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District faces another large, passionate crowd on closings

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

Superintendent William Hite and other District officials faced another crowded and emotion-laden meeting Wednesday night over proposed school closings.

A day after some 1,000 people attended a raucous meeting at Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School, at least 500 teachers, parents, and students filled the auditorium at Edison High School in Kensington. Most pleaded to keep open or not relocate their schools, some tearfully. Many expressed anger that they had not been consulted before the recommendations were made. A line of speakers stretched to the door, and many in the audience held signs, shouting and cheering while speakers made their points.

The meeting was for the North-Central Planning Area, where closings, co-locations and grade reconfigurations will affect Carroll and Douglas high schools, Sheridan West, AMY@ James Martin, Penn Treaty, and Clemente middle schools, and Fairhill, Taylor, Ferguson, Clemente, Hackett and Cramp elementary schools.

Out in force were contingents from Carroll, AMY @ Martin, Fairhill, and Taylor. People also spoke regarding about the pending closures of Douglas and Ferguson.

Citywide, the District wants to close 37 schools and make changes in dozens more.

Carroll, a small high school with just over 300 students, is slated to close. But a parade of students credited the personal attention they received with turning around their lives.

“To some, Carroll serves as a second home. Why would you take that away from us?” asked one student.

A teacher cried as she told Hite: “These are my babies. Each and every day, no matter what is going on at home, they come to their second home, and they feel welcome and loved.”

Hite promised to visit the school and meet with the Carroll community to a great outbreak of cheers.

AMY@ James Martin, a citywide admission middle school in Lower Northeast Philadelphia, is scheduled to be moved to share space with Penn Treaty Middle School in Fishtown. Hite stressed that the school would be moved intact and operate separately from Penn Treaty, and that the larger building would allow the successful program to expand.

But teachers, students, and parents warned that most students would not make the trip to the new location, and many would probably seek admission to charter schools.

“AMY is what it is because it is in the James Martin location,” said a teacher who has spent 34 years in the school.

The officials made no formal presentation, but while people spoke, a slideshow was projected showing data from each school and the reasons for the decision to close or move it.

Hite praised some of the speakers for their good ideas and stressed that recommendations may change before the School Reform Commission votes in March. But he also reiterated that the District needs to close and reconfigure schools in order to make ends meet financially.

Several elected officials were present, including Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, State Sen. Shirley Kitchen and Rep. W. Curtis Thomas. Only Quiñones-Sanchez spoke, welcoming the crowd and urging them to be respectful. She promised to listen to them.

“I want to hear, I want to hear what makes your school special, what programs are needed by your children,” said Quiñones-Sanchez. “We want to shape what happens. We believe this is about the high-quality education our children deserve.”

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