Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Phila. SD wants to close 9 schools

UPDATE, 5 p.m.

Phila. SD wants to close 9 schools

UPDATE, 5 p.m.

Nine city public schools would close and dozens more would have grade and program changes if recommendations proposed by Philadelphia School District officials Wednesday are adopted.

With its population now under 150,000, the district has lost more than 50,000 students in the past decade, many to a growing charter school movement.  Officials have estimated there are 70,000 empty seats citywide.

“We need to aim for a more efficient footprint reflecting the times and the demographics of the city,” Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery said Wednesday.  “We need to align our resources in a way that benefits the education of our students.”

The schools proposed for closure are: Levering, Harrison, Sheppard, Drew and E.M. Stanton elementaries; FitzSimons High, Sheridan West Academy and Philadelphia High School for Business; and Pepper Middle School.  Most would close at the end of this school year.

If the recommendations are adopted by the School Reform Commission next year, these would be the first large-scale school closings in the district since 1981.

Also on the table are more than a dozen grade configuration changes that would take place over the next few years.  There are currently 25 different grade configurations, and officials want to move to standardize them.

Grades would change at Clemente, Cassidy, Comegys, Cramp, Gompers, Harrington, Lawton, McClure, T.M. Peirce, Pratt, Stearne, Whittier, Alexander Wilson, and Wright elementaries and Shaw and Tilden middle schools.

Rhodes, now a 7-12 high school, would revert back to a middle school.

After a series of public meetings, the School Reform Commission will vote on the recommendations in early 2012.

Monday’s proposed changes are not the end of the district’s “rightsizing”.  Officials had said that their goal was to shed 35,000 seats by 2014; the moves announced Monday would cut 14,000 seats.

 “There are multiple stages to this,” Nunery said.  “This is not one and done.”

Officials have not yet finished a plan for high schools and career and technical education schools – formerly called vocational schools – that will spur further changes, said Nunery.  That plan will come in the “next several months.”

Though many schools are up for closures and changes, the district still faces considerable facilities challenges.

The average public school is 63 years old - one school, Francis Scott Key, was built in 1889 – and for years, the district underspent on maintenance, and many buildings are in poor shape.

There is currently $160 million allocated for capital improvements over the next five years, said Danielle Floyd, the district official managing the closing and consolidation plan.

“Is that enough to address all the needs in the school district?  No,” said Floyd.

Going forward, officials will need to decide how much additional borrowing the cash-strapped school district can afford.

If adopted, closings would hit the city unevenly. Though some neighborhoods have thousands of excess seats, others are fuller, especially the Northeast.

Of the proposed closures, four schools are in North Philadelphia, two schools are in Southwest Philadelphia, one is in the Northwest section of the city, and two are in South Philadelphia.

Beginning later this month, the district will hold 17 meetings around the city to gather feedback on the planned changes.

For more information, including specific meeting dates and times, go to www.philasd.org/fmp.

EARLIER:

The Philadelphia School District has lost over 50,000 students in the last decade, and it has 70,000 empty seats.  Later today, officials will announce the names on a tentative list of school closings, consolidations, grade changes and other possible moves.

The announcement is set for 5 p.m. Today's School Reform Commission begins at 3, but the school closing presentation will happen while the meeting is in progress.  For the first time, the meeting will be livestreamed on the district's website.  You can also watch the SRC meeting on the district's cable channel if you live in Philadelphia and subscribe to Comcast or FIOS.

Of course, I'll also be live Tweeting, so you can follow along here, too.  Follow me on Twitter @newskag.

Officials stress that this is not a final list, and that the community's voice will be heard at meetings to be held through the fall and winter. The SRC will vote on the final closing list in 2012.

Read about a recent study on school closings nationally and what they mean for Philadelphia here.

More to come.

About this blog

Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

During the school year, you’ll frequently find her hosting live chats about the district on Philly.com.

Please do pass along the scoop about what’s going on at your Philadelphia public school; Kristen welcomes tips, story ideas and witty banter.


Kristen Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
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