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Update: What’s going on with the District’s closings plan?

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

In June, the District will close 24 schools for good, displacing about 14,000 students. Since the School Reform Commission voted in March in favor of the closings, many parents and students have been concerned about whether transition plans will go smoothly.

The Notebook asked the District’s Chief of Student Services Karyn Lynch, by email, for an update about the closings process regarding safety plans, teacher placement, student placement, and the preparation at receiving schools.

South Philadelphia High School principal Otis Hackney also gave his perspective about the safety concerns that some have expressed regarding Southern as the receiving school for Bok Technical, which is closing.

Notebook: How is the District doing in terms of its transition plans?

Karyn Lynch: The District’s transition plan for closing and receiving schools will continue throughout the summer. Examples of work completed to date:

  • Hosted individual school-level meetings for families and students, and for staff impacted by the closing, relocation, or merging of schools. To date, all of our impacted schools have hosted a meeting for students and parents, and all but two of our schools have had their staff meetings.
    Conducted a new school enrollment process for students at schools identified to close, relocate, or merge. The District will complete the new school enrollment process in the next week to 10 days.
    Reviewed all receiving school facilities and commenced work to improve facilities for opening.
    Relocated programs in a manner that allows for a continuum of support for our students in special education programs, and scheduled parent and student visits to their new schools.
    Ensured that supportive services follow students to their new schools through continual conversations with city agencies and partners.
    Identified summer programs operated by our partners that minimize the potential conflict associated with facility upgrades and moves. This means that we can continue to provide students with summer opportunities while keeping ourselves on track for school opening.

Notebook: How are things regarding teacher placement? Will teachers follow their students?

Lynch: In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement, teachers will be offered a "Right to Follow" to the schools receiving their students when a vacancy is created as a result of student reassignment. Teachers will receive notice about "Right to Follow" in early June.

Notebook: Have all student reassignments been made?

Lynch: The new school enrollment process should be complete in the next week to 10 days. In many instances, parents had the opportunity to select one of several options for their child. With space and qualifications permitting we have aimed to give students and parents their first choice school. Parents should begin to receive their letters next week. Parents can track the status of when letters are mailed by checking the District website (www.philasd.org) next week.

Notebook: Are the receiving schools ready for the influx of students from the schools that will close?

Lynch: Efforts are moving rapidly to ensure schools are ready for the increased number of students from schools that will close. Building and program improvements at receiving schools are well underway, and renovations have begun.

For several schools — McMichael and Rhodes Elementary, Martin Luther King and Bartram High Schools — the bulk of the work will commence after the school year ends and schools are empty.

Services and programs will also be in receiving schools when students arrive in the fall. The District has worked with the Department of Human Services’ out-of-school-time staff to ensure that there are afterschool programs in receiving schools. Thanks to the Department of Behavioral Health, students receiving behavioral health services will continue to receive services in their new schools. The United Way and Public Citizens for Children and Youth have partnered to raise money to ensure each receiving school has funds to host an event to bring closing and receiving school students together before the start of the new school year. After School Activities Partnership is another organization working to relocate after school activities from closing schools to receiving schools.

Notebook: There was some concern among students at South Philadelphia High about students coming from Bok. What types of things have been done in dealing with those concerns?

Lynch: Bok and South Philadelphia High School have jointly begun working on the transition. Principal Otis Hackney has visited Bok and spoken with its students, grades 9-11, regarding the move, as well as members of Bok’s student government. Just last week, Southern had about 15 Bok students tour the entire building with the principal, and learn more about the CTE programs that will be offered at Southern next year. In weeks to come, students can apply for the Spring Outward-Bound program for 30 students (15 students from Bok and 15 from Southern), to participate in teambuilding and leadership training. In the fall, there is a proposal to take the entire 9th grade, in small groups over the course of several days, to do teambuilding. Budget permitting, open houses will be hosted during August for parents and students to tour the building. South Philadelphia’s current safety team is already planning, with support from the Philadelphia Police Department, for safe corridors to ensure student safety as they travel to and from school.

The school will continue to work with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on diversity training for students and staff.

Southern expects to participate in the International Institute for Restorative Practices initiative. This training will be primarily for staff to support the development and maintenance of a positive school climate and culture. Since adults in the school set the tone, Southern will focus on relationship building among students, and between students and staff.

South Philadelphia High will also continue to ensure equity and access for our multilingual families by utilizing translation and interpretation services to adequately communicate and provide targeted services/supports.

Southern Principal Otis Hackney: The adults in the building must work very hard to openly embrace our new students while not alienating our current students. My students are ready and open to receive their new classmates. They do not desire to go back to the climate of years past. In my speaking with students from Bok they have the same concerns, so I am trying to assure them that many things have changed for the better here at Southern, and that we believe in "high expectations with high support." I try to model this philosophy everyday for my students and staff. The buy-in is high. All of my students will receive the best that we have to offer next year and for years to follow. There will be an adjustment period, but I know that the new Southern High School will be better, as this merger will only add value to how we are currently progressing towards creating a climate for learning.

Southern will continue to work in partnership with community-based organizations such as the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition, Inc. (SEAMAAC) to help to address interpersonal relationships among students.

Thanks to SEAMAAC’s leadership and partnership, we will implement the Resiliency through Faith, Hope and Action (RFHA) project, which was selected to receive funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. According to SEAMAAC Executive Director Thoai Nguyen and Education Department Co-director Nicole Yarbrough, the project’s mission is to ‘build community leadership with a racially diverse group of youth and their families, and equip them with specific skills for mediation, restorative justice practices for racial healing, and genuine understanding of each other’s races and cultures.’

Notebook: What are the District’s plans to ensure student safety in general?

Lynch: Similar to the safety plan described for South Philadelphia High School, each receiving school’s safety plan includes the school principal’s assessment of the school’s safety and climate requirements, the Office of School Safety’s review, and input from public safety agencies across the city. Plans include:

  • Mapping routes to and from receiving schools with identified "hot spots" to determine the best route for students to travel. Additional resources will be provided to ensure student safety and protection. These resources could include a redeployment of school crossing guards and strategically staffing police officers at "hot spots."
    To improve the climate within schools, schools are conducting activities throughout the spring and summer to introduce and integrate new students from closing schools with students in receiving schools. To create systemic change schools are participating in regularly scheduled “joint safety” meetings with city partners, and attending professional development for climate. We have begun to match school climate with available resources.