Taylor School's low-key celebration of reprieve

At Bayard Taylor School in Hunting Park, principal Debra B. Drossner applauds the reprieve. The 562 kindergarten-to-fifth-grade students enjoyed a healthy treat.
At Bayard Taylor School in Hunting Park, principal Debra B. Drossner applauds the reprieve. The 562 kindergarten-to-fifth-grade students enjoyed a healthy treat. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 10, 2013

At first, Debra B. Drossner, principal of Bayard Taylor School, had considered ordering sheet cakes Friday to celebrate the news that her Hunting Park elementary school had been spared and would not close in June.

But sheet cakes, Drossner concluded, would be too simple. Plus, Taylor tries to promote heathy eating habits, and cake would prevent several diabetic students and teachers from joining the party.

So the Taylor staff collected bundles of bananas from a neighborhood grocery and distributed them to its 562 kindergarten-through-fifth-grade students as part of the afternoon's low-key festivities.

"Hopefully, you all enjoyed 'going bananas for Taylor School,' " Drossner told students in a third-grade bilingual classroom as she toured the school with a small group of supporters. "This is a celebratory day!"

Throughout Philadelphia's school-closing process, Bayard Taylor had flown under the radar. But data about the school's academic performance sent to SRC members, tales of a close-knit staff, and testimony from two of the school's roster of community partners - the Rotary Club of Philadelphia and William Penn Charter School, the venerable Quaker school - helped save the day.

The School Reform Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to reject the district's recommendation and to keep Taylor open.

"We just wanted to be heard," Drossner said.

In all, the SRC voted to close 23 schools across the city and to spare four. In addition to Taylor, the commission decided to keep open T.M. Peirce Elementary in North Philadelphia, Roosevelt Middle School in Germantown, and Robeson High School in Southwest Philadelphia.

"I thought [Taylor] made a good case," James Ballengee, director of the service-learning program at Penn Charter, in East Falls, said Friday. The private school has been partnering with Taylor for 18 years. The schools exchange visits, and older Penn Charter students read to Taylor's youngsters.

What Ballengee thought especially persuasive was information Taylor provided showing that if Taylor closed, its students would be sent to a lower-performing school.

Taylor, where 75 percent of its students are Latino and many come from families where English is not the first language, has come close to making the state academic benchmarks in the last several years. Roberto Clemente, which was slated to absorb most of Taylor's students, has fallen far short of state standards for years.

Many Taylor boosters also said Taylor was rich in elements that could not be easily quantified.

"I think the most important quality of a successful school is the culture and the environment that's in it," Matthew Tae of the Philadelphia Rotary told the SRC. "You can't measure that. You can smell it. You can feel it instantly when you walk into a school, and Taylor has that quality."

Tae, who said he had visited 40 schools in the last four years, said: "Taylor School is easily one of the top five I've been to."

The Cole Hamels Foundation has been involved with Taylor for several years. Last summer, the foundation donated a $300,000 playground because there was no safe place within a 10-block radius for children to play.

Drossner, who has been Taylor's principal for six years and was the assistant principal for more than three years before that, said the school has a supportive, committed staff.

That includes teaching veterans like Debra Parry, who has taught kindergarten at the school for 27 years.

"We are a family," said Parry, who founded the Taylor Community Dance and Music Ensemble in 1986.

Every year, the staff donates turkey and trimmings to make sure that no Taylor family misses out on Thanksgiving. Teachers buy winter coats, shoes, and other clothing for needy students and treat children to weekend outings and concerts.

Drossner said that of the 55 teachers on Taylor's staff, only two were new to the school this academic year.

In an e-mail she sent to teachers after the SRC vote Thursday night, Drossner described Taylor's resurrection as "a bittersweet victory," because of the pain and anger of the 23 schools slated to close in June.

"It's not taking away from our delicious surprise," she said. "But it was not a complete victory."

Contact Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@


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