Northwest Philly school-closings debate continued with forum at Leeds Middle

In two weeks, parents, teachers and community members will have the opportunity to present their counter-proposals regarding the School District’s school closings plan to the School Reform Commission.

So far, 38 proposals have been posted on the School District’s website, including those regarding Germantown High, McCloskey Elementary and Leeds Middle School in Northwest Philadelphia.

Germantown and McCloskey are slated to close, while Leeds could expand its enrollment.

Last Wednesday was the deadline for parents, staff members and stakeholders to submit a proposal with any recommendations to be reviewed by the public, the SRC and the school district.

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Meeting at Leeds

Despite the deadline for proposals having already passed, Shelah Harper and JoAnn Seaver of the Germantown Clergy Initiative facilitated a meeting Thursday night at Leeds to get all concerns and recommendations on the public record.

If the district’s recommendations are approved, and students from the area choose to attend Leeds, the number of students on roster could increase from 275 to an estimated 1,100, officials there said.

Under the district’s plan, Leeds — currently a 7-8 middle school — would add sixth grade. F.S. Edmonds, Samuel Pennypacker, Emlen, J.B. Kelly and Wister elementaries would become new feeder schools.

‘We will be prepared’

Some attendees were concerned about that prospect.

“If you add additional kids to the neighborhood, you will destroy it,” said Kelcey Harris, who lives near the school.

Barbara Merrweth has lived across Mt. Pleasant Street from the school for 42 years. She said “there are already problems with the kids and them messing up our properties. … [They] should just keep Leeds the way it is and not make it worse.”

Leeds’ Principal Dontae Wilson and several staff members said the district’s plan is an opportunity for growth and that the school is ready to handle more students.

“We are optimistic and we will be prepared,” said Wilson.

Transition pre-planning

Wilson was asked if a transition plan will be in place should students choose to attend Leeds next year.

“We will have times for parents to meet our staff and we will plan for an orientation if the SRC votes for these changes to happen,” Wilson responded.

During the discussion, a heated debate exchange ensued between a McCloskey parent and a Leeds parent. Though those involved later deemed it a misunderstanding, Wilson noted that “we can not become school against school.”

“Our students have to be educated,” Wilson continued. “We have to partner together and let the district know that the Northwest community cares about their kids.”

Vern Moore, who is also from the Germantown Clergy Initiative and Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, added that “it’s one thing to be a part of the yelling, it’s another thing to be a part of the solution.”

SRC opposition

While safety, transportation and quality of education were also hot topics, attention also turned to whether the SRC is actually needed.

“We need to get rid of the SRC,” said Betty Potter. “These are people making decisions about the children in our community.”

“I bet the SRC is not worried where they’re going to send their kids in September,” said Sheila Johnson, a supporter of McCloskey staying put.

While the meeting left some people upset and worried, Moore encouraged attendees to be present at the next SRC meeting on Feb. 22. He also assured them that every idea and suggestion aired at the meeting will go on public record.

Prior to the SRC meeting, there will be another rally to save Germantown High School at Vernon Park on Feb. 21 at 3:30 p.m.

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