School Reform Commission votes to close Levering; AMY Northwest to move in

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

The 5-0 vote by the city’s School Reform Commission Thursday night sealed the fate of William Levering Elementary in Roxborough. After more than a year of speculation and multiple community meetings in recent months, the Ridge Ave. school is now officially set to close after this school year. 

“I knew it was coming, but I’m still disappointed by it,” said Levering parent Sue Hitchner following the vote. “For me, I’m kind of numb right now. I’m very sad to see it go.”

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.

Now that the plan is approved, AMY Northwest, a special admissions middle school in Mount Airy, will move into Levering’s building. Levering students will have the option of attending AMY Northwest, Cook-Wissahickon, James Dobson or Thomas Mifflin elementary schools.

Hitchner, who has a son and a daughter at Levering, said she’ll look to enroll her children at AMY Northwest. If that proves unsuccessful, she plans on home-schooling the pair.

Fellow Levering parent Julie Anna Melnick, who testified in front of the SRC before a packed room inside School District headquarters on North Broad St. on Thursday night, wasn’t sure where she will end up sending her daughter.

“I can’t say exactly what I’m going to do,” said Melnick, who was perhaps the most vocal and visible member of the Levering community during the closure process. “I’m not going to rule anything out.”

Last-ditch efforts 

At an SRC hearing earlier this month, Melnick and Cook-Wissahickon parent Carol Haslam suggested relocating Cook-Wissahickon to Levering’s building. Under that plan, AMY Northwest would take over Cook-Wissahickon’s building up the road on East Salaignac Street.

That proposal was ultimately tabled by members of the Cook-Wissahickon community and was never sent to the school district for consideration.

Melnick, along with Hitchner, was also part of a contingent of Levering parents that proposed that Levering and AMY Northwest co-locate at Levering. That proposal was reviewed by district officials, but was ultimately deemed unfeasible.

Immediately following Thursday night’s vote, an emotional Melnick had few words, simply saying “I failed the students, the teachers; I failed Levering.”

Gina Steiner, Levering’s first-year principal, was not immediately available for comment.

An emotional journey 

Marco Zanoni, AMY Northwest’s principal, was unable to attend the vote and learned about his school’s fate through NewsWorks. 

“Oh wow,” said Zanoni. “It’s been an emotional journey all year for a lot of people. We were very comfortable on our campus. I hate to leave St. Therese [of the Child Jesus] and the community, but I think it’s time for us to evolve and move into a better facility.”

The SRC also voted Thursday to close seven other schools. They are: FitzSimons and Rhodes High School, Drew and Harrison elementaries, Pepper Middle School, the Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology, and the Sheridan West Academy. 

E.M. Stanton and Isaac Sheppard elementaries, also both suggested for closure, were spared and will remain open. The SRC unanimously voted not to consider those schools for closure Thursday night.

More closures to come 

Thursday’s vote, however, will not be the last with regards to shuttering school district buildings. Several more schools will need to be closed over the next three or four years as the school district continues to face severe budget deficits.

Near the start of meeting, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudson said the district is expected to face a $186 million budget hole next year. The district also must cut $26 million by June.

“We have to take everything we’ve learned through this process and act urgently to figure out a way, over the next few years, to take those resources and put them back in the hands of teachers, principals and school communities. It’s absolutely necessary. We can’t afford to have so much excess capacity,” said SRC Commissioner Pedro Ramos.

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