District Announces School Closures, Charter Conversions

Three schools will be converted to Renaissance charters, while two schools will close and two new schools are proposed.

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

In a move that will affect more than 5,000 students in the district, Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite today announced dramatic changes involving 15 schools.

The moves are a familiar list of school consolidations, charter conversions and closures. Among the actions: Dimner Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia will be phased out over a two-year period. In Northwest Philly, Morris E. Leeds Middle School and Hill-Freedman World Academy would merge, with Leeds students starting to go to Hill-Freedman. Both Beeber and Leeds, though closed, would still house district schools in their buildings.

“This is an exciting step forward in achieving our mission of having great schools in every neighborhood,” Hite said in a statement. “These recommendations address parental demand for better academic programs in safe, familiar environments while presenting rigorous and engaging opportunities for students.”

The move was pitched by the district as “a plan to improve academic options for more than 5,000 students at 15 schools”; schools advocate and likely future City Council member Helen Gym tweeted she was “deeply troubled” by some of the proposed moves.

The plan has additional elements.

Two new schools are also planned for the city: A Science Leadership Academy middle school (SLA-MS) and a high school opened in partnership with nonprofit Big Picture Philadelphia. Science Leadership Academy, which already has two schools in Philadelphia, would open for the 2016-17 year in West Philadelphia. It is a partnership between the School District and the Franklin Institute.

Big Picture High School “would offer project-based learning and internship opportunities through a nationally recognized model for small innovative schools,” per a release. It would start with 125 kids next year and eventually move to 500 students, with an open enrollment.

The district also plans to put three schools into “in-District turnaround,” and says it wants to convert Jay Cooke, Samuel B. Huey and John Wister elementary schools into Renaissance Charter Schools. The district will begin looking for potential operators on October 15th.

“Our students have incredibly diverse needs that deserve to be met,” said Dr. Hite. “For more than 5,000 students across 15 schools, these proposals represent an opportunity for life-changing learning experiences.”

The School Reform Commission still must approve all proposed changes.