- The Port Richmond high school is just one of three schools that will close in the River Wards. Two Fishtown schools will stay open, but will be affected by grade changes and an influx of new students.
Charles Carroll High School freshman Larry Scruggs said that last Friday, it felt like a dark cloud had fallen on top of the school he’s only attended for less than a year — a short time, to be sure, but still enough to become part of a school environment he likened to “a family.”
Unfortunately for Scruggs and his classmates, on Friday, Port Richmond’s Carroll High became one of the three River Wards schools that are part of the largest mass public school closure in Philadelphia history.
Now, students, parents and community leaders alike have spoken out about the shuttering of Carroll, 2700 E. Auburn St., Douglas High School, 2700 E. Huntingdon St., and Sheridan West Academy, 3701 Frankford Ave.
“I just wish they could have given us one year more,” Scruggs, of Kensington, told Star on Monday. “They [students] know they won’t see the same people next year at different schools.”
Scruggs said that the atmosphere in Carroll last Friday and Monday was a sad one, but students are simply getting used to the news and deciding where they’ll attend school next. He said he’d transition next year to Nueva Esperanza Academy Charter School in Hunting Park.
Two additional River Wards schools will not close, but will be affected by the SRC’s recommended changes and grade reassignments — students from Sheridan West Academy will be reassigned to Penn Treaty Middle School, 600 E. Thompson St., and beginning in September, Penn Treaty will expand to include grades 9 through 12, and will also become a reassignment option for Carroll and Douglas students.
Hackett Elementary School, 2161 E. York St., will not close, but will lose students in grades 5 and 6, who will also transfer to Penn Treaty Middle School.
Within the public school district, students from Carroll and Douglas will now have the option of transferring to Kensington Business School, Kensington Urban Education Academy, Kensington Health Sciences, or Mastbaum AVTS High School.
Emotions ran high leading up to the Thursday SRC vote —19 people, including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, were arrested when they tried to block SRC members’ entrance into the meeting, at 440 N. Broad St.
The SRC did vote to keep four schools open. The schools that were saved are: T.M. Peirce Elementary in North Philadelphia, Roosevelt Middle in East Germantown, Taylor Elementary in Hunting Park and Paul Robeson High in West Philadelphia.
Last Thursday, about 75 students at Charles Carroll High School in Port Richmond protested the potential closing of their school. City Councilman Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) also attended that rally in support. Carroll students in particular had been very active in fighting to keep the school open, along with representatives from the education advocacy group, Youth United for Change.
Claire Galpern, youth organizer for YUC, who has been spending time at Carroll, said Friday at the school was “a sad day for sure.”
One student, freshman Zach Kaufmann, had spoken at a meeting of the School Reform Commission on Feb. 21. While he could not be reached by Star by press time, he told the Associated Press Friday, “I’ve really done a lot to show them [the SRC] how much I love Carroll. I guess it didn’t really get through to them.”
Some community group leaders spoke of how school closures might affect the neighborhoods they represent.
“I think that while the decisions made by the SRC make sense financially…changing schools is a difficult transition, and worries about possible class overcrowding are valid,” said Kate Micklow, president of the Fishtown Neighbors Association.
Sam Howell, principal of Penn Treaty Middle School, said Monday that while a lot of changes have to be made at Penn Treaty under the SRC’s recommendation, “everything is still in the earliest stages.”
“The FNA encourages our residents and neighbors to support the students we’ll encounter in our midst in the academic years ahead, as well other groups that can offer additional support, such as Rock to the Future, and the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Organizations,” Micklow continued.
Jorge Santana, co-founder of the parents’ education advocacy group New Kensington Parents, which focuses on ZIP Code 19125, said the group is concerned about over-population at Penn Treaty Middle School, and about the taking away of the 5th and 6th grades from Horatio Hackett Elementary.
“We’re still trying to sort out why they are moving the grade configuration around at Hackett,” Santana said in an e-mail message. “If anything, they should be expanding Hackett to 8th grade and giving the school more money to accelerate its gains.”
Marla Marko, vice president of the Old Richmond Civic Association – Douglas High is located within ORCA’s boundaries — said she wasn’t sure of the impact Douglas’ closure would have, but spoke of the negative effects of the 2011 closure of St. Anne’s Parish School.
“Kids being displaced, friends being separated, teachers losing their jobs,” she said. “That was a disgrace.”
Many people have already raised concerns about similar effects in the public school system.
Some legislators say that the school closure fight isn’t over, however, even as Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told The Philadelphia Inquirer Friday, “Now, we immediately transition to school opening.”
City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell (D-3rd dist.), who heads the education committee, said the option of legal action to stop the closings is being discussed.
“It’s not over yet,” agreed Theresa Costello of the Port Richmond Community Group. “Maybe a federal lawsuit is necessary.”
For now, it seems River Wards students are merely accepting and learning to cope with the news that their schools will soon no longer be the places they call home nearly eight hours per day.
“It’s not the same anymore now I know the school I’ve been at for three years is closing,” said Yasmine Bouie, a junior at Carroll. “It’s a family there.”
Bouie said she’s not sure where she will choose to attend school next year.
Scruggs shared the sentiment about the atmosphere at Carroll.
“It’s a safe environment, it’s a small school, good teachers,” he said. “They care.”