Northeast Times

What are our students going back to?

River Wards par­ents voice their con­cerns about the up­com­ing school year, their likes and dis­likes about their kids’ schools, and their thoughts on the pub­lic school sys­tem — for bet­ter or worse.

FROM WIKI­ME­DIA COM­MONS

Brides­burg mom Kristin Misko said she has al­ways be­lieved in pub­lic edu­ca­tion. 

With three chil­dren — in kinder­garten, first and third grade — about to be­gin the school year at Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary, Misko told Star that she can’t say enough pos­it­ive things about the school, which this sum­mer ad­ded a sixth grade. 

“It’s a real com­munity in the school,” Misko said. “It’s the stuff [the staff] does every day, in caring for our kids. I’m happy with the school.”

Misko said she re­cog­nizes, though, that she’s lucky. 

“It’s easy for me to say that, with my kids in Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary. I have a good school that’s hanging in there. If [the school] was strug­gling with be­ha­vi­or and aca­dem­ics, I wouldn’t keep them there.” 

Like Misko, some River Wards par­ents who spoke to Star said they are lucky to have their kids in what they say are fine loc­al schools. But that doesn’t mean they, as well as par­ents of stu­dents in schools all over the city, don’t have con­cerns. ••

“We have got­ten really good res­ults with Adaire”

Tina Mil, who has sons in sixth and eighth grade at Al­ex­an­der Adaire School, lives two blocks away in Fishtown. She said she chose to en­roll her sons at Adaire not only be­cause it’s so close by, but be­cause her young­er son re­quires spe­cial edu­ca­tion, and no nearby Cath­ol­ic schools offered the classes he needed.

“We have got­ten really good res­ults with Adaire,” Mil said. “[My son] has got­ten so much bet­ter, the teach­ers take so much care.” 

Mil, who was pres­id­ent of the Adaire Home and School As­so­ci­ation for eight years, said she was very con­cerned that with re­cent budget cuts across the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict, Adaire’s spe­cial edu­ca­tion pro­grams would be af­fected. They were not, but Adaire did lose some of its noon­time aides when 3,700 dis­trict em­ploy­ee lay­offs were an­nounced in early June. The school also lost a sec­ret­ary who even­tu­ally got her job back. 

Ac­cord­ing to the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia budget re­leased in April 2013, the dis­trict’s total budget for the 2013-14 school year was $2.7 bil­lion. 

But a budget short­fall of just $50 mil­lion al­most pre­ven­ted the timely open­ing of pub­lic schools this year. On Aug. 15, dis­trict su­per­in­tend­ent Wil­li­am R. Hite Jr. an­nounced that the schools would open on Sept. 9, since the city came up with the $50 mil­lion by bor­row­ing against fu­ture col­lec­tions of its ex­tra 1 per­cent sales tax. 

“I’m sure things will be more hec­tic this year with budget cuts,” Mil said, “A big con­cern of ours is safety. I worry if there’s a fire in the build­ing, or if kids get sick, and they’re cut­ting coun­selors and sec­ret­ar­ies, how can the prin­cip­al do a mil­lion jobs at once?”

Mil said she’s also con­cerned about over­crowding Fishtown with stu­dents. Last year, she said, Adaire shared a school po­lice of­ficer with Penn Treaty Middle School, which is ex­pand­ing this year to in­clude high school stu­dents in grades nine through twelve. 

Mil said that while she’s happy with her boys’ pub­lic middle school edu­ca­tion, she won’t con­sider pub­lic high school — she said she has heard stor­ies about un­safe con­di­tions in pub­lic high schools. Her old­est child gradu­ated from Frank­lin Towne Charter High School.  

“We really have it good here,” Mil said of Adaire. “We do have par­ents that come in­to Adaire [with their stu­dents] who don’t live in the neigh­bor­hood. They don’t feel safe send­ing their child to their neigh­bor­hood school. I think that’s a shame.” ••

“It’s just safer in Cath­ol­ic and charter school” 

Sta­cey Devlin of Port Rich­mond has a daugh­ter go­ing in­to sixth grade at Mari­time Academy Charter School, in Brides­burg. Her son will be­gin fourth grade at the school this year, after at­tend­ing Moth­er of Di­vine Grace School, in Port Rich­mond. 

Mari­time Academy re­cently transitioned its high school to the va­cant build­ing that formerly held Steph­en Douglas High School, on East Hunt­ing­don Street in Fishtown. 

One of Devlin’s biggest con­cerns, she said, is school safety.

“It’s just safer in Cath­ol­ic and charter school,” she said. “I’ve heard of first-and second-graders [in pub­lic schools] go­ing to school with drugs in their bags. I just wouldn’t feel safe.” 

Devlin de­cided to send her chil­dren to Mari­time Academy, she said, be­cause it seemed like a good school with a good aca­dem­ic pro­gram. Cath­ol­ic school, she said, was also be­com­ing ex­pens­ive.

“[Both our kids] were in Cath­ol­ic school, and we took our daugh­ter out be­cause fin­an­cially, it was be­com­ing tough. It was get­ting tough just hav­ing one kid in Cath­ol­ic school.” 

Devlin said there simply isn’t what she con­siders a good pub­lic school in her neigh­bor­hood.

