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SRC pressed to rethink school-closing process

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Supporters of Ada Lewis Middle School in East Germantown were unable to stop the closure of the school, which was approved unanimously by the School Reform Commission in June.

But their pointed criticisms of the process leading up to the closing seem to have made the District rethink its overall approach to school closings.

In April, the District released a draft five-year financial plan calling for the closure of 22 more schools in order to cut costs. However, School Reform Commissioner Martin Bednarek, at the August meeting of the commission, announced that no schools will be closed between now and September 2008, while the District seeks input on and finalizes a long-promised facilities plan.

When decisions about school closings are made, Bednarek said, “It’s not going to be some backroom process that nobody’s going to know about.”

Incoming SRC Chair Sandra Dungee Glenn added, “We got our eyes opened by the Ada Lewis process that this very clearly is not the right way to go about it.”

Backers of Ada Lewis, who spoke regularly at School Reform Commission meetings throughout the spring, charged that the District let the building deteriorate and then used high repair costs as an excuse to close it, and said the school’s dwindling population could have been boosted by putting new programs in place. They expressed frustration at the lack of response from District officials to their own research and questions.

“Do not act as if we’re part of the process though you know in your hearts that we are not,” contractor Hasan Lloyd told the SRC at its June 20 meeting.

Lewis Home and School President Arenda Bethel said that parents are exploring avenues for reopening the school as a middle school and as a magnet high school for autistic students.

The SRC heard complaints from parents that one other District school, W.S. Peirce High School, is closed to students this fall but did not go through the process required for school closings. A District spokesperson said Peirce students were transferred to South Philadelphia High School because the Peirce building was not adequate. The District has no stated plans for either the Peirce or the Lewis sites at this time.

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