Sources say Germantown High School targeted for closing by school district

Reports are swirling around Northwest Philadelphia that Germantown High School will be one of the schools targeted for closing when the Philadelphia School District announces Thursday its list of schools to be shuttered or consolidated.

Amid reports that Superintendent William Hite “wants to close or consolidate 37 schools in the Philadelphia School District” to help close a huge budget hole, several sources say they are hearing that Germantown High is on the list.

The school’s principal, Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi, was at a “principals meeting” on Wednesday and unavailable to comment.

Rev. LeRoi Simmons of the Germantown Clergy Initiative, a group that has a close mentoring relationship with Germantown High, is among those who has heard reports that the school is on the list.

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Simmons, who is also listed as a contact on a Parents United for Public Education “statement on pending school closings,” told NewsWorks on Wednesday afternoon the group has heard that GHS is on the list. He cautioned that the news “wasn’t official.”

“Someone who looked at the list told us that Germantown is on the list for closure,” Simmons said, an assertion that a source familiar with the situation also confirmed to NewsWorks. “We’ve heard the school district is doing briefings with council people, throwing mud against the wall, seeing what’s going to stick.”

A report from NewsWorks content partner NBC10 lists GHS among 11 high schools to be closed or consolidated. It also cited sources saying 22 elementary and four middle schools appeared, as well.

For her part, Parents United’s Helen Gym “cannot confirm” that GHS was on the list, but that “some names are leaking out” about potential closures. The formal announcement is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.

‘A punch in the gut’

Speaking to the uncertainty, Simmons said, “It’s horrible that they’re not talking to the stakeholders, the people with children in the schools, the communities around them, programs like ours that have done work with students there for 10 years.”

Hearing rumors of Germantown High being on the closure list “felt like a punch in the gut. They could have called us. All the years of hard work and dedication are just getting thrown away? That doesn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s horrendous,” he continued.

The Parents United for Public Education’s statement echoed that sentiment.

It reads, in part, “schools closings should be a public dialogue not a backroom deal. … [T]he school closings process has been dishonest and disrespectful to the broader Philadelphia community and especially parents, students and families who have been blindsided by the pending announcement.”

The district has been weighing a new round of school closings since last spring, when a report from the Boston Consulting Group suggested that, in the wake of many city students moving to charter schools, the district was spending too much money on too many “empty seats” in traditional schools.

The consultants said the district could realize significant annual savings by closing and consolidating more schools.  The school system has been struggling with annual deficits of more than $200 million.

The district has been weighing options ever since under Hite, its new superintendent. Besides cost savings, one of district leaders’ stated goals is, whenever possible, to close lower-performing schools and move their students to schools that have been getting better academic results.

The Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating for Public Schools plans to hold a rally at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to protest the looming announcements outside School District Headquarters.

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