‘Save Germantown High’ effort continues with a vigil and plans for Jan. 2 rally

Despite a lower-than-expected turnout, several dozen alumni and local residents held a  candlelight vigil outside Germantown High School on Thursday to continue efforts to save the nearly century old institution from closing its doors for good in June.

Spurred on by an upstart Facebook group called the “Save Germantown High Coalition,” about half of the nearly 100 people who RSVP’d for the event attended. Among them was state Rep.-elect Stephen Kinsey, a member of the GHS Class of ’76.

“We recognize that the weather may be a bit chilly, he said, “but no matter the weather, you still need to show [school district superintendent Dr. William] Hite and the district that you care.”

One of many

When the school district’s proposal was made public earlier this month, Germantown High was among 37 slated for closure.

Since then, it has been the topic of discussion at several community meetings, including one led by Hite at Martin Luther King Jr. High, a proposed destination for GHS students next year.

“To Germantown Alumni Association and supporters, I have received your requests and we will talk about Germantown business at Germantown,” Hite said at that Dec. 19 meeting.

Some alumni are gearing up for a future meeting at GHS. Others at the vigil claimed the announcement was a development “set up.”

“LaSalle is going to come in and build dorms,” said Charles Morris, Class of ’72. “This is a prime spot for anyone trying to build.”

For his part, Kinsey said tangible steps need to be taken to avert closure.

“We need to develop a plan and take it to the district,” he said. “We’ve listened to them, now they need to listen to us.”

Counterpoints offered

Among the arguments shared at the vigil was the point that GHS Principal Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi represented stability for four years after a decade that saw nine principals at the school, nearly 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, 30 percent are special-needs students and the school has been off the state’s persistently dangerous list since 2010.

In addition to that is a feeling among students that teachers and other adults at GHS provide much-needed support.

When a call went out for current students at the vigil, graduating senior Aliyah Muhammad walked forward.

“There are still other students who need this school,” she said.

Class of ’92 grad Marcy Bostwick noted that she has since graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Despite the negative view about Germantown and its academic performance” GHS helped get her into the Ivy League school, she said.

Responding to points

In the closing proposal, the district cited the under-utilization of space at GHS. The current enrollment sits at 676 (down from 819 last year) in a building designed to hold 2,600. As such, bolstering enrollment was seen as a goal at the gathering.

“We need to get more kids,” in order to keep the school open, said Glenn Simmons, Class of ’80. “We just need to keep trying to get them to come here.”

Kinsey shared an idea to transfer students from Fulton, Lankenau and Roosevelt schools into GHS, which would transform it into a K-12 school.

“We’re trying to create a strategic plan that can benefit all of us,” said Kinsley. “We can have the passion but it won’t mean anything without the action.”

What’s next?

With Hite’s promise to meet at Germantown, GHS Alumni Association President Vera Primus urged attendees to get involved in a sustained effort.

“A few people can’t make a lot of noise,” she said. “We need a lot of people to make a lot of noise.”

Noise will be made at a 3:30 p.m. rally on Wednesday.

“We will march from the school to Vernon Park in solidarity,” said Primus.

The next SRC meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17.

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