The Germantown Alumni Association and the Class of 1976 Germantown Alumni group have a special message for this year’s graduating class. First, as many Northwest Philadelphia students graduate from Germantown this year they hope they will join the alumni groups. Secondly, they hope that once they do they will return to their alma mater to mentor their younger counterparts.
This is exactly what Stephen Kinsey has been doing since he graduated with Germantown High’s Bicentennial Class in 1976. Over the years he has helped secure funds for the school’s library refurbishment project though the general alumni and with the Class of 1976 given out scholarships and spearheaded other programs.
“We have continued to be a vehicle to help and support the current students,” Kinsey said. “In the past we have partnered with the Philadelphia Education Fund, various elected officials and stakeholders. We have brought a diverse range of things to help the school even if it was volunteering to help with the PSSAs or mentoring a student.
“As students leave Germantown they are aware of the problems and challenges students face. That’s why it’s important that those of us who graduated from Germantown—and we have many successful graduates—return to mentor these students. Germantown is going to celebrating their 100thh anniversary as a school soon and we want all the folks who benefitted from the school to come back,” Kinsey said.
Among the partners who have assisted the school in the past few years are LaSalle University, Albert Einstein Medical Center, and Comcast. All these partners have key personnel who are among the Germantown High alumni, according to Kinsey. “I think it’s important that students who are at Germantown now know that. I think students who graduate need to be committed to coming back to enhance the school in practical ways.”
Public hearing draws emotional pleas, alternate proposals
If the first of three School Reform Commission hearings on the fate of 29 schools recommended for closure is any indication, the final two meetings will be rife with emotional pleas, the introduction of several community proposals – and at least a few suggestions that the SRC hasn’t been as forthcoming as certain community members would have preferred.
All of the above was on display as the SRC opened the last set of meetings on Thursday, with more scheduled Friday and Saturday, before the body delivers its final decision on the school closings on March 7. District Superintendent Dr. William Hite Jr. last December initially recommended the district close 37 schools, but that number has since been lowered, thanks to a heavy community response and the presentation of several comprehensive alternate plans.
Strawberry Mansion Principal Linda Cliatt Wayman spoke against the proposed merger involving LP Hill Elementary School, noting that students there need more services and less disruption.
“The students of LP Hill are already in need of a great deal of support, but have been steadily denied the necessary resources that are crucial to the early years of their educational careers,” Wayman said, adding that her group also recently submitted an alternate proposal to the SRC. “Schools have always been held as cornerstones of every society and community, and they will rise and fall on the performance of their schools.
“These children deserve the opportunity to receive an education where they live,” Wayman continued. “They deserve to be given the message, ‘where you live has value, where you live has the right to the same resources as where everyone else lives.’”
Quibila A. Divine, the education chair for the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, also gave an impassioned plea for saving TM Pierce Elementary School, who stressed safety as but one mitigating factor in keeping the school open.
“As the only school between Broad Street and 29th street, which is 15 blocks, and Lehigh Avenue to Clearfield Street, which is four blocks, it makes sense to me to keep TM Pierce open, expand the current catchment area and send the students who are residing on 25th street between Lehigh and Clearfield to Pierce, which is no more than four blocks away,” Divine said. “Instead of requiring them to go to Dr. Ethan Allen, which is six blocks away and lower performing.”
While many of the parents and stakeholders made emotional and sometimes rambling pleas, State Representative Stephen Kinsley was in the position of both siding with the community members and organizations who want to keep their schools open, and with the district, which he recognizes must close some schools to bring about fiscal – and in the long-term, educational – stability. Kinsley also presented the SRC with an alternate plan.
“The proposal that [the SRC] is considering to pursue will actually eliminate the elementary, middle and the high school all in central Germantown. We are talking about impacting 1,300 students, all within a one-mile radius of central Germantown,” Kinsley said during his testimony. “In addition to the impact on the 1,300 students, we are also talking about impacting 500-plus small businesses within the 19144 zip code.
“The [school closures] will have a grave impact on not only the students, parents and even businesses within that particular area, so I want to urge [the SRC] to reconsider,” Kinsley continued. “We recognize that schools have to close, so all we are asking this body is to please work with us. We are willing to concede the closing of Fulton school, and we’re asking those students move into Germantown. We are willing to concede the closing of Roosevelt school, but also asking that those students move into Germantown.
“Germantown’s current utilization is at 30 percent; by bringing in those two schools, the utilization rate would be over 60 percent, and would save public education in central Germantown.”