Plans to save Germantown High from closing presented to district officials
February 12, 2013By Matthew Grady for NewsWorks
"We're taking everything into consideration, and are now thinking about the implications if we were able to move forward with these recommendations."
-- Danielle Floyd, interim vice-president of capital projects, Philadelphia School District
On Tuesday morning, representatives of two groups attempting to save Germantown High School publicly presented their plans to Philadelphia School District officials.
The two proposals shared at a meeting in the library of Fulton Elementary School — one of three schools in Germantown slated for closure by the PSD — would both prevent closing the neighborhood's high school and incorporate younger students displaced by their schools' closures.
Bring students into GHS
Hervolene Mitchell, a board member of the Germantown High School Alumni Association, lent her organization's support to a plan that would bring the high school's enrollment from 667 to 1,534 by sending students from Lankenau High School, Parkway Northwest and Leeds Military Academy to GHS.
A second phase of their plan would transform GHS to a K-through-12 by including students from Roosevelt Middle School and neighboring Fulton Elementary. That would bring the total student body at the GHS site to approximately 2,218 students.
This plan was mirrored by one presented by the Fulton School Advisory Council.
Speaking for this group, Sharon Mitchell proposed that Fulton School be expanded to a K-through-8 and be moved to GHS, thereby allowing Fulton students and staff to remain together during the merger process.
"We believe this is a safer option for our children because they will not have to walk a long distance from home," she said, adding that the PSD will save money by mitigating additional transportation costs.
She also pledged the participation of Fulton School parents in cleaning and preparing GHS for the inclusion of additional students.
Providing an explanation of the PSD's assessment process for counterproposals was Danielle Floyd, interim vice-president of capital projects. She said that there are currently 38 proposals before the school district from across the city.
To provide a uniform analysis, counterproposals will be evaluated on a handful of metrics such as academic performance, cost implications, conditions of facilities and building utilization, as well as measures of environment and safety.
"We're looking at the same criteria in the same categories ... to be fair," she said.
Currently, school utilization in Northwest Philadelphia is somewhat lower than citywide figures.
According to Dion Betts, assistant superintendent at the PSD, district-wide school utilization is approximately 67 percent. In the Northwest, it's 64 percent.
Floyd said that the counterproposals will be examined by officials from various PSD departments in the coming weeks.
"We're taking everything into consideration, and are now thinking about the implications if we were able to move forward with these recommendations," she said.
Safety remains a primary concern
Regardless of which plan is ultimately adopted, if either, safety was on the minds of many of those present at Fulton on Tuesday morning.
Addressing these concerns was Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey who said that she supervises more than 1,000 school crossing guards, and that efforts are underway to determine the best deployment strategies in the event of school closings and mergers.
Recalling her time as head of the 14th Police District, Dorsey stated that a "Safe Corridors" program brought crossing guards, police and community members together along the various routes that children utilized to attend school. She suggested that this as a potential model.
In addition, she said she is undertaking a risk assessment for all existing proposals, with the intent to prevent both violence and drop-outs in the event of mergers.
"I don't want to see young students going into the criminal-justice system rather than going on to higher learning," she said.
With additional hearings to follow, Floyd anticipated that all resulting analysis of counterproposals will be made public prior to the PSD's March 7 deadline, at which point final determinations will be made by the School Reform Commission.
Should closures and mergers occur, the district is making efforts to provide counseling available to those affected by the determinations, which could have significant local impact.
"Germantown is bleeding," said Stacey Wright, chief of staff for state Rep. Stephen Kinsey. "That really would be another big wound to what we're trying to fix."
Closing the meeting, Hervolene Mitchell expressed optimism for the future of her school and for the community.
"At Germantown," she said, "it's possible."