They are everywhere.
Tucked into residential windows. In a hallway at the Christian Street YMCA. In barbershop windows, and even on the pages of Facebook.
Pink, white, yellow and other colors of the rainbow, the signs that announce the existence of the group SOS (Supporters of Stanton School) are popping up in the South Philadelphia neighborhood of E.M. Stanton School, signifying a grassroots movement that seeks to head off the potential closing of the school.
When it was officially announced last week that Stanton, at 1700 Christian St., was on the list of nine schools recommended for shuttering by the Philadelphia School District as part of an effort to save money and reduce the number of under-utilized and underperforming buildings, SOS, an eclectic mix of people from all different backgrounds and races, knew as far back as June that the school might be on the list.
Now that it was made official last Wednesday, they are not standing still. They plan to do everything in their power to prevent the school, which has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) eight years running, from closing.
They have begun to circulate petitions in support of the school. A letter-writing campaign is scheduled for this Saturday at the Marian Anderson Recreatiol Center, 744 S. 17th St., between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“We got wind [that the school might be on the closing list] of it way back in June,” said Stanton parent and SOS member James Wright. “You should not be closing a high-performing neighborhood school. This is what parents want in a high-performing school; and this is what the district is trying to create, a place where there are neighborhood partnerships and where the effort is being made to close the education gap. Stanton is doing exactly what they say they want schools to do in No Child Left Behind.”
Wright is so thoroughly sold on the school that he and his wife opted to keep their sixth-grade daughter there rather than transfer her to a nearby school with a “better reputation.” He hopes that his son, just four, will be a Stanton student in the future.
Stanton is an all-Black school. However, its supporters are anything but.
Retired teacher Susan Kettell, who is white, speaks about the children at Stanton as if they were her own. Kettell was an arts facilitator at Stanton for 10 years before she retired three years ago. These days, Kettel can’t stay away, and is in the aged building almost every day, lending a hand and helping to maintain the school’s exceptional ties to the arts community.
“I never thought any differently,” she said, when asked how she has developed such an affinity for a school of Black children. “There is no other way to be. It’s all about respecting all of humanity — that’s how I grew up; that’s how I was taught. I have a commitment to all children and color is the last thing that I see.”
Kettell has been with the faith-based neighborhood organization Bainbridge House for years. She has helped facilitate an 18-year mentoring program with the school. Bainbridge annually gives thousands of dollars to the school in the form of donations to the arts, whether it be costumes, art supplies, instruments or any other art-related gift.
But now the clock is ticking, again, on Stanton, which avoided closure eight years ago, due to a combination of low enrollment, low test scores and old facilities. While the school has just been recommended for closure again, those who support it, such as Wright and Kettell, know that they must be proactive.
Meetings have been planned by the SOS for once a week. While the core group is made up mostly of seven or eight members who represent many others, when they gathered in October as the recommendations were about to come down, more than 80 people showed up at First African Baptist Church at 16th and Christian streets.
“We are serious,” Wright said. “We will fight for our school.”
Nine schools on chopping block for 2012
When Kenya Simmons found out that her son, eight-year-old Kashi, wanted to deliver babies, she was overjoyed that he had already charted a career path, no matter how far down the road it may be.
What is less certain, though, is where Kashi will attend school next year as he pursues his goal. A third-grader at Stanton Elementary, where he attends with his first-grade brother, Kenneth, the family learned Thursday morning that Stanton is one of nine Philadelphia schools recommended for closure next year as part of the School District of Philadelphia’s Facilities Master Plan.
The recommendations are the result of declining enrollment, aging and under-utilized schools, and unprecedented funding cuts the likes of which the district has never seen before. They are expected to go before the School Reform Commission at the end of the winter or early spring.
If Stanton were to close, Simmons’ children would be given the option of being reassigned to either Arthur or Childs elementary schools. A part-time student at Community College, Simmons likes Stanton. She likes the fact that the preliminary data indicate that 75 and 74 percent, respectively, scored proficient or advanced in reading and math on the 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) standardized test. And she is happy with first-year principal Stacey Burnley, whom she describes as “informed” and a principal “who is not a principal from just behind the desk.”
What she doesn’t like is feeling as if her choices have been dictated.
