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.”
Germantown community groups came together to discuss the neighborhood’s issues and how they could address them as a unified front at an Aug. 15 meeting held at the offices of State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-201).
Various groups including the Germantown United Community Development Corp. (GUCDC), Jones Temple Church of God In Christ (COGIC), and Germantown Restoration Community Development Corporation attended the meeting, which was hosted by Kinsey and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass (D-8), who sought to begin a conversation on how the organizations could work together to improve economic and social issues in the area.
“We need to work together to rebuild,” Kinsey said. “The real deal is that resources are scarce and Councilwoman Bass and I believe that if we are going to grow Germantown, it’s going to take a collaborative effort.”
She said after the discussions, the onus would be on the community groups to decide if and how they will work together. “The purpose of the meeting was to [have] organizations start a dialogue,” she said. “Now they can decide where they want to go with this.”
According to the groups in attendance, that effort is something they will work on using information gleaned from the meeting.
Each side introduced their organization and its community efforts and then participated in a two-hour discussion on how they could address Germantown’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“This was an important meeting,” said Yvonne Haskins, GUCDC co-founder. “We [learned] how to collaborate and form a power base of coalitions.”
Haskins said the next step is to “sit down and say we are going to work together,” and to make a “bond” or “pact” affirming the statement.
For Haskins and others, this would be the best way to address some of Germantown’s weaknesses and threats and capitalize on its strengths.
She named a list of items that could be best completed as one unit.
“We need to develop a business directory so people can know where the good food is and where the new products are, and we need to [decide] how we can help the block captains help each other,” Haskins said.
The Rev. Chester H. Williams, Jones Temple Church of God in Christ Associate Minister, said fighting one item listed as a weakness, could also be addressed with a stronger partnership between community groups.
“It will go away if you start with the basics – cleaning the community, communicating [with] each other, having [unified] community notifications,” he said.
Andrew Trackman, GUCDC President said “gentrification” was one of his major concerns and one he said could be best addressed with a balance of views from different groups.
“I call it the Germantown conundrum,” he said. “If you have a community that is trying to uplift itself, how do you balance that with new people coming in the community? There are people here who want a Stephen Starr restaurant and there are people here who don’t have skills to work in one, so how [can] we bridge that gap and have community economically integrated.”
It is for such multi-faceted problems as these that Kinsey said he hopes the organizations can unite to provide solutions.
“Now that we’ve seen and discussed what the issues are, the next step is working together to resolve them,” he said.
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.”
Germantown businesses held their third quarterly meeting this year with State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-201, and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, D-8, Sept. 11 at Treasures Banquet Hall. The meeting focused on connecting owners to improved the business market on Germantown Avenue.
Attendees ranged from aspiring, to new and veteran entrepreneurs. Also in attendance were representatives from Acclaim Academy, Rose Petals Café and Lounge, Primerica and the Germantown United Community Development Corporation.
“The purpose of these meetings is for businesses to engage and have conversations so they can help other businesses,” said Kinsey. “It is a part of the effort to rebuild Germantown.”
This sentiment was also expressed by Lace It Up dance studio owner Cheryl Ingram, who said connecting with other entrepreneurs was one of the reasons she attended the meeting.
“I [came] to meet other business owners and find out what is going on in the community,” she said, adding that after the meeting she hoped owners would work to form relationships because it would be vital for business growth. “I hope the businesses work with each other. In order to thrive, we have to help each other help the community.”
In addition to networking, Wednesday’s meeting also gave owners and representatives a platform to discuss relevant topics, including public safety, financial services and upcoming taxes.
PNC Bank representatives briefly discussed their merchant and lending services. Kenneth Lawrence, PNC Business Banker, said his main goal is to educate business owners on the proper ways to grow, aside from just asking for money.
“The key is networking with as many people as possible because you never know when you can use products, services, or advice,” he said. “The conversation should not be just about loans, but about finding partners to help.”
