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Does Philly need more schools? Should some close or expand? The district is about to find out.

“We’re trying to emphasize a forward-thinking approach to how we manage our assets in terms of the utilization and school facilities,” said Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.

Students leave Meredith Elementary in South Philadelphia, one of a growing number of schools that is over capacity. The Philadelphia School District announced it is beginning a four-year planning process that could result in new schools, boundary changes, and even school closings.
Students leave Meredith Elementary in South Philadelphia, one of a growing number of schools that is over capacity. The Philadelphia School District announced it is beginning a four-year planning process that could result in new schools, boundary changes, and even school closings.Read more

The Philadelphia School District is launching a four-year examination of its current school programs and buildings, looking at demographic trends and planning for the future of the system.

It’s the first such process the district has undertaken and could result in vast changes — new schools, replacement buildings, and boundary and grade configuration changes — that could begin for nearly two dozen schools in the fall. It’s also the first step in what could eventually lead to more school closings.

In some areas, including parts of Center City, South Philadelphia, and Northeast Philadelphia, schools are bursting at the seams as more families choose a public education for their children. In other places, birthrates are holding fairly steady, but fewer families are choosing traditional public schools, and enrollment is just a fraction of school capacity. There are also wide inconsistencies in academic programs and grade configurations.

While the district has made slow but steady progress under Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., “there is much more work to deliver on our vision for all children to have access to a great school close to where they live,” he said.

Districts officials said that they would hire national experts and complete the process in conjunction with Philadelphia’s planning department. City-owned buildings not currently used as schools would be taken into account, and possibly used, going forward.

Shortly before Hite arrived in 2012, the Boston Consulting Group issued a landmark report recommending the closure of up to 57 Philadelphia schools. The district was in the grip of a financial crisis so acute that, even with dozens of school closings, it would still need to lay off thousands of employees.

At that point, the district had lost tens of thousands of students to charter schools over 15 years and never contracted to match the new reality.

“Now, we’re faced with a good number of schools and a good number of communities that are very limited in the space that’s available because people are actually trying to get into those communities and those schools,” Hite said at a briefing Thursday announcing the changes. “We’re trying to emphasize a forward-thinking approach to how we manage our assets in terms of the utilization of school facilities.”

Every neighborhood school, including high schools, will be assessed. District schools run by charters are also in the planning process. Schools officials haven’t decided whether or how they could consider citywide admission charters, which accept students from across the city on a lottery basis. The schools are independently managed and authorized by the district but operate with public funds.

There are no current plans to evaluate magnets, which have the highest admission criteria and take students from all over the city, or citywide admission schools, which take students from across the city and have some admission criteria but are not as strict as magnets.

Beginning this fall, the first cohort — 23 schools in South Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia — will be studied. Schools in the first group were chosen because of fluctuations in enrollment, both increases and decreases.

Sixty more schools (also in South Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia) will be considered beginning in 2020, 54 in 2021 (Southwest and Northeast Philadelphia), and 61 in 2023 (Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia).

Each cycle will take a year, meaning whatever changes result from the first round of planning will take effect in the fall of 2020.

Danielle Floyd, the district’s chief operating officer, said she realized the possible changes would likely stir worries — particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods where people have paid premiums to live in certain “catchment areas" that could now change — but Floyd vowed that it would be a collaborative process.

“I understand the uneasiness,” Floyd said, “but I hope that people would be reassured by the fact that your school’s going to be part of this.”

Asked if school closings are in the works — a fear on many residents’ minds since district officials have in the past said they would need to consider further school closings — Floyd was noncommittal.

“We want to take a hard look at the data,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to presume any kind of decision one way or another.”

Shawn Bird, the district’s chief schools officer, said other options will be on the table as well.

“As we go through this process, we might not be building new buildings, we might be thinking about capital improvements, renovations.”

The district has vast capital needs. It previously said it would take $5 billion to fix or replace all of its aging buildings.

Officials emphasized this will be a very different process from the Boston Consulting Group’s, roundly criticized as a secretive process that shut out the public. Floyd said the district is going into the process with no preconceived outcomes in mind; she said all data would be readily available for the public, and that planning committees for each “study area,” or neighborhood group of schools, will take seriously the recommendations of the community.

Those planning committees will be made up of district staff, assistant superintendents, principals, two parents per school, city officials, and elected officials. Planning committees eventually will make recommendations to the superintendent, who will then make recommendations to be voted on by the school board.

