In releasing his proposed list of 37 public school closures, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite Jr. acknowledged the process has been, and will be, “shocking, painful and disruptive for many communities.” But Hite insisted the closures are necessary if the district is to turn around its fiscal situation and deliver on its obligation to provide public school students with the best and most efficient education possible.
“As we navigate this journey, we are guided by the belief that all students in the School District of Philadelphia can, and will be, successful, and that public education is an institution worth saving,” Hite said during Thursday’s announcement made in the atrium of the district’s education center on north Broad Street. “For years, the number of buildings that we maintain has not reflected enrollment. In this harsh financial climate, we must use our resources wisely to provide students with the quality academic programs, increased access to opportunities and more chances to learn and thrive in safe, modernized schools.”
Hite said that he and his team created the list after several rounds of community meetings and a thorough examination of each school. The plan reflects recommendations included in the Facilities Master Plan, and will include 22 elementary schools, four middle schools and 11 high schools.
According to the district, the plan will also eliminate sixth grade at several elementary schools and expand the grade configuration at 18 other K-8 schools.
Critics — including influential grassroots organizations ACTION United, Parents United for Bette Education and Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) — have roundly criticized the plan.
“The School Reform Commission based its plan on a rating system that the district has admitted is flawed, and despite a study showing that recent school closings have had a disproportionate effect on African American students. Furthermore, while ACTION United and the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools have held numerous forums for community input into school reform, the SRC has turned a deaf ear to community voices,” read a statement released by ACTION United. “This plan will displace thousands of students, forcing them out of their neighborhoods and away from their communities. This disruption will negatively affect both students and the communities anchored by these schools. The District has proved unwilling or unable to attend to schools already closed creating nuisance properties, dumping grounds, havens for squatters and criminal activities and degradations of communities. The closing of  more schools will only compound the deleterious effects throughout the city.
“ACTION United, along with PCAPS and other community members not only understands the need for reform but welcome it,” the statement continued. “But reform of our schools cannot come at the expense of our children and our communities. We call on the District and the Mayor to hold off on closing schools or expanding charters until a full community impact study is completed.”
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and its president, Jerry Jordan — long a critic of the plan to close schools — issued a statement, charging that the district is looking at its bottom line only when deciding to shut down schools.
“The latest round of proposed school closings is disheartening, yet not surprising. The SRC is once again employing the same tactic of devaluing, defunding and destroying traditional neighborhood public schools in Philadelphia. In its bottom line-focused rush to close neighborhood schools, the SRC is turning its back on the parents, students and communities that will be affected by these closures,” Jordan said. “This course of action has already failed to raise student achievement in the past, it has disrupted the lives of schoolchildren, and it has added blight and dangerous conditions in neighborhoods where these large, vacant buildings are located. Closing neighborhood schools is not only ineffective education policy—in the long term, it’s not even sound fiscal policy when you factor in the costs of insuring and securing vacant buildings.
“The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will be working with parents and communities to fight against these closures and to advocate for a public education plan that focuses on improving schools for every child.”
Hite said the district and the SRC is seeking feedback, noting that there will several community meetings in which citizens can voice their concerns. The first four citywide meetings are scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 at South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St; 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17 at Sayre High School, 58th and Walnut streets; 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18 at Edison High School, 151 W. Luzerne St. and at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at Martin Luther King High School, 6100 Stenton Ave. According to Hite, there will also be several citywide meetings in January, before the SRC deliberates and releases its final decision on which schools will close.
Hite said that he presented his findings to the SRC, and has no power himself to close a school, intimating that the SRC can adopt all, some or none of his recommendations.
“We are undertaking this process now, because we have few options. But we also believe that at the end, we will have a school system that is better run, safer and highly performing,” Hite said. “Over the next few weeks and months, we will provide more detail about how we plan to improve schools with additional programs, staff and support; how we plan to work with our local law enforcement community to ensure safe corridors and safe schools. This is a time for us to reestablish a system of public schools that is successful for every student and valued by parents.
“I am confident that as a community, we can deliver on this promise together.”