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Beeber taken off closing list; District to study alternative proposal

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

by Bill Hangley Jr.

[Updated 7:25 p.m.] District officials have confirmed that Dimner Beeber Middle School is no longer a candidate for closure, citing community concerns and the presence of a potentially viable alternative plan for expanding the school.

That leaves M.H. Stanton Elementary in North Philadelphia as the only remaining candidate for closure. Officials said that recommendation would move forward. The School Reform Commission plans to vote on Stanton’s fate on Thursday.

A District statement says that rather than close Beeber, the District will instead propose reconfiguring the school for 7th and 8th grades only (eliminating the current 6th grade) and will explore the possibility of “co-locating” other school programs in the Beeber building.

Superintendent William Hite said in an interview that the District had been rethinking the Beeber closure for weeks. And he did not attribute the decision to — nor did he reference — the gunfight near Overbrook High less than a week ago that claimed the life of a 17-year-old student.

“Ever since we went out to the community meeting to see the proposal from the school that provided us with different ways to think about the school closure, we began to rethink the decision," Hite said. "Quite frankly we were worried about moving middle grades into a high school structure.

“The Beeber community provided for us an alternative proposal, and we think that proposal has merit. We wanted to buy some time to actually look at that proposal to determine what options we have for creating what could be a magnet program in that part of the city.”

Beeber has fewer than 300 students in a building designed for nearly 1,100, according to District statistics.

Samuel Reed III, a teacher at Beeber and longtime Notebook contributor, said he was “delighted and excited” about the decision. “They actually listened to our compelling case to keep the school open,” said Reed, one of a number of school supporters who testified on Beeber’s behalf at the SRC’s closure hearings last week.

He said he believed that safety concerns were also a factor. Beeber supporters told the SRC that they worried about the safety of middle school students mixing with Overbrook High students. District officials were unable to provide the SRC with a detailed plan for how Overbrook would be reconfigured to receive Beeber students, saying that such plans were yet to be fully developed.

Reed said he was pleased that Beeber’s supporters stayed focused on promoting their alternative educational plan, even after the shooting last week. “We didn’t throw other schools under the bus. We didn’t parade the incident at Overbrook. It speaks for itself,” Reed said. “I’ll give the District credit. They were able to look at all the variables.”

The District’s statement said: “District officials arrived at this decision after carefully reviewing the alternative school-led turnaround proposal, gathering additional facts about the proposed closure and considering many comments from parents, students and community members. In addition, the District will work closely with the school community to determine the viability of a school-led proposal that calls for turning Beeber into an Arts and Academics Plus Academy.”

Hite called Beeber a "quality location" and said the space might be used to locate an existing magnet program: “We’re thinking about other programs that have long waiting lists. Some of those are magnet schools with long waiting lists, or they could be other options. Or they could be a new school design. So there are multiple options there, like Beeber, then we wanted to make sure we were considering that as an option.”

The decision, said Reed, means that Beeber staff and supporters will get back to work soon on refining their Arts and Academics Plus plans. The school hopes to win a planning grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership to develop a detailed proposal.

“I think we laid the groundwork for making some lemonade out of lemons,” Reed said. “We’ll be getting together to start the next phase of this planning grant. That’s the next big phase.”

But even as Beeber prepares to move forward, Reed hopes Stanton is likewise spared. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.