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Hite faces questions about playground, turf wars, teacher displacement

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

by Connie Langland

Questions at Tuesday night’s forum on school closings veered from the general — what about Head Start programs in North Philadelphia? — to the specific: What will happen to the newly installed $300,000 playground at Taylor Elementary, which is now scheduled for closing?

“For 100 years, there was no place for children to play in Hunting Park. Now you’re taking the playground away from them,” said Ann Marie Pasley, Home and School president at the school, expressing dismay that the closing could come on the heels of such a major investment by the Hamels Foundation.

Plans for the playground are being studied, a District official said.

About 150 people attended the forum at Edison High School in North Philadelphia. Students from several schools scheduled for closing or relocation, including Carroll, University City and the Military Academy at Elverson, made up at least a quarter of the audience, which by turns cheered various speakers and jeered responses from Superintendent William Hite’s management team.

As audience members at previous forums last Saturday and Monday had done, members of this audience challenged safety director Cynthia Dorsey, who in her comments has urged parents and teachers to convince students to put aside gang rivalries in the proposed realignment. Audience members were not assuaged.

“My son — he’s an honor student, perfect attendance — he’s going to be put in a school he doesn’t want to go to, with kids he doesn’t want to be in cahoots with,” said LaTanya Glenn.

“We don’t want to create problems, to create gangs,” Dorsey replied.

The District is expanding conflict-resolution programs and taking other measures to stymie any flareup of gang activity, she said.

But Glenn persisted. “University City has had a beef with West Philadelphia for 30 years. Overbrook had had a beef with West Philadelphia. These children are not afraid of you, they’re not afraid of their parents. … It’s always the innocent ones who have nothing to do with nothing that end up hurt, end up in body bags.”

With several elementary schools closing in North Philadelphia, the fate of Head Start and Bright Futures programs housed in those schools is in doubt, one speaker noted. Will they be relocated nearby, or far from the neighborhood?

“Where are you going to put the 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds? For our low-income families, you’re offering up more challenges.”

Michelle Linder-Coates, executive director of the Office of Early Childhood Education, responded that plans are in the works, but that firming up new locations for the programs will be “last in the game,” depending on which schools ultimately close.

Theodore Yale, a teacher at the Military Academy at Elverson, said the closings raise the prospect of job losses for newer teachers.

“The message to teachers is clear: If you have options, get out,” Yale said in a strong voice that stirred the crowd.

The academies at Elverson and Leeds are to merge into the Philadelphia Military Academy and be relocated to Roosevelt Middle School, which is to close. Roosevelt students are to attend Leeds Middle School.

Hite sought to reassure him. “We need teachers like you,” he said.

Hite said his team had calculated that 37 teacher jobs, out of more than 10,000, would be eliminated as a result of the closings. He did not give a number on how many teachers would be displaced.

Here is a breakdown of the proposed closings and relocations

School to close – Facility to close (28)

  • Carroll, Charles H.S.
  • Cooke, Jay
  • Douglas, Stephen A. H.S.
  • Duckrey, Tanner
  • Fairhill
  • Ferguson, Joseph C.
  • Fulton, Robert
  • Germantown H.S.
  • Gompers, Samuel
  • Hill, Leslie P.
  • Kinsey, John L.
  • Leidy
  • McCloskey, John F.
  • McMichael, Morton
  • Meade, Gen. George C.
  • Morris, Robert
  • Overbrook Elementary
  • Peirce, Thomas M.
  • Pepper, George M.S.
  • Reynolds, Gen. John F.
  • Shaw, Anna M.S.
  • Sheridan West Academy
  • Smith
  • Strawberry Mansion H.S.
  • Taylor, Bayard
  • University City H.S.
  • Whittier, John G.
  • Wilson, Alexander

Facility to close – School to relocate (6)

  • AMY at Martin (co-located with Penn Treaty MS)
  • Carnell Annex at Fels (grades 7-8 to St. Bernard in Dec., then to Harding M.S.)
  • Lankenau H.S. (co-located with Roxborough H.S.)
  • Parkway Northwest (co-located with Leeds M.S.)
  • Phila. Military Acad. at Elverson (merged with Acad. at Leeds at new site: Roosevelt)
  • Vare, Abigail (to G. Washington)

Facility to close – School to be absorbed into another (3)

  • Bok, Edw. W. Technical H.S. (CTE programs relocate to South Phila. H.S.)
  • Communications Tech H.S. (CTE programs relocate as an academy within Bartram H.S.)
  • Robeson H.S. (programs relocate to Sayre H.S.)

School to relocate – Facility stays in use (2)

  • Motivation H.S. (to Turner M.S. building – current site stays in use as Penrose Elem.)
  • Phila. Military Acad. at Leeds (merged with Acad. at Elverson at new site: Roosevelt) – current site stays in use as Leeds M.S.

School to close – Facility stays in use (5)

  • Lamberton, Robert H.S. (facility stays in use by Lamberton Elem.)
  • Pratt, Anna B. (facility stays in use for pre-K)
  • Roosevelt, Theodore (facility to house Phila. Military Academy)
  • Vaux, Robert H.S. (facility to house a new elementary school)
  • Washington, George Elem. (facility to house A. Vare Elem.)