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. ••