“If this goes through, it’s like they are playing the shell game,” Simmons said. “Only here you pick one and they still tell you where you are going. It’s like they knew what they were going to give you all along. It’s hard on your kids because you could lose your entire school, your classmates and your teachers — all because of money problems and their mistakes. It’s disgusting.”
One major reason for the school closings and grade reconfigurations is the dwindling student population. The district has lost 11,000 students over the last five years, and there are just a little more than 150,000 students in the district. Officials project that decline will continue over the next five years, resulting in the district experiencing the exodus of 10,000 more students.
Officials reported that that there are 70,000 empty seats throughout the district. Putting this in perspective, Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, has a seating capacity of 67,594. And with a goal of 85 percent, the district’s current average utilization across all buildings is just 67 percent.
On average, one in five property tax dollars is going toward funding empty seats, according to the District.
The closings would save the school district an estimated $500,000 to $1 million per building. Other schools slated for closure are: Levering, Harrison, Sheppard, and Drew Elementaries; Pepper Middle School; and Fitzsimons High, Sheridan West Academy, and Philadelphia High School for Business.
Overall, officials estimate that it would cost $4 billion to address all the current facilities needs. However, just $160 million is allocated for capital improvements over the next five years.
This is not the first time that Stanton has been considered for closing. Back in 2003, the school — which utilizes every room in the building except one — came close to closing, but avoided being shut down.
Yesterday, the school was bustling with action. Media swarmed the school early in the morning, wanting to speak with parents and administrators. But as the afternoon approached, Principal Stacey Burnley was flittering about the school office, encouraging students and proceeding as if nothing has changed.
“I’m not upset, because it was just a proposal,” Burnley, who had been principal at Pennypacker Elementary before coming to Stanton, said. “My job and my moral and ethical responsibilities are to ensure that my kids don’t feel this one ounce. In fact, it could be a civics lesson. For the most part their instructional day is going to be maintained. The teachers are committed, and they are going to ensure that they are going to have a safe and positive learning environment.”
Simmons said that education funding — or the lack thereof — should never be a reason for shuttering schools.
“It’s an issue that should never come up in our society,” Simmons said. “When the government is funding prison building, politicians’ affairs and other things of that matter, it’s not fair that people have no choice in what happens to their schools.”
Seniors at Chester’s Science and Discovery High School, last week awaiting accredited teachers essential to their graduation, have had their wishes — at least most of them — granted.
Due to budget cuts, the school began the year with three classes — an SAT prep course, a computer business class and a calculus class — being taught by non-certified teachers. For graduation credits to be received, those classes must be taught by certified teachers.
Two certified teachers were hired last week to teach the SAT and computer business classes. A third offer has been made — three times already — to a pair of certified calculus teachers. The most recent offer was accepted, but the teacher told the district he or she would not be able to start until Nov. 28. This, according to Chester Upland School District spokesperson Joel Avery, is too late.
“It is the goal of the district to have a certified teacher in that class much sooner than that. That’s not going to work for the district,” said Avery. “The district does not want non-certified teachers teaching. It wants someone in place soon and is in an aggressive search for a certified teacher. One will be identified shortly.”
The lack of certified teachers at Science and Discovery High School is the result of budget slashing in Harrisburg — similar to, but on a much smaller level than, the cuts that have crippled the Philadelphia School District.
Chester saw its budget reduced some $21 million, from $113 million to $92 million. The district was forced to lay off 40 percent of its teachers and nearly 50 percent of its operational and support staff, Avery said.
“The district has had to take drastic measures because of the cuts,” Avery said. “We were without certified teachers. But the district has never doubted that it would secure the teachers to ensure that the students meet the criteria for graduation.
The district has rehired 33 teachers. Both of the new teachers at Science and Discovery are teachers who were laid off.
Last week, Denise Grover of Action United said that 60 students were told that because of the shortage of certified teachers their gradation status in June was in jeopardy. However, Grover said the students were told this by the principal.
Science and Discovery presently has two principals as the result of a merger between Science and Discovery and Allied Health High Schools, according to Avery. Avery said that to his knowledge, neither principal said this, and if the principal alleged to have made the statement could be identified, he would have that person address the claim.
Since the Tribune article outlining the certified teacher shortage ran on Friday, numerous messages have been left on Grover’s answering machine. However, the Tribune’s calls have not been returned.