A representative from the Commerce Department also shared business advice, prompting aspiring entrepreneurs to capitalize on low-priced properties. “The economy has made [rental] prices affordable. People need to take advantage and pay attention to what’s going on,” he said. “It’s a good time to do business in Philly.”
As for new assessments, property owners along the Germantown and Chelten avenues corridor will have to pay 12 percent of their “2013 real estate” taxes next year to fund the Germantown Special Services District (GSSD), which will be responsible for cleaning Germantown Avenue (between Coulter and High streets) and Chelten Avenue (between Baynton and Morris streets), Maplewood Mall, Market Square and parts of Greene, Wayne and Pulaski.
For Debra Carter, owner of Wild Styles barbershop on Germantown Avenue, this aspect of improving the business environment is crucial. “The trash is a major eyesore,” she said, adding that the tax assessment planned to fund GSSD’s cleaning services will not be a problem for her. “The taxes will affect the landlord,” she said.
Property or business owners who oppose the tax can file an appeal by Oct. 17.
Rep. Kinsey added that he wants to “have lighting up,” and seek out ways to extend the street cleaning to more areas along the Germantown and Chelten corridor, all in an effort to attract more business.
“We want to bring shoppers back and be [ready] for businesses coming to Germantown,” he said.
City councilwoman Cindy Bass and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey, along with their staff, residents, volunteers and community groups cleaned up Germantown Ave. on Saturday in an effort to make the area more welcoming for people who live and shop there.
About 40 people participated in the cleanup, which targeted the area between Church and Walnut Lanes, including Vernon Park and Maplewood Mall.
Volunteers picked up trash and swept the streets and businesses such as PNC Bank, Acclaim Academy and CVS donated food and water. Several volunteers said in addition to beautifying the neighborhood, they hope to send a strong message to the community.
“It starts with us,” said Cornelia Swinson, executive director of the Germantown Restoration Community Development Corporation. “We have to do something about it and use it as an opportunity to engage people.” Swinson said.
“We have to put it in people’s conscience,” he said. “If they see us doing this, [hopefully] they will do better and do their part.”
Kinsey noted he and other volunteer’s services at Saturday’s cleanup was in conjunction with the Philadelphia chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. The organization adopted Germantown Ave. and holds monthly street cleanings.
Councilwoman Bass said starting the regular cleanups now and continuing next year with the permanent staff would be key in rebuilding the area, especially in terms of business.
“Germantown and Chelten is one of the busiest transportation hubs in the city, 1000s of people come here every single day,” she said. “To come and go and not feel good about the neighborhood is a waste. We want people to want to come here because it’s clean, inviting and safe.”
For a founding member of the revamped GSSD committee, Marcus Von Heppinstall, cleanup efforts would have also have a positive impact on the morale of business owners.
“The people we are reaching right now are the store owners,” he said. “When we start charging them, they will feel good about where their money is being spent. They will have a better shopping district.”
Camelot Schools LLC, an operator of three alternative education schools, has won majority-support from the segment of the community that participated in talks about the Texas-based educational service provider’s proposal to consolidate under the roof of now-closed Germantown High School.
Rep. Stephen Kinsey, who co-sponsored the community meetings with Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Sen. Leanna Washington, said some community members expressed reluctant support for leasing a portion of the high school complex to Camelot Schools, but agreed to fall in step behind community leaders.
Many Germantown residents are still coping with sadness, anger and resentment over the shuttered building, one of 23 schools that were closed in June throughout the city, part of an overall effort by the SRC to streamline operations and reduce costs, redirecting millions of dollars in projected savings to other areas.
Community advocates in Germantown say they want Germantown High School to remain available for use by the community for meetings and student activities. They also pushed for ongoing maintenance on the campus and surrounding area.
Final details are being formalized in a community benefits agreement, which serves as a document that memorializes community support.
“We can’t put everything in there,” Kinsey said. “We can’t please everyone.”
Kinsey’s chief of staff, Stacey Wright, and Bass’ deputy chief of staff, Jacob Itzkowitz, are collaborating in drafting the community benefits agreement, which will outline provisions allowing the building to be utilized by the community and arranging upkeep of the school campus and surrounding property.
