Phila. School District to close 23 public schools
The closure of University City High School at the end of the school year may affect community service groups
March 13, 2013, 12:24 am·
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved plans Thursday to close 23 schools in the city at the end of the school year, including University City High School at 36th and Filbert streets.
Four schools that had previously been recommended for closure were spared.
“School closings disrupt students’ lives and disenfranchise our poorest communities,” Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said in a press release. “It is a misguided, poorly planned and ultimately ineffective action that will do nothing to improve education in Philadelphia.”
The closing schools are mostly neighborhood schools that have seen declining enrollment as students increasingly apply to charter schools and other programs that accept students from across the city. Over the past 10 years, district schools have seen a 23 percent decline in enrollment due to the growth of charter schools, which now serve over 50,000 students.
“Closing schools with low enrollment and others with declining achievement is a step towards more effective utilization of resources,” School District Superintendent William Hitesaid in a release.
Students at UCHS, many of whom come from the area surrounding Penn’s campus, will be able to choose between several other neighborhood school options. Lea Elementary School, at 47th and Spruce streets, will incorporate students from Alexander Wilson Elementary School, which is also closing.
“It’s unfortunate but it’s really necessary,” Graduate School of Education professor Jonathan Supovitz said. “The district is in deficit spending and many schools are under capacity. The unfortunate part is that schools are embedded in communities and communities have lots of both emotional and real attachments to their schools.”
Penn will feel the effect of the school closings largely through changes to community service programs that partner with UCHS.
Officials at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships expressed disappointment that they would be losing their partnership with UCHS, which began in 1994.
“We are very aware and have been meeting and talking about where to go from here,” Netter Center Director Ira Harkavy said. “[The] Netter team and school team and community are very much in contact.”
More than 30 Penn undergraduate and graduate students work as tutors and mentors for UCHS students through Netter Center programs, which encompass four main areas — the Student Success Center, academically based community service courses, Moelis Access Science and the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative. Harkavy said that while the Center will no longer be able to work with the school, it will attempt to maintain a relationship with the students who move elsewhere.
AUNI has enrolled UCHS students in some programs funded by the Philadelphia Youth Network and the Office of Minority Health Youth Empowerment Program. These programs will continue to follow their students — including those from UCHS — through graduation.
The closing of UCHS will also affect community service programs through Civic House.
According to Civic House Director David Grossman, it is too early to determine what specifically will happen to their partnerships with UCHS. However, he said they will continue working with other schools and students in West Philadelphia.
Community School Student Partnerships, run through Civic House, will be particularly impacted by the closure.
The Penn mentors are trying to follow the UCHS students as best as they can. According to CSSP Site Director for UCHS and Wharton sophomore Eric Shapiro, CSSP is applying for travel grants so they can continue their mentorships with UCHS students. The main determinant of the relationship’s continuity will be funding, Shapiro added.
“[The closure] will make it harder for us to stay with them,” Shapiro said. “But we are going to try.”
“The students have all thoroughly enjoyed working in the UCHS classrooms,” UCHS Assistant Site Coordinator and College and Nursing junior Megan McMonigle said. “[It] has been an extremely beneficial partnership for everyone involved.”
Beginning in 2011, the School District has discussed closing dozens of schools across the city. Since then, they have conducted community meetings and closed six schools in the summer of 2012. The 23 schools that will be closed this year is a decrease from the 64 recommended for closure last year.