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District takes its school closing recommendations to the community

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

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

After recommending earlier this month that nine schools be closed, District officials stressed that they wanted feedback from the public.

During the first of 17 community meetings on their plan, they got an earful.

Images from the first community meeting

Get the flash player here: Photos by Jessica Kourkounis, Captions by Benjamin Herold)

On Saturday, roughly 100 parents, students, teachers, and neighborhood residents crowded into the auditorium of Roxborough High to discuss the District’s proposal to close down the educational program at nearby William Levering Elementary, redistribute that school’s students across four other schools in the area, and relocate AMY Northwest from Mt. Airy into the Levering building.

Lisa Corbin, the mother of a 3rd-grader at Cook-Wissahickon Elementary, was one of many who questioned the details of how the District’s proposal would be implemented.

“I don’t believe that this plan has been thought through in terms of the impact it’s going to have on families,” she said.

Corbin is worried about how her child’s already crowded school would accommodate an influx of new students if Levering is closed. Others focused on nuts-and-bolts issues like transportation patterns, Head Start programs, and neighborhood boundaries.

During the meeting, District staff presented reams of data to explain their proposal.

Levering currently enrolls only 184 students, or about 32 percent of the school building’s capacity. More than 100 of those students live outside of Levering’s geographic catchment area.

“This is not just suppositions or projections,” stressed Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery. "It’s based on real data."

Nevertheless, a vocal contingent of Levering supporters campaigned to keep their school open.

Sherry Scott was one of dozens who rallied at Levering before the meeting, then marched up Ridge Avenue while chanting and carrying signs.

“I don’t want them to close the school,” said Scott, the mother of one former and three current Levering students. “I’ve been happy the way the school has been there for my kids.”

District staffers said that they would seriously consider the feedback, including a specific “counterproposal” from some in the audience to co-locate Levering and AMY Northwest in the Levering building.

“You put an alternative on the table, and we will look through it,” said District Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd, who has been running the facilities master planning process.

But some, like Cook-Wissahickon parent Corbin, wondered why the District didn’t solicit on-the-ground input prior to making their formal recommendations.

“We could have given them this feedback before, but they didn’t come to us,” said Corbin.

New School Reform Commission member Lorene Cary attended the meeting and talked with parents throughout. Afterwards, she addressed the crowd.

“You live this, so your suggestions mean an enormous amount,” Cary told the audience. “We are here as an SRC to encourage the District to listen.”

The next community meeting on the facilities master plan is December 7 at West Philadelphia High.

Listen to Benjamin Herold’s radio report for WHYY.

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