Feuds: The Drama Club

If it’s not cell-phone towers in Gladwyne, it’s Ardmore’s makeover. There’s always something roiling the vodka tonics in Lower Merion. Right now, soccer moms are hot under their Tory Burch tunics over which (top-rated) high school their kids will attend

Plan 3R was passed on January 12th, amid much drama and wrath of soccer moms. The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, in the meantime, expressed interest in suing the school district on behalf of the redistricted African-American students. Clearly, the board was faced with an impossible situation. You do have to wonder, though, if dividing Ardmore and Narberth was the best idea, as those areas have already felt slighted for decades: Back in the 1960s, Ardmore had its own elementary school, as did Narberth. Children could blithely walk to those schools without ever boarding a bus. Then the schools were closed for budget reasons, as was a onetime junior high in Ardmore, also within walking distance of many Ardmorians.
As of the January 12th meeting, parents are mad; Ardmore feels estranged; and some of the school board members are barely speaking to each other. And it appears only lawsuits can change the course of action now. The board, for its part, has mostly gone silent on the issue, perhaps wondering if it should have let Harriton just stay small.

SO FAR, NO dead squirrels have appeared in the redistricting battle, but you just know Lower Merion isn’t done with the issue yet. It’s not that kind of place: People in L.M. might forgive, but they don’t forget. Many of the Ardmore makeover protesters back in 2005 never actually shopped at the stores they bemoaned losing, but they still protested.
“I think the more educated you are, the more you’re used to getting what you want,” points out Joe Manko, an environmental attorney and former Lower Merion township commissioner who was involved in the Ardmore development. “I would say people are more argumentative and polarized than they used to be.” Indeed, already new buzz is being raised about a “unified slate” proposal for the upcoming school board primary in May that would have four pro-redistricting Democratic and Republican candidates running together as a sort of package deal, leaving only one board seat open to a candidate from Narberth or South Ardmore, neither of which currently has representation on the board.
More drama is insured with the election, and it can only be a matter of time till there’s talk of K-12 charter schools for Narberth and Ardmore. Sure, parents would be passing on the chance for their kids to attend the best public high schools in the state, but they’d be able to run the schools their way, and keep their communities intact. In fact, it’s hard to believe granola-ish Narberth hasn’t done this already. One can imagine a vegan cafeteria, meditation circles, and knitting classes in a bully-free, peanut-free model of education. (And, of course, everyone would walk there.) Take that, Lower Merion!
As for Penn Valley Mom #2, after months of angst, she’s trying to move on. “They’re both state-of-the-art, million-dollar high schools,” she says of Harriton and LMHS. “Even at my kid’s elementary school, I hear people say, ‘I want my kids to go to Harriton, I want them with the cream of the Main Line.’ Others say, ‘I want my kid to go to LMHS and be more down-to-earth.’ They’re all crazy,” she says simply. “All the schools are good.” At least, though, life in Lower Merion is never boring — there’s the beauty, the leafiness, the convenience, and the always impassioned people. For better and for worse.

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  • Regina

    I found this article to be rife with inaccuracies, which is really disappointing given the usual caliber of Philadelphia Magazine. For instance: 1. Harriton was built in the 1950s to be smaller, and has always since the day it opened been this way – at one point down to 500 students. Ardmore had TWO elementary schools and one junior high all of which were closed and has taken the brunt of all 6 redistricting actions since 1963, more often and more severely than any other community in Lower Merion or Narberth. 2. Neither HS is considered 'large'. 3. Those students in the LMHS walk zone don't 'choose' to walk, there is no bus service. 4. The LMHS walk zone follows the District's 1 mile policy for walkers everywhere BUT in South Ardmore. 5. Clearly, you've never been to Ardmore, where there are (shocking) many rowhouses and many apartments, not just leafy twins and colonials. 6. Every proposal put forward divided LM's ONLY ethnically diverse neighborhood in two parts – half to Ha

  • Regina

    6. Every proposal put forward divided LM's ONLY ethnically diverse neighborhood into two parts – half to Harriton and half to LM, drawing lines right down residential streets. Every proposal detailed racial makeups except 3R. Yet race is claimed to have not been a factor. That's why the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is formally investigating this school district. Maybe, just maybe, the rich lawyers and Soccer Moms have violated their ethnically diverse population's civil and constitutional rights in their eagerness to protect their little dears, did you ever think of that? Lastly, there are only 4 Board seats up for election, the "unified slate" is 2 incumbent R, 1 incumbent D and 1 'new' D. It does not have any party's endorsement as of yet. Your lack of basic research shows your bias Ms. Korman. Sloppy!

