Parents, students, alumni planning Girard College protest

Saying the voices of students and their families are not being heard, parents of Girard College students faced with the prospect of losing their school and home are planning to rally at the campus on Friday.

A group of parents, alumni and students are to meet at the campus at noon Friday, and are asking an Orphans Court judge to hear their plea to keep the high school program open long enough for current students to graduate.

Under proposed changes announced last week by the Board of City Trusts, which administers the Girard Estate, the high school and the residence program would disappear “temporarily” at the end of next year, leaving current students unable to graduate from the 165-year-old school and scrambling for a new place. The plan would need approval from the city’s Orphans Court.

Virginia Dennis, mother of 10th grader Brandon Dixon, said parents tried unsuccessfully to plead their case to school President Clarence D. Armbrister at recent mandatory parent meetings.

“They dropped this bomb on them a week before finals,” Dennis said. “Out of all these people, the Steering Committee, the Board of City Trusts, the managers, nobody had anything to say to us?”

Dennis said, parents were told Girard could sustain itself for at least another 20 years with its current finances. Given that, she wonders, why cut the high school program so quickly?

“All the parents of high school students had the same response,” Dennis wrote in a an email Monday to Orphans Court Administrative Judge Joseph D. O’Keefe. “Why not use 4 of those 20 years and allow the high school students to graduate. This is their legacy. Your honor, these kids did nothing wrong.”

The judge is on vacation this week, no hearing has been scheduled on either the proposals to the change the school, or any protest of it. Armbrister met with the Board of Governors Tuesday night.

Dennis said parents were told the school’s overall total enrollment target of 425 students would still be met, meaning students would be added to the K-8 program even as high school students are cut off. Meanwhile, parents were told if they couldn’t find spots for their children in charters or other private high schools, they should turn to their public neighborhood school.

For Brandon Dixon, a likely valedictorian who boards at the school during the week but returns home to Juniata Park on weekends, that would mean Frankford High School. His mother worries what that kind of a transition — from the shelter Girard to one of the city’s “persistently dangerous” schools — would do to him and his grades.

“At Girard, there’s zero tolerance for anything other than education. None of that stuff goes on at Girard,” she said.

In a June 5 statement, the Alumni Association said the plan would “change the very fabric of Girard College if the Orphans Court adopts it, and we believe it strays too far from the wishes of our founder and benefactor, Stephen Girard.”

“The current recommendation completely strips Girard College of its identity, and it may endanger very students it seeks to protect,” the alumni statement continues, saying the live-in option “removes children from potentially dangerous environments and gives them safe shelter to learn and become productive citizens in a more academically challenging setting.”

Some are also questioning the moves as being part of a larger plan to close or break up the school. In recent years, the weekend residence program was cut and there have been repeated layoffs and reconfiguration of staff.

Girard College sits on 43 acres near a point where Francisville, Brewerytown and the westward reaches of Temple University-related development meet. As the school operation shrinks, some alumni wonder, what are the long-term plans for the campus?

On Facebook, one alum put it this way: “Just my 2 cents: Girard is prime real estate for some exclusive condominiums and lofts with a private school for their kids.”

As part of its research last year, the Board of City Trusts commissioned a facilities assessment, surveying academic residential and support buildings. The RFP asked bidders to create eight possible future scenarios for the school, including the currently proposed one.

Some space on the campus is already leased, and over the years there have been proposals for other uses on the campus. In 2004, talk of a plan to relocate a city public high school died after protests.NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at

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