‘Bridesburg born and raised’ won’t stop at fifth grade

Thanks to the hard work of con­cerned par­ents and ad­min­is­trat­ors, Brides­burg ele­ment­ary will add a sixth grade in the fall.

Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary School, 2824 Jenks St., is one of the schools near the busy in­ter­sec­tion that is deemed un­safe. MI­KALA JAM­IS­ON / STAR PHOTO

Brides­burg par­ent Adam Vis­con­to, and many oth­er con­cerned par­ents and ad­min­is­trat­ors like him, can pat them­selves on the back a bit, as they’ve helped se­cure a big win for the Brides­burg com­munity.

Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary, cur­rently a K-5 school, will add a sixth grade next school year.

Dean of Stu­dents Dara Sav­age con­firmed by phone Monday that the grade ex­pan­sion will oc­cur in the fall, and said she was call­ing fifth grade stu­dents’ fam­il­ies that morn­ing to ask if those stu­dents would like to re­turn for sixth grade.

“The kids de­serve this,” Sav­age said.  “We’re mov­ing for­ward, we’re ex­cited. Who could ask for more?”

The ex­pan­sion is what Vis­con­to called a “huge vic­tory” for the neigh­bor­hood, par­tic­u­larly in light of the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict’s sweep­ing lay­offs of nearly 4,000 em­ploy­ees due to the dis­trict’s budget short­falls.

At Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary, the lay­offs were to in­clude two teach­ers, all noon­time aides, and a school sec­ret­ary and coun­selor, ac­cord­ing to third grade teach­er Vick­ie Hall.

With the sixth grade ex­pan­sion, one of those un­named teach­ers, based on seni­or­ity, will be able to stay at the school. The school has the space for the ex­pan­sion, as there are four va­cant classrooms cur­rently in the school, ac­cord­ing to a pro­pos­al for ex­pan­sion writ­ten by prin­cip­al James Ser­pi­ello in March.

Di­on Betts, as­sist­ant su­per­in­tend­ent of the Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict, said in an email to Vis­con­to that he would like a work­ing group to be cre­ated at the school to ex­am­ine fur­ther grade ex­pan­sion and grant fund­ing.

Said Betts in the email, “All op­tions for growth are on the table.”

“It’s amaz­ing,” said Yvonne Steph­ens of Brides­burg, whose son, Gregory, just fin­ished 5th grade at the school. He’s already been ac­cep­ted to Mari­time Academy Charter School, and won’t re­turn to Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary, but Steph­ens said Monday she was thrilled for the par­ents of stu­dents still at the school.

“I think the fight [to push for a sixth grade] cre­ated what we wanted, to have a 6th grade and keep a teach­er in the Brides­burg fam­ily,” said Steph­ens, who is the treas­urer of the Brides­burg Home and School As­so­ci­ation.

Monday was a joy­ful day for the school com­munity, but push­ing for a sixth grade at the school wasn’t an easy battle.

Last week, on June 19, Star met with Vis­con­to, Steph­ens and Hall at the school, be­fore the de­cision had been made to ex­pand to sixth grade. That night, Vis­con­to and Steph­ens spoke be­fore the School Re­form Com­mis­sion to make the case for Brides­burg’s ex­pan­sion.

At the school, be­fore the meet­ing, the three were adam­ant about Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary be­ing a place stu­dents in the com­munity should be able to call home up un­til high school.

“Every­body’s a friend, [the school] is fam­ily-ori­ented. It’s real,” Steph­ens said.

“Brides­burg is a place that the school really is the back­bone of the com­munity and can be a force to strengthen it and keep it mov­ing for­ward,” Vis­con­to said on June 19. One of Vis­con­to’s three daugh­ters will enter Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary in the fall as a kinder­garten­er.

The school has the stat­ist­ics to back up par­ents’ pos­it­iv­ity — the school has out­per­formed its dis­trict coun­ter­parts by as much as 57 per­cent on the yearly PSSA test, and has main­tained its Ad­equate Yearly Pro­gress — AYP — status for nine straight years, ac­cord­ing to dis­trict re­ports.  

“Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary is a con­sist­ently high per­form­ing K-5 school,” Vis­con­to said.

And un­for­tu­nately, he con­tin­ued, stu­dents have no ac­cept­able school op­tion once they leave Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary.

“Fifth grade gradu­ates from Brides­burg have the op­tion of at­tend­ing Hard­ing Middle School or at­tempt­ing to get a seat in a charter school,” Vis­con­to said in his re­marks to the SRC on June 19. “Hard­ing Middle School, un­for­tu­nately, has not made AYP in the past nine years and has been named to the 2012/2013 list of Pennsylvania fail­ing schools.”

In Ser­pi­ello’s March pro­pos­al to as­sist­ant su­per­in­tend­ent Betts, Ser­pi­ello wrote that par­ents of Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary stu­dents pull their stu­dents out of the school as early as third grade, be­cause charter schools tell par­ents that if their child does not en­roll in grade 3, it is un­likely that he or she will be ac­cep­ted in sub­sequent years.

The school’s pop­u­la­tion from grade 3 to 4 drops nearly one third every year as a res­ult, Ser­pi­ello wrote.

“It’s very up­set­ting to lose stu­dents after third or fourth grade, es­pe­cially when par­ents say they love it here,” Hall said.

The end point of Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary ex­pand­ing, though good news, does fall short of what was the ori­gin­al plan of ex­pand­ing to eighth grade.

Ser­pi­ello’s pro­pos­al to Betts con­tin­ued that in 2005, a res­ol­u­tion was ap­proved to build an ad­di­tion to Brides­burg School, funds were ap­proved, and con­struc­tion plans were un­der­way.

“Par­ents were adam­ant in as­sert­ing they were told that the school was to be ex­pan­ded to in­clude Kinder­garten through Grade 8,” Ser­pi­ello wrote.

“This was prom­ised,” Hall said of the ex­pan­sion to eighth grade. Es­sen­tially, the school ex­pan­ded, but the grades didn’t.

For now, though, the par­ents and ad­min­is­trat­ors at Brides­burg Ele­ment­ary who hoped for a grade ex­pan­sion said they are re­lieved, but will push for an ex­pan­sion to grade eight in sub­sequent years.

Vis­con­to said the Brides­burg com­munity raised him, and he just wants to work to provide a nur­tur­ing school en­vir­on­ment for his own chil­dren.

“We will work to give cre­dence to the phrase, ‘Brides­burg born and raised,’” he said. ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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