Northwest Philadelphia community reacts to second round of school closure talks

At this time last year, parents were being informed about potential school closings throughout the Philadelphia School District.

Now, in a second wave of meetings, the School District is starting to address another round of expected closures. 

Tempers flared last night at Center in the Park in Germantown as teachers, parents, and community leaders came out to hear why more schools are on the chopping block, this time at a much higher rate.

According to Danielle Floyd, the School District’s Deputy for Strategic Initiatives, the specific number of closings has not been decided yet but she said there will be ‘anywhere from 29 to 59 closings’. 

The news sparked frustration in the crowd of nearly 50 people. Whispers of confusion and distrust echoed as officials tried to explain the purpose of the evening’s agenda.

‘This is about fiscal responsibility’ 

In an attempt to collect as much feedback as possible, the forum included an overview of the plan, a Q&A via Powerpoint and interactive group discussions.

“We understand the importance that school closings have on the community,” said SRC member Joe Dworetzky.

Superintendent William Hite followed suit stating, “this is about fiscal responsibility. We are paying for empty seats when we can put that money into students.”

The five-year goal is to close low performing and underutilized schools, possibly merge some elementary and middle schools into one K-8 structure and change school choice assignment by letting students choose schools they want to attend beyond their address limitation.

But not everyone was on board with the plan. 

“If they are going to close all of these schools, how will our children learn in bigger class sizes when the ones they are in now are already oversized?” said Germantown resident Jackie Williams.

Adding to her frustration, she added, “it’s a potential safety risk, too, because kids from one neighborhood will have to go into another neighborhood they may be unfamiliar with and this can pose a potential rivalry scuffle between kids and transportation problems.”

Who is accountable?

The forum continued on with guests answering a few questions as a group by using clickers found on their tables.

When the crowd was asked ‘which of the following do you think most contributes to the poor academic performance of a school?,’ 53 percent responded with principals, teachers and staff, 22 percent responded with the SDP administration and three percent said it was attributed to the school building itself. 

This triggered another surge of frustration in the room. 

“It is not all of the teachers’ fault,” said a flustered Karel Kilimnik. “We need to really dig into this, little by little.”

One teacher at the meeting argued, “It’s a collective effort from teachers, parents and the community and where I teach, some parents only come around when there is a crisis.”

After answering questions as an entire group, attendees were split up by tables to give more detailed feedback to the plan. There were mixed emotions surfacing at each table.

Some comments overheard at the tables included, “it’s very hard to believe the district when they say they want everything to be equal,” mixed with, “but look what happened to Stanton and Sheppard, they remained open.”

Optimism mixed with confusion 

A bit of optimism was shared by sponsors involved in the plan as well.

Philadelphia Education Fund’s Director of Civic Engagement Brian Armstead noted, “We actually believe this Leadership is sincere about listening to you and your suggestions.”

Owen Franklin of Portfolio Associates added, “We want to make sure you have a voice in key decisions being made during this process. We use these forums as data sources and we take them very seriously.”

By the end of the meeting, some attendees left confused, with unanswered questions.

“Not sure what we’re doing at this meeting,” said Lisa Haver of East Oak Lane. And furthermore, “what constitutes a failing school?”

More information about which schools will be recommended for closing is expected by late November. Decisions on which schools will close are expected by March 2013.

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