School Closings: Bracing Ourselves for Change

This issue of school closings in Philadelphia is not all black and white (I do mean that figuratively). On one hand, you have parents, student activist and educators alike vowing to fight to keep many of the Philadelphia public schools (slated to be closed) from permanently shutting their doors as early as June 2013. In many cases, the schools that are slated to be closed have been pillars in their communities. On the other hand, no one wants to see massive school closings but, sometimes change is inevitable. While I do not want to see people losing their jobs as a result of school closures (myself included), I have to say that the School District of Philadelphia can no longer afford to run in place. While I understand the concerns associated with mass closings, (job loss, an increase in school violence, higher levels of privatization and so forth) we as a collective Philadelphia have got to face the facts. The facts are as follows:

•  Less than half of Philadelphia students read at grade level

• Just a little over half of Philadelphia students are proficient in mathematics

• While the graduation rate is improving, half of Philadelphia public school students are dropping out

In short, Philadelphia public schools have been drowning in a sea of nothingness for as long as many people can remember. Money has been mismanaged by the school district for years. This started way before the Ackerman Era, contrary to what many believe.  To add, many families continue to see charter schools as a more viable option. While some schools are productive and progressive institutions where students are engaged and learning, far too many schools are simply warehouses, cranking out prey for the school- to- prison food chain. At some point, the music has got to stop and this sad song must come to an end. Let me be clear, no one wants to see traditional public schools soar more than me. Having been a public school educator for more than a decade, having had the displeasure of teaching without union representation, having been born and raised in the city of Philadelphia and as a graduate of a Philadelphia public school, I would like nothing greater than to see a thriving district that can serve as the catalyst that will enable our communities to thrive.

Will school closures be the answer? To be honest, I have my reservations. Having served as a middle school educator for many years, I am concerned about the challenges that will await those educators who will add buffering the tensions between rivaling neighborhoods to the long and looming list of other struggles that they encounter in their classrooms. I am wondering how beneficial these transitional programs for students involved in this exodus will be? I am wondering how helpful these so called “conflict resolution” and “summer-bridge” programs will be and how the school district will measure their effectiveness? Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers stated that we should look to the struggles in Chicago and in many respects, I think that he is right. A clear example of this would be, the spike in school violence in Chicago, following a series of school closures as a part of Education Reform initiatives that were put into place in that city. In the article, “Displacement, Segregation and Safety: Chicago schools still have a long way to go” the author Yana Kunichoff cites a study by the Chicago Reporter which concluded that 80 percent of murders in Chicago (since 2008) happened in African American and Latino communities where school closures and turnarounds have been on the rise for the past decade.

With that being said, we have to be honest about who these school closures are really impacting. Let’s be real, how many closings have been slated for the Northeast? At the end of the day, we are looking at a situation that will impact many of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children of color so, we should be asking ourselves if these school closings could possibly increase their state of vulnerability? Our superintendent, Dr. William Hite seems to believe that we are facing some uncomfortable times now in order to wallow in greater comforts in the long run. Again, I have my reservations. However, to be honest, I can’t think of any alternatives. Union busting and superfluous spending aside, it’s time to think about what’s best for children. It’s time to think about what’s best for Philadelphia. I (for one) am tired of trying to navigate a tattered system. I am tired of worrying about what this city has become and what it will be like when our young people grow into adulthood. I am tired of losing loved ones to the violence and the hopelessness that pervades our communities.  I don’t think that this is what my great grandparents had in mind when they came north to Philadelphia, in search of more opportunities and a better life during those hopeful years of the Great Migration. Again, massive school closings may not be the answer but, we need real solutions fast. And in exploring these solutions, we must brace ourselves for change. After all, change is inevitable and necessary too.

Daninia A. Jordan

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