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Community members plan for future of William Penn H.S.

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

Ever since the District agreed to reconsider its plan to permanently shutter William Penn High School, community activists have been developing a proposal for the future development and reopening of the North Philadelphia school.

Last year, members of the Coalition for the Revitalization of William Penn surveyed alumni, community stakeholders, and residents to gauge feelings about its history and get ideas for how a new school might be able to serve students and the community.

A 10-page proposal details the school’s history, its deterioration, reasons for its reopening, and proposed future uses. It recommends restoring once-popular vocational programs and engaging the community by offering extended learning opportunities and space to incubate projects.

Supporters worked to reach a consensus around the community’s vision for a new school and continue to meet weekly to provide updates about the effort.

“We’ve brought a nice group together, gotten a lot of input, and now we’re looking to the next step of actually getting the work done,” says Bumni Samuel, who heads the coalition.

Coalition members will present the proposal to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman this fall. The District’s facilities planning committee is expected to review it and decide whether to recommend demolition, partial renovation, or total overhaul of the existing building.

Dozens of people testified before the School Reform Commission in June 2009, pleading to keep William Penn open. The District cited the cost of repairs and dwindling enrollment as reasons for its proposed closure but agreed to make the closure temporary.

“No one should be fooled into thinking that the failure of William Penn High School was a failure of the community,” said coalition member Ruth Birchett. “The enrollment has fallen because most of the unique programs that made students want to attend have been dropped. That’s a failure of the District.”

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