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.” ••