The rhetoric over the possibility of closing 37 Philadelphia public schools is heating up, but stakeholders say the process, while emotional, doesn’t have to be acrimonious.
The Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller of Enon Tabernacle, one of the city’s most respected clergy members, stopped by the offices of the Tribune Monday afternoon to talk about an alternative to the School District of Philadelphia’s “Action Plan v. 1.0” which outlines the school closings and reshuffling of students the district says is necessary to stay afloat.
Waller commissioned a study, worked on for months by Enon’s Education Committee, and prepared by Next Step Associates, titled “Voices from the Inside: Heart, Soul, and Mind.” In that study, researchers broke down the proposed closings by neighborhood, and the social impact on those communities when a local school closes.
“Public education must remain viable,” Waller told the editorial board. “Most people, those with moderate voices, understand that some schools must close - we understand that. We’re suggesting that the data the district used to make their determination may be flawed, and the process is flawed.”
By example, Waller noted that schools in the Northeast section of Philadelphia were untouched by the district’s plan, which calls into question the fairness of the process.
While critical of the district’s plan, Waller was quick to point out that district superintendent Dr. William Hite was caught in the middle of a mess not of his making. “The deck was stacked against him,” Waller said, noting that the problems of the district, both fiscal and managerial, began years before Hite took over last September.
One of the issues raised by the Enon study, student safety, was also on the mind of Hite when he talked about the issue with the Tribune. The closing of neighborhood schools means that students, some as young as six or seven years old, may have to walk long distances to attend the alternative school suggested by the district. The district’s plan, say critics, doesn’t take into account that often this would mean the children would have to walk through unfamiliar, or even hostile territory, or cross dangerous major thoroughfares like Broad Street.
The district has planned more public meetings, and has promised to listen to those community voices to which Waller alluded. As Hite himself said, “The School District of Philadelphia is an institution worth saving.”
To save that institution will require a concerted, cooperative effort from all involved - Waller, Hite, clergy, business owners, students, parents, teachers, principals, and every Philadelphian who cares about children.