Hite to announce plans to close 37 school buildings

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. cited goals of improving academics, viability.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. cited goals of improving academics, viability. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 14, 2012

On Thursday, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. will announce the proposed closures of 37 school buildings, plus multiple other changes coming to the cash-poor Philadelphia School District.

Hite is proposing that the buildings listed for closure - around 20 elementary schools, a handful of middle schools, and about 10 high schools - shut their doors for good in June, according to sources and documents obtained by The Inquirer.

The schools are in nearly every part of the city and include well-known ones with long histories, such as Bok, Germantown, Strawberry Mansion, and University City High Schools.

Under the proposal, North Philadelphia would be hit particularly hard, while the overcrowded Northeast would be spared but for the closure of an annex of Carnell Elementary that houses middle school students.

The district would not confirm the list, but Hite on Wednesday offered hints as to what was coming.

"Quite a few of the programs will be programs that will relocate and have different grade configurations," Hite said in an interview with the Inquirer Editorial Board.

He also emphasized that "significant" investments would be made in the district's remaining programs, and said all closing decisions were made with two goals in mind - improving academics in all schools and ensuring the district's long-term financial viability.

The list provided to The Inquirer does not include all of the programs merging and relocating, or grade configuration changes.

Specifics will be formally released Thursday afternoon. District officials billed the announcement as not just a listing of possible school closings and reorganizations, but also efforts to "improve safety and educational programs and supports for students."

No teachers will be laid off as a result of the closings, Hite said, but other employees, from principals to building cleaners, could lose their jobs.

But don't expect the $33 million annual savings the district was banking on, Hite said.

Officials have said that the closings are a necessary correction in a system that has shed more than 50,000 students in the last decade - most to a burgeoning charter school system - but has not adjusted its infrastructure accordingly.

Hite said the district first drew up a list of potential closing targets that was a "big number" based on academic performance, safety, building condition, and utilization. After a series of community meetings to help set priorities for choosing schools, district staff whittled down the list to about half.

Then staffers went into every building on that smaller list, checking to see if they could support things like handicapped students and career and technical programs.

City police were consulted to check crime patterns and provide a reality check on how sending students to another school might affect their safety.

"They suggested things for us that we should do to provide for safe corridors if we went ahead with the actions," Hite said.

Eventually, the district got to its final list, which Hite said would "allow us to more efficiently use the space that we have available for our students."

Multiple groups have already decried the process. The Philadelphia Coalition for Advocating Public Schools has planned a rally voicing its objections to the plan, to be held just after the district makes its announcement.

And Parents United for Public Education, in a statement, blasted the district's process as "not transparent," "not honest," and "not a legitimate process that parents can support." It said the community was "blindsided" by the announcement.

"We do not have confidence in the process and metrics by which schools have been chosen," the group said. "The process has revealed flawed data, questionable assessments of academic excellence, and ignored the effects of inadequate resources on neighborhood schools."

Parents United also suggested that private entities influenced the closing list. It already has filed a complaint with the city's Ethics Board accusing the William Penn Foundation of lobbying through its support of the work of the Boston Consulting Group.

BCG spent months inside the district, studying operations and making recommendations for wholesale changes.

Hite on Wednesday reiterated the district's position that while William Penn paid BCG to complete the work, he regards it as merely a set of recommendations, some of which he has already rejected.

Though he knows that he's in for a rough few months with the proposal of somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 school closings, the superintendent said closing so many schools at once was the right course.

No matter what Hite proposes, the final number of schools will be determined by the School Reform Commission, in a vote scheduled for March.

Some officials have already been briefed on the plan; more, including principals, will be informed Thursday morning.

City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez said she wanted to make sure that she and City Council took a reasoned approach to the tough choices facing the district.

"We knew this day was coming, but I think it can be managed," she said. "We have to the responsibility to work through this with them."

Sánchez, who was briefed, confirmed only that Taylor Elementary in her district was slated for closure.

Sánchez said she was heartened that the recommendations appeared to differentiate between bad buildings and bad programs, as some buildings are being closed but good programs are preserved nearby, she said.


Phila. School Buildings Proposed for Closure

Just under 40 school buildings will be proposed for closure by the Philadelphia School District on Thursday. The Inquirer obtained a copy of the list of buildings closing and some programs that are closing or relocating. This list does not include all the programs merging or relocating and may not include every closure. The full list will be announced by the district Thursday.

Schools closing outright:

Elementary schools

In North Philadelphia:

Duckrey

Fairhill

Ferguson

L.P. Hill

Meade

Morris

T.M. Peirce

Pratt

Reynolds

Taylor

Whittier

In Northwest Philadelphia:

Cooke

Fulton

Kinsey

McCloskey

In South Philadelphia:

Smith

In Southwest Philadelphia:

A. Wilson

In West Philadelphia:

Gompers

Overbrook Elementary

Middle schools

Carnell Annex (Northeast Phila.; not a standalone school - just middle school annex closing; elementary school remains open)

Pepper (Southwest Phila.)

Shaw (Southwest Phila.)

Sheridan West (North Central)

High schools

Bok Technical (South Phila.)

Carroll (North Phila.)

Communications Technology (building closes, becomes a program inside Bartram High) (Southwest)

Douglas (North)

Germantown (Northwest)

Lamberton (West Phila.)

Phila. Military Academy at Elverson (North)

Robeson (building closes, becomes a program inside Sayre High) (Southwest)

Strawberry Mansion (North)

University City (Southwest)

Programs closing, buildings remaining open for other purposes

Roosevelt Middle (Northwest)

Vaux High (North)

George Washington Elementary (South)

Program relocations

AMY at James Martin (North)

Lankenau High (Northwest)

Motivation High (Southwest)

Parkway Northwest (Northwest)

Phila. Military Academy at Leeds (Northwest)

A. Vare (South Phila.)


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles .

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|