Student safety a top concern, though few turn out for final day of SRC hearings
February 24, 2013By Judy Weightman
The School Reform Committee completed three days of public testimony on the proposed closures of Philadelphia public schools on Saturday. This final day of hearings was sparsely attended: not even all those who had registered in advance to speak showed up, and only about 25 people were in the audience, including reporters and security guards.
Seven people had registered to speak about three northwest Philadelphia high schools — Germantown, Parkway Northwest and Philadelphia Military Academy at Leeds — currently slated to be closed or moved. Of those seven registrants, only one, Eric Howard , a student at PMA at Leeds, appeared.
The Board proposes merging PMA at Leeds with the PMA at Elverson, near Temple University,
Howard emphasized PMA at Leeds’ connection with the surrounding Cedarbook neighborhood, saying the move “would have a negative impact on the positive effect we have on the community.” He also said the current location, which has playing fields across the street, supports the physical fitness component of the JROTC program at the heart of the Leeds curriculum. The third issue for Howard is safety. He said it would be unfair to move the students from their current, relatively safe neighborhood to a high-risk area in North Philadelphia.
“We’re not opposed to merging,” Howard said, “but we oppose leaving the positive environment” they currently enjoy.
Howard’s testimony was followed by that of two faculty members at PMA at Leeds, Joshua Levinson and Theresa Capecci, who had not registered in advance but were permitted to speak. Levinson also expressed concern about the safety of students as they travel to and from school at all hours, including after dark during the winter. Capecci said the facilities available at the current site, especially the gym and playing fields, are appropriate to the current program, unlike those at the proposed site, which was built as an elementary school.
Testimony was also heard on two elementary and middle schools slated for closure.
Orlando Acosta spoke about the proposed closure of Fulton Elementary School in Germantown, saying that though the school is under capacity, it would make more sense to move students in from overcrowded schools rather than closing it.
Sharon Mitchell, the grandparent of a Fulton student and a member of the school’s advisory council, spoke in favor of counterpropsal made on a previous day of the hearings. Under that proposal, Fulton and Roosevelt students would be moved to a section of the Germantown High School campus, adding a K-8 program there. Mitchell said that Fulton parents had pledged to clean and prepare the facilities at GHS if such a move were approved.
Danielle Floyd, deputy chief of staff with the School District, addressed some of the issues involved in the Fulton-Roosevelt counterproposal, including academics, cost and safety. She said there is concern about the academic performance of Fulton’s students, with only 24 percent currently meeting proficiency targets in math, and 11 percent in reading. Floyd pointed out that though there would be savings with such a merge, there would also be renovation costs, plus the staffing costs of adding faculty for grades seven and eight. She agreed that the plan would benefit students and parents with reduced travel time and increased safety of transportation.
Terena Clemens opposes the closing Kinsey Elementary School in West Oak Lane. She is the parent of a Kinsey fifth-grader and a member of the school advisory council. Her concern is that students would be scattered among many other schools — five in the original plan, now six. She said it was not clear what grades would be moved where, and said that families with more than one student at Fulton were worried that their children might end up at different schools.
“We are a family,” Clemens said. “Please don’t break up our family.”
Floyd said that it is school district policy to keep children from the same family in the same school.