Councilman Curtis Jones on School Closings: “Hit The Pause Button.”

January 24, 2013

I’d like to start out by saying that I never make a whole decision on half information.

This past Monday, in recognition of the MLK Day of Service, I had the privilege of sharing the day with hundreds of children and families at Gompers Elementary and Beeber Middle School. The Day of service turned into a day of activism for the students, and it was inspiring to see our youth marching and shouting and chanting – just to be heard on an issue that affects them directly – their education.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve attended
community meetings in my District – one at
Lamberton High School last week, and
another at Overbrook High School this week
– where hundreds came out to voice their concerns over
the proposed school closings and consolidations in my
District, including Gompers Elementary, Overbrook
Elementary, Beeber Middle School, Lamberton High School and Overbrook High School. Additionally my staff has attended meetings regarding closures/consolidations at Whittier Elementary, Pierce Elementary, Rhoads Elementary, Lankenau High School and Roxborough High School.

Before today, I was reticent to state a position on the proposed school closures plan by the SRC and Superintendent Hite. I was in listening mode, and I wanted full information in order to make a fully informed decision. Over the last few months, I convened meetings with Dr. Hite, leadership from charter and public schools in my district and citywide, as well as my esteemed colleagues in Council, including Councilwoman Blackwell, Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez, and Councilwoman Reynolds- Brown.

I have raised specific concerns about issues that will impact students in my District Schools should the SRC plan move forward, and have provided recommendations to the SRC and Superintendent Hite on ways to address these issues. Again, I never make a whole decision on half information.

To date, I have NOT received any feedback on these concerns, which are, for the most part, derived from the outcry of parents, students, teachers and administrators from the schools the SRC has considered closing or consolidating in my District. These concerns include:

  •   Ensuring the safety of younger children attending school with older students in newly reconfigured buildings;
  •   Adequately addressing the increased length of time and distance travelled for students switching schools by providing the necessary transportation and transit options;
  •   Providing a clearer picture of the cost savings gained by the closings and consolidations, and providing a viable plan for how those cost savings will be applied to maintaining and improving the quality of programs and resources at the consolidated schools.Based on my experiences these past few months, I believe that recommendations to close the selected schools in my District are ill-conceived and ill-timed for execution by June of this year. That’s why I co-sponsored a resolution (No. 130027) with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Chair of the Committee on Education, to suspend closings and consolidations so that actionable plans addressing the safety for our children, as well as realistic figures of cost savings and expenditures can be decided with participation from constituents in my District.

    We cannot ignore the real state of our school system’s finances, as well as the need to improve the educational outcomes from our schools in this city. However, I know that by advocating for more time to consider alternatives and other viable options, we can all figure out a plan that better addresses the concerns of the School District, parents, students, teachers and administrators. This is too important to the future of students in my District and too important to the City of Philadelphia to consider otherwise.

    So today I say, push the pause button on this plan. If we build it right… they shall come.

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