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An anxious time

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

District officials cited financial necessity in their decision to close 23 schools. They pointed to long-term savings from fewer buildings and said the downsizing would stabilize the District financially, allowing it to focus its resources.

Massive school closings can also be terribly destabilizing. It would have been worse if Superintendent William Hite and the SRC had not taken 16 of the original proposals off the table. But the District appears to be in over its head. A few teams in the central office are struggling to manage complex arrangements for the buildings, their contents, their staff – and most importantly for thousands of students and families. Meanwhile, a quarter of all principal positions are in flux. Not surprisingly, lots of families and staff are anxious and upset.

Officials said there was no evidence that school closings would accelerate the flight of families from the system. They should be very worried about that prospect.

It’ll take skillful management to restore confidence. Here are some suggestions:

  • Postpone the two additional proposed school closings until next year. It’s too late and the District has too much on its plate already.
  • Make sure the student placement process is adequately staffed for the transition and every available option is offered to families. There’s a cost to the District for every family that flees.
  • Boost staffing to plan transitions for special education students. Lawsuits could be expensive.
  • Solicit contributions and partnerships to bolster receiving schools.

Finally, the District must show that it can listen. Decisions not to close schools like Strawberry Mansion and Roosevelt create opportunities. The District should sit down with these communities to envision schools that are more responsive than what is there now.

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