29 schools to close under new plan; reprieve for Strawberry Mansion High

M.H. Stanton Elementary School in Strawberry Mansion is one of two schools the district has added to its closure list. (David Swanson/Staff)
M.H. Stanton Elementary School in Strawberry Mansion is one of two schools the district has added to its closure list. (David Swanson/Staff)
Posted: February 21, 2013

TONYA SEARS SAID she felt "excitement" and "sheer pleasure" when she learned Tuesday of the district's reprieve for her beloved alma mater, Strawberry Mansion High School, from a controversial school-closure plan.

But the fight for public schools isn't over, she said. "I do like to think of this as the beginning. It was saved from closure, but what about next year?" said Sears, who graduated in 1985.

"It's my prayer that all the community, the principal, the alumni and families continue to work together to improve the school."

District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Tuesday that he and his team heard those same voices over the past two months, about 4,000 people during 21 community meetings. The feedback - Hite said the district received 40 proposals from the public - prompted him to tinker with the original plan.

Now, Hite proposes to close 29 schools instead of 37, saving 10 schools while adding two others, M.H. Stanton Elementary and Beeber Middle School, to the closure list. The amended recommendations would affect 14,000 students instead of 17,000, but would save the district only $24.5 million, down from $28 million in the original plan.

Those savings would not be reached in the first year because the district would invest some funds in the schools whose enrollment would grow as they absorbed students from the closing schools, Hite said.

The nearly $3.5 million difference would have to come from somewhere else, Hite said.

Under the new plan, the district's utilization rate - the rate at which the district is using the resources available to it - would rise from 67 to 78 percent.

The School Reform Commission will vote on the new proposal, with the exception of the closings of Beeber and Stanton, at the March 7 meeting.

The announcement may have been cheered at the schools that were saved from closure, but political officials and school advocates were unimpressed.

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell called the amended plan "ridiculous." She noted that no school in West or Southwest Philly was saved. "We don't matter," she said.

"We are very upset about this list," Blackwell said. "We're not taking it lying down."

One factor that led the district to keep Strawberry Mansion open was the student body, Hite said. Many students had transferred this year into Strawberry Mansion from previous school closings/grade configurations at Thomas FitzSimons and E. Washington Rhodes high schools.

"We didn't want to further impact those students by moving them a second time and, in a few cases, a third time during their high school career," he said.

Students and staff at Strawberry Mansion were thrilled with the news Tuesday.

"It's better to keep the students here, where they know each other," said Sally Hart, a member of the instructional-support staff. "When you mix students from four, five, six different neighborhoods, you're asking for trouble because there's going to be conflict."

Added Bianca Mills, a ninth-grader: "If they closed [the school], all these neighborhoods would be together and it's going to be weird because everyone is going to want to fight."

The district is in discussions with Community College of Philadelphia about a possible partnership for future educational endeavors.

"Strawberry Mansion provides us with a unique opportunity to work with" the college and other partners, Hite said.

- Staff writer Jad Sleiman

contributed to this story.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

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