SRC faces a loud, angry crowd over school closings
Shouting, waving signs, and drowning out officials, hundreds of students, parents, and community members angry at plans to shut 37 Philadelphia schools lashed out Thursday night at the School Reform Commission.
"I have never been more disappointed in this city as a whole," said Naeemah Felder, parent of a daughter at Pepper Middle School, one of the schools slated for closure in June.
"I want to stay in my neighborhood, because McCloskey is closest to where I live," fourth grader Lamar Robinson said. McCloskey School is also on the closure list.
"AMY is a unique school. You will destroy it," said Dennis Dorfman, longtime counselor at Alternative for Middle Years Program at James Martin School. AMY at James Martin is slated to move to the Penn Treaty Middle School building.
"We know what you want. Stop privatizing our schools," an audience member yelled.
District officials have said they must close dozens of schools to save the nearly bankrupt school system, which has 53,000 empty seats.
The raucous crowd made the meeting a long, uncomfortable one for the SRC. At several points, the meeting came to a halt as audience members shouted: "Whose city? Our city! Whose schools? Our schools!"
When Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. noted the forthcoming celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the audience clapped and someone called out: "Education is civil rights!"
Even presentations to high-achieving students and employees being honored for years of service and heroic acts were drowned out. "We didn't come for an award ceremony and photo shoot," someone shouted. "We came to save our schools."
Kenesta Mack, a North Philadelphia resident and teacher at Strawberry Mansion High, decried the district for proposing closure of the only high school in North Philadelphia.
"Don't close us, but build us up," Mack said.
One by one, people trooped to the microphone to plead the cases of multiple schools: Robeson, Carroll, Strawberry Mansion, Fairhill, George Washington Elementary, Military Academy at Elverson, McCloskey, Duckrey, Gompers, Ferguson, Peirce, Whittier, Overbrook Elementary, Pepper, Germantown, Communications Technology.
One parent read a poem she and her son had composed about the closings.
Many said the SRC should consider a one-year moratorium on closings. Danita Bates, whose son attends Duckrey Elementary, pressed SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos on the issue.
"All of the inaction has caught up with the district," Ramos said. "I would be lying if I would give you hope that a moratorium is in any way feasible without doing more harm to the district academically."
Also at the meeting, the SRC voted unanimously to begin a nonrenewal process of Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School and to adopt a new five-year plan for vocational education in the district.
District officials said they were moving to shut Community Academy because of academic and financial problems, charges the school strongly denies.
The vocational-education plan has been in the works for three years. Revamping the district's outdated "career and technical education" programs is a priority, despite serious financial woes.
David Kipphut, the official in charge of vocational education, said the district would dramatically expand its offerings, offering 6,000 more students spots in vocational programs in five years.
Thirty new programs will be opened, including offerings in biotechnology, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, and pharmacy and veterinary technician studies. Officials said they would open a cutting-edge vocational high school, more fully involve business and community officials, and standardize the curriculum across vocational schools.
Officials did not say how they would pay for the new efforts.
Commissioner Wendell Pritchett commended the plan, which he called "a really significant advance."