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Lots of speakers, lots to say to the SRC about school closings, expansions

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

The School Reform Commission got an earful from nearly 50 speakers at its Thursday evening action meeting – the first since its March 7 vote to close 23 schools. And the closings were again a major theme.

● Carroll High School in Port Richmond is slated for closure. Students who wish to do so can transfer to Penn Treaty Middle School, which will be expanded to serve high school grades. Two students from Carroll, members of Youth United for Change, reiterated their call to move the entire school intact to Penn Treaty and asked for a meeting with Superintendent William Hite. SRC Chair Pedro Ramos responded that although Hite may meet with them and other groups, this does not mean the SRC is open to reconsidering the closing decisions.

● The SRC voted on March 7 to relocate Abigail Vare Elementary in South Philadelphia to nearby George Washington Elementary, which is to be closed. Two staff members from Vare said they were alarmed that District materials now talk instead about a merger of the two schools, which they say raises doubts as to whether Vare will move into Washington intact. Two District-led meetings on the transition process at the school this week were canceled at the last minute. “The uncertainty has left us all feeling deceived by the School District of Philadelphia,” said Vare art teacher Dana Jenkins. “Keep your word and relocate Vare. … This is what you voted on.”

District officials did not respond to the speakers, but spokesperson Fernando Gallard later said, “The District decided to reschedule the [Vare] meeting to be able to have more time to meet with the PFT regarding their interpretation of the SRC school-closure vote regarding Washington Elementary.”

● Parent and special education advocate Cecelia Thompson criticized the District for not consulting parents in making decisions about relocating services for special needs students from schools that are closing. She said that many Germantown High School parents “are satisfied with the level of service and support that they’re getting” and want to know whether they can follow their teachers to their new school. SRC Chair Ramos said he would ask District staff to provide an answer to that.

● West Philadelphia activist Pamela Williams asked whether the District had any formal process for appealing the decisions that were made on March 7 or whether litigation was the only recourse. She was promised a response from the District’s legal staff.

● A contingent from M. Hall Stanton opted not to speak in opposition to the pending plan to close the North Philadelphia elementary school, promising to deliver their testimony when a formal hearing is scheduled on the closing. In the District’s Feb. 18 revision of the school-closings plan, Stanton was added to the list of schools recommended for closure.

Also packing the speakers’ list were supporters of charter schools who want to see their schools renewed and expanded this spring — some pointing out that with District schools closing, the demand for charters will increase. The commission received testimony on behalf of MaST, Mastery Harrity and Mastery Hardy Williams, Discovery, Russell Byers, Folk Arts/Cultural Treasures, Global Leadership Academy, and Universal Institute charters. Twenty schools want to add slots this spring.

And one District school wants to expand as well: Supporters of the 391-student Bache-Martin School in the Fairmount section, along with principal Yvette Duperon, called on the District to expand the school’s catchment area so that it can serve students from all of Fairmount. Ramos welcomed the testimony but said this is a decision for District staff; the SRC does not involve itself in school boundary decisions.

The presentation scheduled for Thursday’s meeting on the District’s lump sum budget was postponed to Thursday, March 28.