Last-ditch effort to save two Philly schools

Posted: April 09, 2013

Speaking softly but in a high, clear voice, sixth grader Maia Muchison made her case to the School Reform Commission: Don't close my school.

"I don't want to go to a big school with big students," said Maia, who attends Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia. "I might get hurt."

Students, parents, teachers, and community members made a last-ditch effort Monday night to save two Philadelphia School District buildings that could be closed in June - Beeber and M.H. Stanton in North Philadelphia.

The SRC has already voted to close 23 schools this year. Shutting Beeber and Stanton were late recommendations, so votes on those schools are being held separately and later.

Community members have proposed alternatives to both closures.

Beeber, which has struggled for years, is underenrolled. Its sixth- through eighth-grade students would move to Overbrook High School if the SRC votes this month to shut it.

But many say the school is improving and is reporting violence honestly. They are alarmed by the prospect of preteens attending school with 18-year-olds, and were frightened by a visit to the school where they were shown the basement space that might house their children.

"How much thought has been given to the disruptive and negative effect this closing would have on our children and our community?" asked Stephanie Wilson, a Beeber grandparent and former teacher at the school.

Speaking for M.H. Stanton, parents raised concerns about their children walking past halfway houses to get to their new school, Duckrey. They also questioned the facts upon which district officials based an earlier decision to close Duckrey and keep Stanton open.

Stanton supporters say their school, once the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, has outperformed Duckrey in the long term.

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D., Phila.), whose district encompasses Stanton, said she understood why the district was in its current financial straits and proposing school closures. "The Philadelphia public schools are no longer a priority in Harrisburg," Kitchen told the SRC.

But, she said, the closings are happening too fast, without enough time to consider alternatives. "Why is it that the poorest children are taking the hardest hit?" Kitchen asked.

Earlier in the day, a grassroots group held a news conference at City Hall to highlight its continued fight against the closings. Members of the Respect Our Vote Movement will head to Harrisburg to meet with officials there Wednesday.

"We're going to push the state to do what the state was supposed to be doing since 2001, and that's running our schools and running them properly," said Vernard Johnson, a longtime community activist.

The state formally took over the Philadelphia district in 2001, eliminating the previous school board, passing a school-takeover law, and establishing the SRC.

Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell said she supported the group's trip, and was proud of any Philadelphian who fought for the city's youth.

"They will try to see everybody they can in the Capitol to say, 'Keep our schools open,' " Blackwell said.

But Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., in his testimony to the SRC, said that the closings must go forward. "The decision to close schools is not one that I took lightly," Hite said. "It is the responsible and necessary action."

The SRC will determine Beeber's and M.H. Stanton's fates at a meeting scheduled for April 18.


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.

 

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