Avery acknowledged that there was a protest at the office of state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R), the former Chester mayor and a former member of the Chester School Board, to protest the lack of certified teachers.
“But what you really need to know is that the day after the protest, we added the two teachers,” Avery said.
Avery said that the issue is more about the upcoming school board elections. All nine of the members of the school board are Republicans; four of them are up for re-election this Tuesday. They are: Wanda Mann, president; and board members, Dana Hamler, Richard McClintock and Ieasa Nichols.
Avery said that Action United has a problem with the Republican-dominated board.
“The press release this group released screams of political theatrics,” Avery said. “It’s not surprising to see these theatrics as an election approaches.”
The School District of Philadelphia announced Wednesday its intentions to close nine schools, consolidate others, change the grade make-up of some, and to sell buildings and facilities that are no longer feasible for the financially strapped entity to operate.
As part of its Facilities Master Plan, the District presented 31 recommendations to the School Reform commission proposed to be implemented over the next two years. Most crucially, the district recommended the closing of nine schools: Levering Elementary School, Harrison Elementary, Sheppard Elementary, Drew Elementary, E.M. Stanton Elementary, Pepper Middle School, Fitzsimmons High School, Sheridan West Academy and the Philadelphia High School for Business.
Last year the school district recognized that there are approximately 70,000 empty seats in the school district. Mayor Michael Nutter supported the closing of old schools and underperforming schools that were costly to operate.
A preliminary list of prospective schools closings had indicated that more than 20 schools might be targeted for closure. This is just the recommendation phase. A vote will be put before the School Reform Commission in late winter or early spring.
Walter R. Livingston, Jr. didn’t live a life of too many regrets. But one thing that haunted the activist, architect and former chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Tribune was having been forced to place his father into a senior care center.
“His spirit was broken and my father saw that,” Livingston’s daughter, Margaret, said of her father. “That was when he said, ‘I’m going to take a special interest during my time as an architect in building facilities where things like this won’t happen.’”
Livingston died in June of this year at the age of 89. However, part of his legacy lives on today in the Apartments at Cliveden, 62 new units of affordable housing in the 300 block of West Johnson Street. At least half are partially subsidized.
Livingston, who served on the board of the residence’s parent company, NewCourtland, was honored – his family was presented with the Ephraim D. Saunders award for exceptional acts of community service – at the Monday opening of the $14.6 million facility.
Mayor Michael Nutter and Congressman Chaka Fattah both addressed a group of a little more than 100 people gathered in a cramped dining room for the occasion. Both Nutter and Fattah lauded the marriage of public and private supporters that – along with significant stimulus money – are the financial lifeblood of the project. Supporters included PNC Bank, Federal Home Loan Bank, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
Nutter, who grew up in West Philadelphia, told the story of how he grew up with his grandmother, who did not want to leave the city when his parents moved away but was limited in her ability to care for herself.
“This would have been a place where my grandmother could have come to,” Nutter said. “It is where my passion for seniors and senior housing comes from. This is a model we should be looking to replicate all across the city. It is the epitome of true public and private partnership.”
According to Nutter, of the 10 largest American cities, Philadelphia has the largest percentage of population 60 years old or older. He also said that more than 14 percent of the population is 65 or older and that that number is expected to double by 2035.
Nutter pointed out that last week Travel & Leisure Magazine named Philadelphia the top city in the country in the categories of history and culture. He said the city must do more to make the city more user-friendly for its aging population.
“We need safe and walkable streets so that seniors can get around and do what they need to do,” he said. “We need more businesses and organizations that really cater to the senior population. But the most important thing is that we need affordable housing to support it all, and this is what this is about.”
Nutter commended Livingston’s commitment to improving the lives of elderly Philadelphians. A practicing architect for more than 55 years, most recently with the Livingston Group in Colwyn, he and his firms were involved in the designs of such notable local sites as Zion Baptist Church, Triumph Baptist Church, Edison High School, Progress Plaza, the Clef Club and the Criminal Justice Center.
Livingston served on numerous other boards, including those of Berean Federal Savings Bank, the Youth Study Center, Stapely hall in Germantown, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Cheyney University and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania.
“He had many, many interests,” said another daughter, Mary, who also serves on the Tribune board. “He did a lot of work involving seniors. He had a soft spot in his heart for families who could not afford elderly housing.”