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Closing of Kensington Urban postponed a year

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

The merger of Kensington International Business High School and Kensington Urban Education High School has been postponed a year so that the community can be involved in planning for the change, District officials said Tuesday.

Superintendent William Hite sent a letter to parents saying that he was recommending delaying the merger until 2016-17.

"This planning year will provide more time to collaborate with students, staff, families and community stakeholders on the design for a new academic program at the merged school," Hite’s letter said.

The School Reform Commission had been scheduled to vote Thursday night on a resolution to close Kensington Urban, which shares the building with Kensington Business, effective in September.

The student organizing group Youth United for Change said the postponement was a partial but important victory. The group has rallied against closing or combining the schools, and argued that officials made the decision without any community input. They said that they only learned about the closing in April.

"We think our word got through to them," said Essence Whiting, a 9th grader at Kensington Urban. "We had an impact on their decision."

YUC was at the forefront of a multiyear effort to break up Kensington High into four themed schools that could give students more personal attention and support. The Kensington neighborhood has long been plagued with some of the highest dropout rates in the city.

The original Kensington High School building now houses Kensington Business and Kensington Urban. Kensington Health Sciences is located in what used to be an annex to the high school. Kensington Creative and Performing Arts, which has seen a significant increase in its graduation rate, is located in a brand new building.

Kensington Urban was the last one to be established, opening five years ago when KCAPA’s new building was completed. It has had the most trouble getting off the ground.

The school suffered from unstable leadership and lacked sufficient resources to make a difference for students, the advocates said.

YUC wants all four Kensington schools to become community schools, with health and social services and recreational activities on site. Proponents say such schools can help revitalize neighborhoods.

During the planning year, Kensington Business and Urban will share a principal and assistant principal. Postponing the merger means there will be less faculty disruption and no need to create entirely new student rosters.

Students will continued to be rostered in their current school. The offerings will be enhanced by a college preparatory track and career and technical education courses that had been planned as part of the merger.

"We’re happy they went back on their decision, but it is still a pressing matter and a threat," said Whiting. "We will keep pressing forward and keep fighting not to merge the schools and urge community schools."