Camelot is seeking approval to rent about 100,000 square feet on the Germantown High School campus, utilizing two of its three buildings. The school district has budgeted $7.3 million in payments to Camelot for the forthcoming school year. Camelot runs alternative programs for students who have been expelled for disciplinary problems, or have had disruptions in their schooling and want to earn credits at an accelerated pace.
Camelot operates Camelot Academy in the Daniel Boone School at 1435 N. 26th St., a transitional school; and two accelerated schools, Excel Academy North at 6600 Bustleton Ave. and Excel Academy South in Friends Hospital at 4641 Roosevelt Blvd.
Camelot Schools CEO Todd Bock has said the company has a strong track record in working with students who can present the most challenge to school district leaders. But it can no longer afford to operate three schools separately because, like the school district, federal and state funding cuts have taken a toll. It has been operating alternative education programs in Philadelphia since 2004.
The School Reform Commission required consensus from the community on Camelot’s proposed use for a neighborhood school that had long served as a hub for a host of programs geared for students and the community, including GED courses, work-readiness training and after-school clubs.
The next steps are final review of community input by Camelot Schools management, which must forward plans to the SRC for approval.
A group of Germantown residents called attention to what they described as poor and deplorable conditions in their Section 8 housing at a Sept. 17 meeting with the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA). More than 20 people, including young mothers, seniors and some with disabilities told of their experience with careless landlords, who’ve allegedly allowed everything from pests to exposed wiring go unchecked in residents’ homes.
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-201), whose office planned the meeting, said he and staffers decided it was necessary after receiving numerous calls and emails from impacted residents.
“Some folks sent in pictures,” said Kinsey. “And I thought, ‘Is this serious?’ As we started looking, we were like, ‘how can someone live in these conditions?’”
Residents cited bedbugs, mold and leaking pipes as some of the housing issues that they were facing.
One young mother, who lives in Magnolia Mews, said that she had to pay out of pocket to have bedbugs treated in her home because her landlord would not address it. Someone else alleged that her apartment was so inadequately secured that dealers were able to come in and hide drugs. Others complained about the lack of lighting in their Champlost apartment complex.
Some did express the desire to leave and transfer to new properties, but a Section 8 resident must have a “tenant-based voucher” to transfer, a guideline that some did not meet.
“I, and other residents, have all spoken to the regional manager regarding our issues and he has been unresponsive,” said Tahitian Funny, a resident at Stenton Ave.’s Fisher’s Crossing apartments. Funny described living conditions at Crossing as “deplorable and below average” and said that for a “year or so” she has been trying to get them to address a mold problem and electrical problems. She said the only answer she has received from the general manager, is “we’re working on it.” Funny added that although a PHA inspector has come out to look at her home, he did not cite the same issues that she’s noticed.
“His inspection took 10 minutes. He would say something was wrong with the caulking, but not [cite] what we said.” For this and other reasons, Funny alleges that the PHA inspector “did not do his job.”
Magnolia Mews resident Johvan Braddock said he has been waiting six months for a new ceiling, which fell through when running water from his upstairs neighbors’ leaked through and destroyed it. Pictures he brought to the meeting showed an exposed ceiling with a hanging light fixture. The exposed ceiling also resulted in a leaky pipe. “I have had a number of issues and none have been addressed,” said Braddock. “Their first response to the leaky pipe was ‘a plumber needs to fix it,’ but nothing happened. Right now, I’m looking for new housing through PHA or another agency.”
PHA and city officials at the meeting agreed that the conditions were unacceptable and that they would launch further investigations into residents’ claims.
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey hosted an “Understanding Medicare” information session for senior citizens recently at the Philip Murray Senior Center.
The session was held to prepare seniors for the open enrollment season and inform them of available health care options. During the session, an insurance agent and city and state officials, discussed and responded to concerns on Medicare options and eligibility, benefits of supplemental insurance and prescription drug costs.
