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Parents voice concerns with plan to save Levering School

An official with Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School in Roxborough said this week that a proposal to relocate the school to William Levering Elementary School next year has “blindsided most” of Cook-Wissahickon’s constituency.

“There’s been a lot of fallout from it,” said Cook-Wissahickon Principal Karen Thomas. “I haven’t heard any positive support for it.”

During a public hearing before the city’s School Reform Commission this past Saturday, Cook-Wissahickon parent Carol Haslam and Levering Elementary parent Julie Melnick offered the plan in an effort to keep Levering students at the school’s Ridge Avenue building and give Cook-Wissahickon more room.

The proposal and counterproposal 

Citing declining enrollment and a lack of students from the school’s catchment area, the School District of Philadelphia recommended in November that Levering be closed as part of its Facilities Master Plan, an effort aimed, in part, at addressing ongoing budget woes. Eight other schools may also be shuttered as part of the District’s downsizing proposal.

If approved by the SRC, AMY Northwest, a 6-8 middle school in Mount Airy, would take over Levering’s building. Levering students would have the option to attend AMY Northwest, Cook-Wissahickon, Dobson Elementary or Mifflin Elementary.

Saturday’s hearing marked the last chance for parents and staff to voice concerns with the move before the committee holds a vote on March 29.

“The Cook program is going to be absorbing a good portion of the Levering kids anyway,” Haslam told the SRC during the hearing. “This facility could house the whole thing and would be an amazing community school.”

Under the counterproposal, the respective catchment areas for Cook-Wissahickon and Levering would merge to allow Levering students to stay. AMY Northwest would move into Cook-Wissahickon’s building on East Salaignac Street in Roxborough.

Thomas said Haslam and Melnick’s three-site solution isn’t completely without merit, but that it’s too late in the process to give it an honest look.

“It’s a lot to consider at the 11th hour,” said Thomas. “It might have been something worth considering a year ago. But we’re done with the process at this point. Now we’re just waiting for a vote.”

A special meeting will be held at the school on March 12 at 5:45 p.m. to discuss the proposal, she said.

Mixed reaction from Cook-Wissahickon

Cook-Wissahickon parents interviewed by NewsWorks outside of the school Wednesday had mixed feelings about the counterproposal. None of them had previously heard of it.

JoAnn Rogan, who has two sons at the school, was not pleased when she learned about the logistics of the plan. She said Cook-Wissahickon’s current location is better suited to serve a neighborhood school as opposed to a special admissions school like AMY Northwest.

“This is a neighborhood school. Keep it a neighborhood school,” said Rogan. “Levering is on Ridge Avenue, which is more of a corridor.”

Rogan was also concerned that a move might mean losing some of the school’s “amazing” teaching staff.

Sandy Henley, a father with two daughters at Cook-Wissahickon, was worried about possible overcrowding at a relocated Cook-Wissahickon.

“My concern is always kids not getting what they need as far as attention and education,” said Henley. “The less kids you have in the class, the more attention they can get.”

Levering currently has 184 students, which represents less than a third of the building’s capacity. A re-located Cook-Wissahickon, however, could still not absorb Levering’s entire enrollment.

While the plan seemed a bit dizzying to other parents, like Gina Ash, many didn’t outright oppose the move.

Ash, a former Levering student, says she’s OK with the plan, “as long as it’s good teaching and my son’s learning what he should.”

Levering parents cite overcrowding concerns 

Parents over at Levering Elementary, though, were a bit more concerned than Ash about the move. Many were worried that bringing Cook-Wissahickon in would rid the school of its primary appeal: small classroom sizes.

Jacinta Puckett enrolled her son, now a first-grader, at the school for that reason. “The children get the attention they deserve [here],” said Puckett.

Puckett said she’d look into other schools if the new plan means more crowded classrooms and is approved without adding more teachers.

Chalee Supplee, whose son is in kindergarten, shared some of Puckett’s concerns.

“They’re class sizes are in the high-twenties, almost thirties. And while this school probably could house all of them, it’s a lot of kids,” said Supplee. “My son’s class only has ten kids in his class. It’s really great for holidays and birthdays.”

Supplee said she has an application in at a charter school, but would likely stay at Levering if the new plan was adopted. Still, she’d prefer the School District leave Levering alone.

“That would be my wish – for everything to just stay the same and we all go ‘OK. That was funny to ponder, but now it’s all over and everyone can get back to their normal routine,'” said Supplee.

Principal Gina Steiner, in her first year at Levering, is supportive of plan. Though it might still mean she loses her job, she said it would be a win-win for the Roxborough community.

AMY Northwest parents have safety and traffic concerns 

Since learning about the details of the District’s proposal, AMY Northwest parents have raised a few transportation concerns. Moving the school to Roxborough, they’ve argued, would be a hassle and potentially present some safety concerns as students navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood with other schools nearby.

The District is interested in moving AMY Northwest so that its program has room to grow and so it can save spending money on a lease. The District currently has an agreement with St. Therese of the Child Jesus which costs them more than $200,000 a year.

“It stinks,” said Rita Salazar about the School District’s proposal on Thursday afternoon.

That said, it doesn’t matter much if AMY Northwest would move to Levering or Cook-Wissahickon’s building. Her grandson would still have to attend a school outside of the neighborhood.

“They’re still moving over to Roxborough,” she said.

Alfred Walker said he hasn’t visited either Levering or Cook-Wissahickon, but isn’t upset with the move. He runs a barbershop out of his West Oak Lane home and would be around to pick his son up from school no matter where he’s enrolled.

“I may be a minority, but for me, them transferring over isn’t an issue,” said Walker. “As long as it’s under the same structure that it has now, I think it’ll be fine.”

After Saturday’s hearing, Principal Marco Zanoni said it’s simply time for AMY Northwest to have its own building.

Next steps 

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos told Haslam and Melnick during Saturday’s hearing that the committee would give the plan a “rigorous and thoughtful analysis before any decision.” This, despite his reservations that a consolidation would be complicated with the District’s collective bargaining agreement.

Danielle Floyd with the District’s Office of Capital Programs said at the same meeting that she would look into the plan and present it to the committee and public before March 22.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said Thursday that the District shares Ramos’ initial apprehension. “His concerns reflect the concerns of the District,” said Gallard.

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