Parents offer counterproposal to School District’s closure plan for Levering

Efforts to keep Levering Elementary students at the school’s Ridge Avenue building in Roxborough took an unexpected turn over the weekend.

Following a District-led community meeting, Levering parents and staff got their final chance Saturday to voice concerns about a proposal to close the school during an all-day series of public hearings held by the city’s School Reform Commission.

In response to declining student enrollment and an ongoing budget crisis, the School District of Philadelphia recommended in November that nine schools close across the city by 2014. Levering, a K-8 school, was selected because it only has 184 students, only half of whom live within the school’s catchment area.

“We do not believe there is a population to sustain neighborhood enrollment in future years,” said Danielle Floyd with the District’s Office of Capital Programs.

If approved, AMY Northwest, a special admissions middle school for grades six through eight in Mount Airy, would move into Levering’s building. Levering students would have the option to attend AMY Northwest in addition to Dobson Elementary, Cook-Wissahickon Elementary or Mifflin Elementary.

Relocating Cook-Wissahickon to Levering 

During a joint hearing, Levering parent Julie Melnick and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary parent Carol Haslam introduced a complex counterproposal that they argue would keep families in the city.

Under the pair’s plan, Levering’s educational program would still close. Cook-Wissahickon, though, would re-locate to Levering’s building. The school’s respective catchment areas would then be merged so that Levering students could attend Cook-Wissahickon. AMY Northwest would take over Cook-Wissahickon’s current building on East Salaignac Street.

“The Cook program is going to be absorbing a good portion of the Levering kids anyway,” said Haslam, noting that Cook-Wissahickon is already too crowded. “This facility could house the whole thing and would be an amazing community school.”

Concerns and possibilities 

In response, SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos raised concerns about the logistics of pulling off such a plan. While logical, he said, the District’s collective bargaining agreement would likely complicate a consolidation.

“It would have to be negotiated,” said Ramos.

Ramos, though, told Melnick and Haslam that the SRC would consider the proposal. Floyd said she would look into the possibility and present the findings to the committee and public before March 22.

“We’ll commit to giving it a rigorous and thoughtful analysis before any decision,” said Ramos.

The newly introduced alternative represents another stab at saving Levering from closing. Following the release of the District’s downsizing plan, Levering parents and staff suggested that Levering could continue as a K-5 school inside its smaller building. AMY Northwest could take over the school’s larger, main building.

The District, however, determined that the plan was not a viable alternative. Based on current school statistics, a K-5 school would serve fewer than 100 students.

“What kind of education program would those students have?” said Floyd.

It’s unclear if there is widespread community support for Melnick and Haslam’s plan. Asked about the possibility during the hearing, State Rep. Pamela DeLissio said she’d be “interested in seeing it run up the flagpole and see what happens.”

‘It’s time that we have our own home’ 

Parents and staff at AMY Northwest didn’t address the new proposal during the school’s half of the hearing, but simply expressed their desire to finally have their own building. Since its inception, the school has bounced around several locations inside buildings run by other institutions.

“I think after all of these moves, after all of these resurrections, I think it’s time that we have our own home, our own entity,” said AMY Northwest Principal Marco Zanoni.

AMY Northwest is currently leasing space at St. Therese of the Child Jesus in East Mount Airy. The agreement, up in June, costs the District more than $200,000 a year. The District is interested in cutting that expenditure and giving the high-performing school a place to expand its enrollment.

Others that testified during Saturday’s hearing reiterated concerns about sending students to an unfamiliar neighborhood far from the school’s current location.

“It would create confusion and chaos for students and staff,” said Gail Turner, a former AMY Northwest parent.

The SRC is scheduled to vote on the District’s school closing recommendations on March 29.

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