“[Because] we are in the midst of open enrollment, we want to make sure [seniors] have as much information as possible to make the best decisions for their lives and that they don’t confuse open enrollment with the Affordable Care Act,” Kinsey said.
According to www.healthcare.gov, “Open enrollment” refers to the period of time during which “individuals who are eligible to enroll in a Qualified Health Plan can enroll in a plan in the Marketplace.” However, for seniors who have Medicare — which includes most of those in attendance at last week’s meeting — the Affordable Care Act — does not affect their coverage.
“Their main interest was the difference between their current [insurance] plans and how the Affordable Care Act will affect them, [but] they’re not really going to be affected,” said Perry Jones, a Medicare specialist with WFG. Jones added that other concerns brought up by the seniors were “the difference between Medicare Supplement and Medicare Advantage and how to save money in an individual situation.”
Seniors who attended the meeting said they were able to gather information that would help them choose the best health care options to fit their needs.
“I think I am paying too much for insurance, [considering] that I live in senior housing,” said Arlene Barnes, a resident of the Murray center. “Jones will be calling to give me information about my [current] insurance and to see if he can help me lower it,” she said.
Theodore Sherrod, another Murray center resident, said he attended the meeting “to find out if my insurance is OK and if I should stay on the Advantage plan or switch to another one.” Sherrod said he was also able to find out “what insurance would be the better insurance, if I have to go to the hospital in an ambulance, so I wouldn’t have to pay $900. Jones told me I would have to get a supplemental plan.”
In addition to these individual concerns, Jones said seniors needed to know that the “Affordable Care Act does not affect Medicare; preventative services such as regular checkups — under Medicare — are free; and that the doughnut hole — under the ACA is closing up in 2020.”
The “doughnut hole,” is a part of Medicare Part D plan. According to Medicare specialist Jones, it is a prescription cost coverage gap that occurs when individuals have maxed out prescription benefits and then must pay out of pocket up until a yearly amount — which could translate into thousands of dollars that one has to pay.
Jones said under the Affordable Care Act, the prescription benefit of Medicare Part D plan will increase so that by 2020, there will be no gap.
Germantown residents, clergy and educators met with State Rep. Stephen Kinsey on Thursday, in their second meeting to discuss reuse plans for Germantown High School.
The meeting comes after initial discussions Dec. 3 to determine how the community wanted the building to be reused. The decision at that meeting was unanimous – all those in attendance wanted Germantown High to be reused as an educational facility.
The next step, according to Kinsey, is deciding what type of school it will be.
“There was discussion about a charter school versus vocational,” he said. “Is it elementary, K-8, or high school? We have to have these types of discussions so we can start pointing this thing in a direction and getting support behind it in some way shape or fashion.”
Kinsey advised the Germantown residents that after the meeting they should have “conversations among themselves and their organizations” to figure out exactly what the community needs and go from there.
But, some in the group were able to immediately offer a list of needs and issues they said need to be considered. “Adult education” was one. The group suggested that the school should offer evening classes for people in need of continuing their education, such as GED seekers.
They also suggested that the school transcend traditional education and offer a diverse learning opportunity that includes arts and cultural options, technical training and emotional and social supports. One attendee said the school should teach students “how to advocate” for themselves and “problem-solving” skills.
Lorelei Toombs, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, said “homelessness” needed to be a consideration as well.
“The student body of Germantown upon its closure had near 30 percent of its student population that could be considered homeless,” Toombs said. “And that’s because of its transitional nature. We have a large part of the greater Germantown community that is constantly moving and that creates a lot of felt instability. I think it should inform what kind of community educational facility [we] want to build.”
This homelessness statistic Toombs references was also noted in a study of Germantown High, conducted by Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
As far as what grade levels should be included in the school, some attendees said that is the one factor that they still need research.
However, one indicator of what the majority felt was seen when Kinsey asked if the future school should be high school grades only. Out of about 10 people, no one said yes and two said they “didn’t know.”
Dino Jarmon, a member of non-profit Men Who Care, said he was in favor of a K-12 school because it would be more effective in training children.