  • J

    This article gets a lot of facts wrong, and paints Lower Merion with a broad brush. This article misses that Ardmore and Narberth and LM High School are in the most central, dense, walkable part of the township. The geography is extremely favorable for walking. There's no reason for these towns to be broken up like this except for the greed of wealthier areas who want to shave 6 minutes of their kids' BMW ride to school.

  • M

    Does the author believe that hte plan is not racist/classicist because the area is leafy? I loved when the district says that they displaced white kids too. That is fabulous. Could that be because they ran out of black kids? They wanted equal numbers of minorities at each school. They took all they could, and made up the rest of the numbers with the Narberth kids. You forgot to mention that Narberth is 1/2 mile square and has 3 school feeder patterns. There are 5 schools within 1.5 miles, and some of these kids don't go to ANY of these schools. Some kids walk, and others go to the furthest school at every level. The department of education civil rights division has looked at this, decided there is something wrong here, and is investigating. (see the Inquirer yesterday) Soccer mom's aren't always crazy or wrong.

  • o

    Dear Philadelphia Magazine,I am a little upset. I would like to fight for fair treatment for allstudents and families, But I can't get any of my kids to play soccer.I played through high school – it that close enough? Can I still bea soccer mom? May I please have an opinion?Signed,Leafy Girl

  • Jennifer

    theme at every single board meeting. The District was very proud of the way they engineered it so that half of the black kids would be at each highschool. On the evening that Plan 3R was introduced the slide showing the big diversity break down was left on the screen for the duration of the meeting. It made my stomach turn. Not an evening I will soon forget. Wish you would have tried harder to dig in and find people to talk to and present the whole story.

  • Jennifer

    Shame on you Amy Korman. Did you talk to only a handful of people? Have you ever been to South Ardmore? I'm guessing not as you won't see any Tori Burch (whoever that is!) anywhere. Yes, much or most of Lower Merion is extremely well-off but you are completely missing the point and way off base in how you describe the people of Ardmore and the redistricting process. I'm also not quite sure what soccer moms have to do with anything. Last I looked kids played soccer in every school district. So many things mistated as facts in your article. This isn't news reporting. It's mostly fiction. It's unfortunate you only talked to your friends in Penn Valley who by the way, still get to go to their highschool of choice – Harriton. ONLY the kids in a small pocket of South Ardmore and North Narberth neither get to go to their neighborhood school with their neighbors or have a choice. If you had attended or watched online a single board meeting you also would have seen that "diversity" was a big th

  • Regina

    You may not have noticed, but those people who ended up getting gerrymandered in to BHES 10 years ago still aren't thrilled about it, no matter how much you boast. Nor have I heard anyone begging to go there. What I hear is that when people go to parent events there are clear seating patterns – the Narberth and the BH people sit in their own areas. So, thanks for trying to put some lipstick on the pig. Not working. This has nothing to do with kids being 'fine'. It has to do with basic rights being violated. Of course you don't care unless they're your rights…

  • Regina

    I GREW UP on the Main Line. Until this article I had never even heard of Tory Burch, whom I wrongly guessed was a resident. Thanks to Google today I learned that's a clothing designer. Leave Gladwyne and take a drive Mrs. Korman. Go to church at Mt. Calvary Baptist or St. Colmans instead of St. John Vianney. Eat at John Henry's instead of Nectar. Tell Mr. Korman to go to Jackson's where Vernon Odom gets his hair cut instead of OMG. There is a whole other Main Line out there who doesn't shop at Bergdoff's or Needless Markup. We've been here a long, long time.