The process was informed by Philadelphia 2035, the city’s planning process, and by a district process now underway in Northeast Philadelphia, where a population surge has created overcrowding at a number of schools. The district is building a new K-8 school on Ryan Avenue, at the site of the current Meehan Middle School, near Lincoln High, a change that will cause other shifts at adjacent schools.

The Ryan Avenue school, as yet unnamed, is slated to open in fall 2021.

Floyd said that process has been collaborative and included neighborhood input.

The district will formally begin its Comprehensive School Planning Review by releasing a request for proposals and forming a planning committee this month. The school board will vote to authorize the project at its June meeting, and community outreach and analysis will begin in July. The first set of recommendations are expected in May 2020.

A website detailing the review cycle is now accessible to the public.

In all, the district is budgeting $1.4 million over four years for the project’s administration.

When will your school be up for review?

Cycle 1, Beginning Fall 2019

Study Area 1

Arthur, Childs, Jackson, Kirkbride, McDaniel, Meredith, Nebinger, Southwark, E.M. Stanton, Vare-Washington

Study Area 2

Cramp, deBurgos, Elkin, Muñoz Marín, Potter-Thomas, Sheppard, Willard

Study Area 3

Cassidy, Gompers, Lamberton, Mastery Mann, Overbrook, Universal Bluford

Cycle 2, Beginning Fall 2020

Study Area 4

Bregy, Fell, Furness, Girard, A.S. Jenks, Key, Sharswood, South Philadelphia High, Taggart, Universal Alcorn, Universal Audenried, Universal E.H. Vare

Study Area 5

Adaire, Aspira Stetson, H.A. Brown, Cayuga, Clemente, Edison, Hackett, Hartranft, Hunter, Kensington CAPA, Kensington Health Sciences, Kensington Urban/Business, Ludlow, McClure, McKinley, Memphis Street Academy at Jones, Moffet, Penn Treaty, Richmond, Sheridan, Taylor, Webster, Welsh

Study Area 6

Belmont, Blankenburg, Heston, Lea, Locke, McMichael, Overbrook, Penn Alexander, Powel, Rhoads, Science Leadership Academy Middle School, Universal Daroff, Martha Washington, West Philadelphia High School

Study Area 7

Bache/Martin, Dunbar, Benjamin Franklin High School, Greenfield, Kearny, McCall, Meade, Morris, Spring Garden, Vaux Big Picture High School, Waring

Cycle 3, Beginning Fall 2021

Study Area 8

Baldi, Comly, Crossan, Decatur, Farrell, Fitzpatrick, Fox Chase, Frank, Greenberg, Hancock-LaBrum, Loesche, Moore, Northeast High, Rhawnhurst, Solis-Cohen, Spruance, Washington High, Woodrow Wilson

Study Area 9

Bridesburg, Carnell, Fels, Finletter, Frankford High, Franklin Elementary, Harding, Hopkinson, Juniata Park, Lawton, Lowell, John Marshall, Mastery Smedley, Philadelphia Arts at H.R. Edmunds, Stearne, Sullivan, Universal Charter Creighton, Grover Washington, Ziegler

Study Area 10

Anderson, Barry, Bartram, Bryant, Catharine, Comegys, Global Leadership at Huey, Hamilton, Harrington, Longstreth, Mastery Harrity, Mitchell, Morton, Patterson, Penrose, Sayre, Tilden

Cycle 4, Beginning Fall 2022

Study Area 11

Cook-Wissahickon, Day, Dobson, F.S. Edmonds, Ellwood, Emlen, Henry, Houston, Howe, J.S. Jenks, J.B. Kelly, King, Lingelbach, Logan, Mastery Pastorious, Mastery Wister, McCloskey, Mifflin, Pennell, Pennypacker, Prince Hall, Roosevelt, Rowen, Roxborough High, Shawmont, Wagner

Study Area 12

Ethel Allen, American Paradigm Birney, Aspira Olney High, Barton, Bethune, Blaine, Cooke, Dick, Duckrey, Feltonville Arts, Feltonville Intermediate, Gideon, W.D. Kelley, Kenderton, Thurgood Marshall, Mastery, Cleveland, Mastery Clymer, Mastery Douglass, Mastery Gratz, Morrison, Olney, T.M. Peirce, EW Rhodes, Steel, Strawberry Mansion High, Wright

Study Area 13

Ethan Allen, JH Brown, Disston, Forrest, Holme, Lincoln High, Mayfair, Meehan, Pollock