“I prefer K-12 because if you don’t get them early, they are already caught up in society,” he said.
Retired educator Betty Turner was one of several attendees that said she would do more research before making a decision.
“We have to look at what we have in the community and what is needed,” she said, stating a list of questions that needed to be a part of such a decision. “What are the gaps? What’s already existing? If there is money coming in, where is it going?”
Possible funding sources for the school were discussed, including grants from local organizations and assistance from possible partnerships with universities.
Julie Stapleton Carroll, of the Germantown United Community Development Corporation (GUCDC) and CEO of Principled Schools, is helping to lead the reuse effort of Germantown High and said she has been in discussions with Build with Purpose – a New Jersey based non-profit real estate firm about the costs it would take to renovate the building.
“They came to look at Germantown High and didn’t think it would cost $30 million to renovate,” she said, referencing previous reports.
She added a lease to buy was an option, one that would include the renovation costs into the lease amount. Her next step is to meet with the Philadelphia School Partnership, a local organization that raises “philanthropic funds” for schools, to discuss more funding options.
Kinsey said he is arranging for state officials to come and guide the community groups in their search for funding – a development specialist for the state legislature and a rep from the Department of Commerce.
The representative noted he will be looking for funds as well, as long as the effort to rebuild Germantown High is consistent with what the community needs.
“My commitment is to keeping Germantown High School building as an educational institution,” Kinsey said. “In my role as legislator I will look to fund and support that initiative as long as it’s in line with what the community at large would like to see.”
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey hosted a “Rapping with the Rep” community meeting on Friday with Logan community members at the Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church, 4541 N. Broad St.
It was the first of a series of regular meetings that Kinsey is planning for 201st district citizens. Right now, Logan is not in his legislative district, but is in planning stage to be redistricted to his office.
“It’s a new initiative that allows me to get throughout the district and have an intimate conversation with a small group of folks in regards to concerns and issues that are important,” Kinsey said. “One of the reasons this meeting was so important is that [I’m] taking on a whole new section of Logan area that’s not familiar with me and I’m not familiar with them.”
The Logan Community Development Corporation (CDC) and the Beloved St. John Church were among the groups represented at the meeting.
Community members raised some social concerns and discussed possible solutions with Kinsey.
“We discussed the things our church could do in partnering up to better Logan – feeding the community, helping veterans to get better programming, assisting senior citizens,” said Sabrina Walls, a Logan resident and Beloved St. John member.
Walter Yarbrough, also a Logan resident and Beloved St. John member, said he too wanted to see these issues addressed.
He noted a new outreach center the church plans to open, could be a place where the church and Kinsey partner to work in the community.
“We are going to build a Beloved House where we tend to the needs of the community,” Yarbrough said. “We are hoping to feed people, do counseling, GED trainings, computer labs for seniors and activities for seniors.
“In some way we are going to partner with Kinsey because he does a lot for his community in Germantown,” he added. “We do a community day throughout the year and he also has one in Germantown. He suggested we could combine or just have two fairs.”
Yarbrough said other opportunities the church is interested in includes learning “how to get access to grant funding,” which would boost the church’s efforts, one of which includes opening a food bank.
“We plan to [open] a food bank,” Yarbrough said. “Right now, we have certain times of the year where we feed people at a shelter and feed people on holidays. [But] we are trying to do more. There are some kids with food stamps being cut in half and there are going to be a lot of hungry children during the summer. We are trying to help with that. Right now we are doing it through the CDC at the church.”
Kinsey said other concerns centered on providing youth with more activities, assisting former inmates with re-entry and employment opportunities. He would work to bring “additional resources to the community” to address the issues.
“One of my major concerns is education funding and also increasing community job opportunities,” Kinsey said. “Part of my pledge is that any organization or businesses that come to the community, we want to work with them so they can employ some of the local folks. [And] with summertime around the corner, there are always concerns about kids hanging out and nothing for them to do, so we’re going to look at activities where we can have corporations to employ them even if it’s for a short period of time.”