  • Kara

    I live in LM in the Belmont Hills section. The article failed to mention another historical fight that took place a while back. When the Belmont Hills school was set to open there was yet another feud over which group of kids would attend. Almost all surrounding neighborhoods did not want their kids coming the Belmont Hills. They felt we were "low class." It became a HUGE issue. Once again there was a lawsuit threatened when the final decision was made. Then something surprising happened. They assigned the BEST school pricipal in the district to Belmont Hills. When everyone found out about that they were trying fight to get their kids INto Belmont Hills. Many were sorry they complained and when they visited the school they saw a state of the art facility.The point I am making is that I agree with the person who wrote the article. People in LM are the most resistant to change that I have ever seen anywhere! Why not just shut the "eff" up and wait and see how things work out. Kids ar

  • J

    Hey get the facts straight. The belmont hills principal was only assigned after the '98 redistricting as a consolation prize to those in Narberth who had to be bused to far. Narberth could walk to any of our 3 local elementaries, or to the nearer middle, and now to the nearer high school but all are taken away. Our attendance area is shaped like a barbell, like old-school gerrymandering. Would Penn wynne like it if they couldn't attend PW school? Would Bala be fine not attending Cynwyd ES? I think not

  • Loraine

    For a perspective on education by folks born and raised in Lower Merion, take a look at the "Main Line Education Monologues: Dreams Deferred or Realized" documentary that's airing on Lower Merion and Narberth's Public Access TV(Check the programming schedule at http://www.lowermerionandnarberth.tv/ for channels Verizon 34 and Comcast 99 for airing times and dates). The folks in that documentary talk about LMSD's historical considerations relative to race and redistricting. For some, it's not all about wealth, leaves, soccer or race–if they can help it. Believe it or not, community and school can go hand in hand–maybe just not in Lower Merion, all the time.

  • Loraine

    "Feuds: The Drama Club" a.k.a. Lower Merionites as Divas. No, I don't take offence to the article's title or its shallow content, but do admit that the author doesn't have her pulse on the community or the issues with her implication that what matters to Lower Merionites is relatively much to do about nothing that matters to your average Joe even if she depicts the area as above it all. Perhaps the article would have hit a home run if the writer spent more time with those who pounded the pavement for the segmented change each group sought during periods 1, 2, 3 and 3R of the redistricting effort–you know "the community." For me, school board member Diana DiBonaventuro expressed the essence of this mess when during her closing arguments on this issue she highlighted that despite hiring a consultant experienced in structuring the redistricting process, which would be based on a sound set of criterion centered on the community's core values, the Board’s eventual decisions were impacted

  • Loraine

    by all the social activism not its original ideals; she voted against 3R. I'm guilty of going with the community-led structure flow of activism as my most immediate, as compared to the larger Lower Merion community, neighborhood was impacted when I campaigned for change to plan 3. Obviously race was always part of the redistricting equation. Superintendent McGinley wouldn’t seem to be able to deny factoring race into the problem even if the Board member interviewed for this article did–particularly when LMSD’s redistricting tables and graphs stipulated otherwise…don't get it twisted. Check your school tax bill…we pay for our schools! Why isn't the community getting what it wants for its money? Of course we should continue activism at the ballot box; the school board elections are on the horizon. For a perspective on education by folks born and raised in Lower Merion, take a look at the "Main Line Education Monologues: Dreams Deferred or Realized" documentary that's airing on Lowe

  • Corey

    Amy Korman has irresponsibly and inaccurately portrayed parents who raised serious concerns about LMSD’s recent redistricting. Painting Lower Merion with one stereotypical brush is just as ill-informed as Superintendent Dr. McGinley’s contention that kids from the former choice zone to Lower Merion could drive to Harriton, as if we all could afford cars for our teenagers. It is (almost) as offensive as President of the School Board Lisa Fair-Pliskin’s invocation of President Obama and “Change” to a group of parents who contend that the School Board’s plan disproportionately harms racial minorities and families of relatively lower socio-economic status. Those with the power of the pen and power of their political position should seek accurate information and grapple with the real issues facing LMSD so they can use their power more responsibly. A place to start would be with the website of newly formed Lower Merion Voices United for Equity in Education (www.lmvue.org) or the testimony of

  • Corey

    of LMSD residents regarding redistricting plans which reference research, statistics, and reasoned arguments rather than empty rhetoric and sarcasm.

  • Kate

    Not to focus again on the leafiness factor, but much of South Ardmore has equivalent tree cover to parts of North Philly. Not a street tree on my street. Those " quaint" houses are just normal for some of us. The author trivializes an important topic. She didn't speak to anyone in South Ardmore, because no on would speak to her because we know how she writes.Don't print such nonsense in the future.

  • susan

    Excuse me, but THEY DON'T WALK OUT HERE,AT ALL!!!!!When I saw that sign I laughed. Go to Center City, that is where you see people walking, FOR REAL!!!