Although it isn’t the full alternative plan to School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr.’s “Action Plan v 1.0” — that will come later — longtime Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller, is set to present the church’s Summary Report on the school closure plan to City Council’s Education Committee on Tuesday.
Titled “Voices From the Inside: Heart, Soul and Mind,” and crafted by church’s nine-member education committee, the summary breaks down the process so far, along with outlining five broad recommendations.
Those recommendations include publishing the capital improvement recommendations and all related data on every effected school; excluding high schools from the original list of closures recommended in the Facilities Master Plan; considering alternatives proposed during community meetings; implementing an inclusive, community-driven engagement scheme and finally, modifying and reforming what factors will be considered when deciding to close a school.
“We have a report coming out that raises very serious concerns about the process, and the outcomes from that process, that has been used to start what is called ‘right-sizing,’ but is in fact school closings, reported as 37 school closings — but really impacting 67 schools,” Waller said during Monday’s editorial board meeting at The Tribune. “And this is just the beginning a process of school closings, but it is a process that has been disingenuous. The reason I am in it is because, for the last 19 years as pastor of Enon Tabernacle, we’ve been involved in public education.”
Although Waller said he doesn’t have an acrimonious relationship with the district and the School Reform Commission. He did say that at a previous meeting which the superintendent attended, Hite had endorsed several aspects of the plan, which will be unveiled after the SRC completes its session of six community meetings and three SRC hearings on the matter.
While complimentary of Hite — and noting that Hite walked into a virtually untenable situation, and that the financial morass the district is trying to work its way out of existed long before his arrival — Waller said there is no denying a racial component in the manner in which the schools were selected.
“The way they have gone about making the choices shows a racial disparity. In the [forthcoming report], we will show that there is underutilization in the Northeast that was not addressed at the same rate, and a preponderance of underutilization in the North and Northwest, but seemingly, that’s where all the impact happens,” Waller said. “We show in the report that, by using the school district data, that something should have happened in the Northeast that did not. So, that racial implication — for those of us who have been in Philadelphia — it’s fair to raise questions around that.”
According to Waller, the district used low attendance as one of the main factors in determining which schools to close, but that a proper right-sizing of the district would require the district to look at overpopulated schools as well. The summary report lists 13 over-capacity schools that were not included in Action Plan v.1.0. For his part, neither Hite nor the SRC ever mentioned overcrowding as one of the factors to shut down a school.
For Waller, race and overcrowding are but two components, and there’s also the very real issue of safety and students — some as young as first-graders — being forced to cross turf, neighborhood and gang borders to attend school.
“Safety is a critical issue,” he said. “One of the challenges of that area, of shutting down Germantown High School and adjusting some of the elementary schools, or that a child will have to walk through [neighborhoods like] Brickhouse, Dogtown, Haines Street, Pulaskitown. Those things were not considered in the district’s plan, because quite frankly, they do not know that culture. So, safety needs to be considered. Then there’s the amount of traffic guards, school guards, crossing guards, safe corridors and the needless crossing of Broad Street by an elementary school student.
“We are arguing that, because not all of the [concerns] were considered, the district needs to take a little bit more time, and give Dr. Hite the room and resources to do his job. I believe Hite has been brought and is hamstrung. Now we put his face on the [Facilities Master Plan], but those of us who has been invested in the education conversation know that this plan looks like and smells like things we’ve heard way before Hite got here.”