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August 28, 2014, 1:06 am

Final school closing hearings loom

For the parents of pupils in the nine schools targeted for closure by the School Reform Commission, Saturday will be your last chance to voice opposition to the proposal.

These hearings will last for one hour, beginning at 8:30 a.m. for Edwin M. Stanton Elementary School; in order, hearings will then be heard for Harrison Elementary School, George Pepper Middle School, FitzSimons High School/E. Washington Rhodes High School, Isaac A. Sheppard Elementary School, Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology, Sheridan West Academy Middle School, Charles R. Drew Elementary School and William Levering Elementary School. The hearings conclude with AMY Northwest’s hearing at 6 p.m.

Hearings will be held in the second floor auditorium at the school district’s education center and headquarters, 440 N. Broad Street. Those interested in speaking are encouraged to call (215) 400-4180.

According to a release issued by the school district, the SRC will vote on the proposed recommendations of closures and relocations during its next public hearing on March 29, and “represents the final stage during which the SRC will vote on recommendations.”

The SRC has conducted 17 community meetings that began last November and concluded in February; it also conducted more than 20 community meetings in which more than 1,100 concerned parents, neighbors and other stakeholders attended.

“This is not a last minute effort by the school district; it should be commended for being thoughtful for going around to different locations in the city to talk about it,” said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, co-chair of City Council’s education committee. “It’s certainly not guilty of trying to rush through the process, and should be commended for that because too often, it gets hit for not doing these sorts of things.”

Reynolds Brown is sympathetic to the plight of the pupils and their parents, as the caregivers “need to plan out the [academic] lives of their children a year in advance,” but also hailed the school district for making the painful — yet necessary — cuts.

“The school district wants input and wants testimony, because that shapes where the district ends up, and it did have to make tough decisions,” Reynolds Brown said. “But the numbers are what they are, and carefully narrowing down the process, doing it as respectful as possible; it’s all linked to the data for school population.

“We would be very unhappy and angry at the opposite of that,” Reynolds Brown continued. “Which is to continue to run these schools when it’s not financially possible.”

Still, supporters say many of the schools on this list deserve saving.

Schools like Sheppard Elementary.

The tiny school in North Philadelphia has seen its PSSA scores increase, due in part to a sustained approach by principal James Otto and the groups of volunteers that give their time and effort to the school on Cambria Street.

“For Sheppard to close, I think the students would lose,” said Penn State University Assistant Professor of Education Allison Kootsikas. “Their scores have gone up, and the kids are really learning.”

Kootsikas would know. She is a former PSU intern who has taught at Shepard. PSU, through its “Urban Collaborative,” have sent numerous education majors to Philadelphia and specifically Sheppard to complete internships.

Penn State volunteers aren’t the only ones that feel these closures aren’t necessary. The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania also volunteers its time and services to Sheppard Elementary by way of a Saturday science program, a module that has also contributed to Sheppard’s rising PSSA scores.

“For over six years, our Discovery Science Program, led by volunteer project leader Linda Watson, has fostered a love of science and enriched the lives of students at Sheppard Elementary; the program touches on everything from how light works with the use of prisms, to dissections, to PSSA prep in the spring,” said Martin Molloy, Director of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Community Action Center. “As the district continues to face many difficult decisions, we will continue to work to bring educational and enrichment opportunities to students.

“We know our community can only succeed when organizations like the United Way and principals like James Otto at Sheppard come together for our kids.”