed on the district’s proposal as locations GHS students will go if the school is shuttered.

Even though her daughter is graduating this year, Tinksha Nathaniel was particularly upset by the news.

“They claim they don’t have enough teachers so now you crowd them even more by combining schools?” Nathaniel said. “It’s not being said loud enough for a majority of parents to know… I don’t remember getting any information, any mailings or anything.”

Students and parents alike raised concerns about bad blood between students at Germantown and MLK as being an issue should the schools merge

“You want to send a bunch of kids from this neighborhood over to another neighborhood?” asked a parent who didn’t want to be publicly named. “It ain’t going to do nothing but cause more violence.”

Most students casually making their way to the school’s campus seemed uninformed and uninterested in the swirling rumors of their schools impending closure. Not so for alumni, though.

“It’s like being punched in the stomach,” Vera Primus, president of Germantown High School’s alumni association, said Thursday morning.

Primus, a 1971 graduate, is particularly upset that efforts — successful ones by her account — to improve the  school over the years may now go to waste.

“It seems like nobody cares,” Primus said. “They just do whatever they want to do.”

From Fulton Elementary

A parent at the nearby Fulton Elementary School, Felicia Crosby also gained word of school closures on the news. “It’s a good school, I went to school there.” But when faced with the possible closure she was unfazed. “I’m not really too concerned ’cause I can home school them.”

Home school was also on the mind of Fulton Elementary School parent Sharon Williams. “What else would my choices be but to home school? And, oh God, I’m not a good teacher at all.”

From McCloskey Elementary

Over at McCloskey, student William Christmas and his family shared a similar sentiment to that shared by Primus. They said the school is part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

“What the school district doesn’t understand is that this school is a part of our community, we’ve built relationships,” said Christmas. “We all know each other, know each others kids, we look out for one another.”

(Meg Frankowski/for NewsWorks)

From Kinsey Elementary

When parents Kodie and Stephany Azo dropped their two children off at John L. Kinsey Elementary, located at 6501 Limekiln Pike in West Oak Lane, this morning in their family minivan, they were unaware that the PSD was considering closing more schools.

“I cannot believe this,” said Stephany. “If Kinsey were to close, ideally, I’d send my kids to a private school, but that’s hard economically right now.”

The pair’s children are in second and seventh grade at Kinsey, and they report a positive view of the school and its teachers.

Roan Adderley, whose child attends first grade at Kinsey, says the PSD is “too focused on money and not the kids.”

“There should be more schools opening, not closing,” said Adderley, who plans to protest the ruling. “What are we going to do, bundle them up like sheep?”

He said the classrooms are already brimming with 25 to 30 students per class.

“This is about the people at the top making more money,” said Adderley. “It’s going to cause total confusion, especially for the teachers. One pair of eyes can only see so much in a classroom.”

Khadijah Burley, who has children in kindergarten and second grade at Kinsey, said she is upset with the decision.

“I’m really disapointed,” said Burley. “My kids love coming here, they love their teachers. I can’t believe it.” 

(Meg Frankowski/for NewsWorks)

2 p.m. Update

An hour after the school bell rang, seventh grader Teddy Clark was slowly trekking up the hill on Washington Lane to get to Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Germantown.

He started going to school here just three months ago. It might be a short stay.

Action United community activist Ted Stone handed Clark a paper stating, in bolded lettering, “Your school is getting closed!”

“The school district is closing 43 schools at the end of the school year and your school is one of them,” read the paper. “But we’re not letting them take our schools away from the community.”

Stone was also asking students and faculty to sign a petition to keep their school open and attend a rally at the Philadelphia School District Headquarters at 4:30 p.m.

“It’s discouraging to think that so many children are going to be displaced and have to catch the bus to other places where the savings amount to nothing, nothing at all,” said Stone. “It’s an inconvenience and its undermining school system.”

Though from Germantown, Stone didn’t attend the school, but said it’s important to address issues like this because he views it as a violation against the civil rights that was fought for in the sixties.

“The school closings are affecting the African-American and Spanish communities way more than it’s affecting any other community. That’s a violation of the civil rights,” said Stone. “We need to fight it again, we need to go back to the sixties and fight for our rights again.”

Jennelle Scott lives a block away from the Washington Lane school. She said she remembered hearing rumors that the school would close last year, too, and is worried about how the latest news will impact working mothers with longer travel times for students.

“What are the kids going to do? You gotta take them out of here and put them some place else,” she said. “They have to adapt to that, and the curriculum is not going to be the same, and the teachers are not going to teach the same because the curriculum is not the same.”

Scott said she doesn’t buy the budget-savings argument.

“The city got enough money to put up stuff that I care nothing about, I don’t care what William Penn looks like as long as it don’t fall,” said Scott. “I don’t mean to sound that way about my city, but you are taking money and putting it in the wrong places.

“You want the city to look good, but you want the kids to be dumb.”

(Aaron Moselle, Zachary Shevich and Yasmein James contributed to this report.)

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