PHILADELPHIANS ARE passionate about fighting for quality public education. We have marched in the streets countless times. We deserve high quality public neighborhood schools and a school district that listens to us as students, parents and community leaders - and we are willing to fight for it. Unfortunately, the school district has shown again that it is unwilling to take our voices into account and is pushing through a school-closure plan in Kensington.
As Kensington students, parents and community leaders we are deeply concerned about the school district's plan to close and merge Kensington Urban Education High School and Kensington International Business High School. The Kensington community fought for more than a decade for there to be small high schools in Kensington. This team of schools was designed to be a multiplex, working together to serve the students from the Kensington catchment area. There is a profound community history behind our schools and extensive community opposition to the school district's plan.
There are ways to continue to improve academic success and school climate without undoing the community's small-schools vision. The Kensington multiplex schools came out of a community vision for high quality, neighborhood education. They are a cohort of schools and should be treated as a team, with a multiplex coordinator, a principal cohort team, a community stakeholders group and cross-school training supports. The school district needs to return to this vision. Rather than closing, merging or charterizing any of our schools, they should become pilot community schools, starting with Kensington Urban Education. The district and the city have an exciting opportunity to invest in the Kensington multiplex, a model of community-based neighborhood schools working together closely.
The community history makes the significance of the Kensington multiplex clear. Before the small schools there was a single, large, overcrowded, under-resourced Kensington High School with horrible learning conditions. Determined to receive a better education, Youth United for Change Kensington Chapter students began researching education reform models around the country in 2000, and in 2003, along with many community allies, they presented a proposal to the school district for a multiplex of small high schools in Kensington. In June 2005 the community won a public commitment from the district to create four small high schools in place of the large, overcrowded, under-resourced Kensington High School. In fall 2005 three small schools were opened, Kensington Business, Kensington CAPA, Kensington Culinary (now Kensington Health Sciences), and in fall 2010 the district finally opened the fourth small school, Kensington Urban Education. Finally, in fall 2013 students successfully campaigned for Penn Treaty High School to also be opened. There was a huge improvement in the quality of education that students received after the shift to small schools. There was major progress in school climate, graduation rates, attendance and academic success.
The small schools, however, were not able to make and maintain full academic gains due to underfunding and lack of district support. Rather than blaming, closing and merging our schools, the district needs to own up to where it has failed the Kensington multiplex and make a renewed commitment to support it. Our schools are deemed failing schools, yet really our officials are failing our neighborhood schools time and again. This is not enough time to successfully plan a new school. We all know the cliche "failing to plan is planning to fail." Haven't our students and community members been failed enough already?
We cannot help but see this plan as the continuation of slowly shrinking the number of public schools at the same time planning to expand privately run charter schools or create more Renaissance charters. This is not what we want or need. There is a growing citywide movement for 25 community schools by 2018 led by the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools. Community schools are public, neighborhood schools where the school works with parents to create an engaging curriculum, employ restorative justice practices, foster close relationships, and give students, parents and community members a real voice. Community schools include robust "wraparound" services and typically have a full-time coordinator to develop the relationship between school and community.
All Philadelphia children and youth deserve community schools and the right to high quality public education in their neighborhood. In Kensington, students, parents and community members are strongly opposed to the school district's moves to dismantle the Kensington multiplex. We are fighting for our alternative vision for school improvement based on our deep knowledge of Kensington. The school district needs to listen to community leaders and implement this community vision to support the Kensington multiplex.
Kensington International Business High School student and Youth United for Change leader
Kensington Multiplex (KCAPA) parent