Nine Philadelphia schools targeted for closure

Facilities Master Plan subject to revision

· November 9, 2011, 12:35 am   ·  Updated November 9, 2011, 1:40 am

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Nine public schools across the Philadelphia school district are proposed to close or phase out beginning at the end of this school year. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission released the fourth phase of the Facilities Master Plan last week, naming among them Drew Elementary, a University City school just north of Penn’s campus at 3724 Warren St. All nine schools are cited for under-utilization, meaning schools were not occupying enough of their buildings.

The Master Plan is open to revision, and the plan’s recommendations will be voted on by Spring 2012. In the recommendations for the plan, students currently at Drew Elementary are suggested to switch to other schools in the area such as Powel Elementary, two blocks north of Drew, and Martha Washington Elementary at 766 N. 44th St.

Most schools near Penn’s campus, with the exception of Drew Elementary, are not affected by the Master Plan. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a website dedicated to reporting the events of Philadelphia public schools, noted that West Philadelphia’s councilwoman Jannie Blackwell had anticipated many more closings than the one school announced.

On the other end of the spectrum, Penn Alexander School on 42nd and Spruce streets faces an overcrowding problem in its lower K-4 grades.

A West Philadelphia community member who asked not to be identified because of her involvement in the local education system suggested that Penn Alexander’s immunity to the vacancy trend has to do with the school’s quality. “I think that people want to go where the education works,” she said. “And [Penn Alexander] is a great example of one [that works].”

Penn Alexander is boosted in part by its of?cial partnership with Penn’s Graduate School of Education. Penn GSE subsidizes the school with funding aiming to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers at the K-8 school. Penn students also frequent Penn Alexander for tutoring and mentoring programs.

Amara Rockar, a 2006 College graduate and chairwoman of the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools Steering Committee, emphasized that the Master Plan is still open for revision. She noted that people familiar with some of the schools noticed that certain numbers involved in determining school closings weren’t re?ective of the reality at the schools.

“For instance,” she said, “spaces that were being used as special education classrooms and media labs were being counted as unused rooms.” While those rooms may not be fully occupied throughout the school day, she added, they do serve a purpose at the school.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t schools that are de?nitely under-capacity,” Rockar said, which is why she believes it’s important that the district is keeping the plan open for public comment and review.

The district scheduled 17 public community meetings beginning Nov. 19 for Philadelphia residents to voice their opinions and concerns about the possible school closings. The meetings will be held at various high schools across the district.

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