SRC votes to close M. Hall Stanton School

Posted: April 19, 2013

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission on Thursday night ordered another city school to shut in June.

Once a national model for helping low-income students succeed, and the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, M. Hall Stanton on North 16th Street became another building on the Philadelphia School District's closing list - 24 in all.

The vote was 3-1, with Sylvia Simms voting against. Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky was absent. Simms declined to explain her vote.

The decision crushed Stanton supporters, who had made emotional pleas to keep their school open.

After the vote was taken, for a moment, there was silence. Then one Stanton booster began shouting.

"You have failed us! You have failed Stanton," she said. People began to weep.

Earlier, Stanton principal Arthurea Smith led the dozens of students, teachers, and parents who had come to testify before the SRC and hear its decision in the school's pledge: "We will work hard every day . . . and keep our eyes on the prize."

Even as Stanton was put on the closing list - a late addition, more than a month after the district made its initial proposal - Stanton got an encouraging midyear report on its academics and school climate.

John Coats, Stanton's dean of students and a 27-year veteran of the school, said he could not tell his students that the vote "wasn't about systemic racism and backdoor politics."

To the SRC - which had earlier heard about the implications of its $300-million-plus deficit - the decision was a business one.

But "this fight to keep our school open is personal," Smith said.

Stanton students will now go to Duckrey, a school originally on the closing list but ultimately spared. Duckrey slightly outperforms Stanton in climate and academic measures, but the two are not very far apart, officials acknowledged. Enrollment at both schools is declining.

The commissioners also heard from dozens of speakers, including teachers at Aspira Olney Charter School, who asked them to intervene in a labor dispute.

The school is good, but its policies are too top-down, teachers said, and they are attempting to unionize. Those efforts are being blocked by the school's management.

Once the union drive started, there were "intimidating statements, and disciplinary policies changed," teacher Katrina Clark said.

She said the school's board was using money that could be spent on students to halt the organizing.

The SRC also voted to authorize a virtual school that it hoped would compete for students now in cyber charters. The commission authorized up to $15 million over two years for the Philadelphia Virtual Academy.

But it will spend that money only if 1,000 students enroll in September and 1,200 in 2014, and the virtual school will break even if it enrolls 85 students now in cyber charters. It could net the district millions, depending on how many students sign up.


Contact Kristen Graham

at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly

School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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