“They don’t seem great to me,” Devlin said. “I grew up in pub­lic school, and I nev­er had an is­sue, but we live in Port Rich­mond, and Rich­mond Ele­ment­ary has a bad rep.” 

With the cur­rent state of Phil­adelphia pub­lic schools, Devlin said she feels some of the po­ten­tial stress about schools is off her shoulders. 

“I feel like I got lucky,” she said. “But I feel bad for the par­ents that didn’t.” ••

“I can’t ima­gine the stress for par­ents of the kids in pub­lic schools”

Kath­leen Mont­gomery of Fishtown has three daugh­ters who have all at­ten­ded or are at­tend­ing pa­ro­chi­al schools out­side of the River Wards.

Mont­gomery did have two of her daugh­ters en­rolled at St. Anne’s Par­ish School, which closed in 2011.

“I just didn’t like the classroom struc­ture there,” she said. “We were look­ing at oth­er op­tions, and it turns out St. Mary’s [In­ter­pa­ro­chi­al School, Fifth and Lo­cust streets] was the best thing that’s happened to our kids.”

“It’s a shame,” Mont­gomery con­tin­ued, “Be­cause I really like the fact that there was a school in our area. There were so many kids that went to that school. Now it’s kind of dis­join­ted.”

When the school closed, Mont­gomery said, it was very up­set­ting for loc­al stu­dents and their par­ents. She said she wor­ries that clos­ures could hap­pen again, in the pub­lic and pa­ro­chi­al school sys­tems alike.

“You’re un­der this cloud all the time in Phil­adelphia. It’s really nerve-wrack­ing,” she said. “You think, ‘Are we go­ing to have to go through this again?’” 

Mont­gomery ex­plained that she feels “ab­so­lutely blessed” to be able to en­roll her daugh­ters in pa­ro­chi­al schools, and re­cog­nizes that many people can’t af­ford that op­tion.

“I can’t ima­gine the stress for par­ents of the kids in pub­lic schools. I can’t ima­gine the stress of hear­ing that schools might not open [on time],” she said.

Mont­gomery con­tin­ued, “It makes me feel al­most a little guilty about not hav­ing to deal with the crazi­ness in the pub­lic schools. But we have jobs where we struggle to pay bills and pay tu­ition, and we know what’s im­port­ant.” ••

“I’ve got to worry about him get­ting home safe”

Melissa Ash­burn lives on Mem­ph­is Street in Port Rich­mond. She’s wor­ried that her son, who last year fin­ished his school­ing at Rich­mond Ele­ment­ary School, now will be­gin sixth grade at Penn Treaty School in Fishtown, sig­ni­fic­antly fur­ther from home and in a dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hood.

“I don’t know [any­thing] about that area. I’ve got to worry about him get­ting on trans­port, and get­ting home safe,” Ash­burn said.

Ash­burn is at­tempt­ing to en­roll her son at Mem­ph­is Street Academy Charter School, across the street from their home.

“My son’s com­ing from this neigh­bor­hood,” Ash­burn said. “What if some kids [in Fishtown] start get­ting ter­rit­ori­al? That’s my worst fear.”

Ash­burn is also con­cerned that Penn Treaty School will be­come over­crowded.

“If there’s 40-50 kids to one teach­er, kids are go­ing to be lost,” she said.

Ash­burn said she is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing out of the city due to con­cerns about her child’s edu­ca­tion. ••

“We nev­er con­sidered any oth­er op­tion” 

Aimee Thrash­er-Han­son, of Fishtown, has a daugh­ter start­ing this fall at Hack­ett Ele­ment­ary School. Thrash­er-Han­son is also a mem­ber of the Friends of Hack­ett Ele­ment­ary School group.

“We nev­er con­sidered any oth­er op­tion,” said Thrash­er-Han­son of the de­cision to place her daugh­ter in pub­lic school. “I want my child to go to the school closest to our home. I want her to be able to walk to school. I want her to know the kids in her neigh­bor­hood.”

Thrash­er-Han­son said she did not at­tempt to place her child in a charter school be­cause there’s “too much scram­bling.”

“I don’t think my child should have to be in a lot­tery. It’s ri­dicu­lous,” she said.

But Thrash­er-Han­son said she is deeply con­cerned about the psy­cho­lo­gic­al im­pact the school budget crisis will have on chil­dren.

“For the kids who know what’s go­ing on, I think it’s ter­rible. It’s giv­ing them a life les­son that edu­ca­tion doesn’t mat­ter. That you don’t mat­ter. That you’ve giv­en up on us. And that’s not good,” she said.

Thrash­er-Han­son said she is hope­ful that city and state gov­ern­ment will fig­ure out how to in­crease pub­lic school fund­ing, des­pite the re­cent crisis.

“It makes me a little anxious, but I’m still be­ing op­tim­ist­ic … that people will come to their senses. Someone just has to be like, ‘This is enough.’”

She con­tin­ued, “If you can’t have schools, everything else should fall apart.” 

••

Brides­burg’s Misko was stead­fast in her ad­vocacy of the city’s pub­lic school sys­tem mdash; but she said she till re­cog­nizes its harsh real­it­ies. 

“There are a lot of op­tions with­in the pub­lic school sys­tem, not just the neigh­bor­hood schools,” she said. “It’s just that with everything go­ing on right now, those op­tions are shrink­ing.” ••

You can reach and at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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