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At a meeting with Mayor Street last night, W. Phila. residents spoke of the need for improved schools. Hundreds of community members filled the auditorium of West Philadelphia High School last night for their second chance this month to address education and neighborhood concerns with Mayor John Street. Complaints about the new Penn-assisted public school and the state of local schools kept Street and Third District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's attention for much of the four-hour open-invitation meeting at the school, located at 48th and Walnut streets. Immediately after Street opened the floor for questions, the audience of senior citizens, parents, local students and children assembled into two long lines spanning the length of the room for a chance to speak. The heated discussion about schools that highlighted the last town meeting resurfaced, as dozens more spoke about the plight of area schools -- in particular the Lea School located at 47th and Locust streets. With the backdrop of supportive residents holding signs and banners declaring "equal opportunity for all" and "Lea School has no library, new school has computers," residents submitted a petition of more than 500 signatures to Street, demanding that both Penn and the city give a combined $10 million to improve area schools. "It's dirty. It's dreary. It's depressing," Valeria James-Berry, the vice president of Urban Market Developers and a concerned parent, said of the school. James-Berry said that her eighth grade daughter, who attends the Lea School, tests on a fifth-grade math level. She added that some of the teachers attend school only once a week -- leaving inconsistent instruction by substitute teachers. Lela Shedrick, a resident of 48th and Pine streets and the mother of two, explained that her 10-year-old son, who attends Lea, does not have books to bring home because five students sit around a table and share a book in each class. Street agreed that the biggest problem facing the city is the quality of education in the school. "[But] the city is not on fire about public education, not yet," Street added. "We must decide what we expect from our system." Controversy also again surrounded the Penn-assisted public school -- slated to be built on 42nd and Locust streets -- and its proposed catchment area that the the school board will draw to determine who will attend the new school. Many complained that Penn-affiliated, upper-middle class students would be the only community members to benefit from the still-undetermined catchment area. "We simply want equal education opportunity for the children at the Lea School," said Walnut Hill Community Association President Betty Reavis, who organized the petition. But while educational issues generated the most debate last night, there was room for other topics of discussion. Many voiced concerns about the blight of West Philadelphia neighborhoods and demanded that abandoned houses be fixed up and sold or removed. "The abandoned houses have really taken away the quality of life for us," said Christine McCullough, who has resided on the 300 block of South Frazier Street since 1955. "Either these people shape up or ship out." McCullough, 71, added that some of the houses have been vacant for nearly 20 years and that there are two behind her house. "It's a depressing site, [and] nobody's going to buy a house where there's an abandoned property," she said, noting that the blight brings in drug dealers and an overall bad element of people. "If I had the money, I'd move." Street said the city is developing a program called Saving Neighborhoods, dedicated to determining the best ways to allocate money to the various neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. "We are prepared to invest in neighborhoods," Street added. "But if we can't get cooperation from the community, then it doesn't matter what we do."

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