NEWS > COVER STORY

Bok facing relocation to Southern

A school district plan could send an East Passyunk Crossing
high school’s programs to a Lower Moyamensing institution.


By Joseph Myers 

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Jan. 24, 2013

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Students hope their computer technology instruction, an element of the career and technical education programs, will
continue at Bok.

Photo by Kathryn Poole

The second in a three-part series covering proposed changes to the School District of Philadelphia’s learning institutions. 


Tradition encourages the endowment of diamonds for a 75th anniversary, but if they cannot convince the School District of Philadelphia to let their site survive, administrators, staff members and students at Edward Bok Technical High School, 1901 S. Ninth St., will receive a new address for their jubilee. 


Along with 36 other institutions, the East Passyunk Crossing facility could close come June, with its overseer seeking to relocate its Career and Technical Education programs to South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St. 


“Everyone has been tight-lipped so far,” athletic director, coach and chemistry teacher Frank Natale said Tuesday at the school, which earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. “The most constant tale, though, is that we’re too old.”


A ninth-year Bok employee, the resident of the 1600 block of South Juniper Street recently heard a rumor that the revelation for his spot’s selection might come at Tuesday’s 6 to 8 p.m. Facilities Master Plan community session at Southern. If he, his colleagues and their charges learn why, they aim to take the details plus points from tonight’s onsite discussion to further opposition to their inclusion in a plan that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. released Dec. 13.


Natale, who also has taught and coached at Southwest Philly’s John Bartram High School, has developed a strong connection to Bok’s story. 


“We have a 75-year history of producing greatness, including athletically,” Natale, who has guided the Wildcats to back-to-back football division titles, said as he passed a packed trophy case. “Academically, we operate the same way, meaning we accentuate the positives. If we move, we’ll do the same yet under a different name.”


Southern’s third-year Principal Otis D. Hackney III, who elected not to comment until the Student Reform Commission issues its verdict, has made noticeable changes at his Lower Moyamensing secondary site, including removal from the state’s persistently dangerous schools list. 


Bok personnel, including Principal Barbara McCreery, who also declined to comment, will construct a campaign to salvage their beacon, with lawyers to compose a document for presentation at the Feb. 21 commission session at the district’s North Philly headquarters. 


Junior Michael Riley, who earned an All-Public football selection under Natale last fall, said Bok means more to him than its status as a gridiron great.


“It was crazy hearing the news,” the West Philadelphian, who wishes to join his family’s list of Bok graduates and whose academic push includes time in the culinary arts track, which runs the Le Bok Fin restaurant, said. “We’re in a difficult situation and hope for the best.”


Hite, however, has to look at the bigger financial picture. Working with the Boston Consulting Group, the first-year leader is looking to improve the nation’s eighth largest school district by enhancing its educational and financial identity. As the entity has suffered a 27 percent enrollment dip since 2002, deals with 53,000 empty seats and needed to borrow $300 million to fund this year’s expenses, according to the master plan, Hite made his suggestions so as to increase the district-wide capacity rate from 67 to 80 percent and save his superiors $28 million beginning in 2014-’15. 


The design also would close Abigail Vare School, 1621 E. Moyamensing Ave., and relocate its pupils to George Washington School, 1198 S. Fifth St., whose programs would cease, and would shut Smith Academics Plus, 1900 Wharton St., with Chester A. Arthur, 2200 Catharine St.; George W. Childs, 1599 Wharton St.; and Edwin Stanton, 1700 Christian St., schools as options.


One of 11 high schools facing its final months, Bok opened in 1938 as a project of the Public Works Administration, deriving its eponymous title from an esteemed author, publisher and philanthropist. A yearbook notes it has had nine annexes, remained open 24/7 during World War II to help America’s cause and has assisted hundreds of thousands of community figures. The current crop of 904 students betters its prospects by complementing the customary academic topics with nine career and technical education programs, with culinary arts and computer technology proving especially popular.


“We’ve helped with all sorts of vocations,” Natale, also the learning locale’s baseball coach, said. “Because of our commitment, we’ve developed a certain feel that I worry a move might cost us.”


The East Passyunk Crossing resident also lauded his site’s penchant for receiving commendations, such as last year’s designation as a No Place for Hate zone by the Anti-Defamation League and recognition from Michigan-based NOCTI, which honored the teenagers for their scores on its career and technical standardized tests. Though their marks on that battery outweigh their results on more conventional examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Pennsylvania System for School Assessment, Natale senses academic irregularity will not end up a factor in learning why Bok has to rally to preserve its existence.


“We have a leaky roof, and some classes have had their tiles taken out because of that, but the management of all that would have been easier if we’d received the $50 million we were expecting [from the district],” he said of money he noted also would have fixed floors and their gymnasia. “Now we’re in this predicament with an unsure outcome and left to wonder where to go from here.”


Like his Pennsport counterparts at Vare, who have courted 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla to carry their cause, Natale has begun to seek political support, calling City Councilman at Large Jim Kenney’s office two weeks ago, but is still awaiting feedback. Though the commission likely will not vote on the entire set of possibilities until March, the instructor has heard through the educational grapevine that Bok personnel might not be able to sway the five-member body. Observing a district worker’s taking notes on a computer laboratory’s contents also left him feeling sad but only for the enrollees.


“Our situation has kinks, too,” he said of the teachers, whom he added the district could assign to Southern depending on need and seniority. “That’s on our minds, but there is a lot of loyalty to Bok, especially among the students, who feel safe coming here.”


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. Engrid Bullock ( said... on Jan 24, 2013 at 08:36AM

“Mark "Spider" Webb is not a track student--FOOTBALL!

Great article!”

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2. Engrid said... on Jan 24, 2013 at 08:57AM

“My apologies, my error, Mark Webb is a computer technology track student. Just chuck it up to that I am a FOOTBALL crazy grandmom..”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 24, 2013 at 05:47PM

“My brother went to BOK and we are really proud of his accomplishments. He excelled there and was given opportunities Southern couldn't offer. I hope BOk fights and stays open.Also, coach Natale is known throughout the neighborhood and a fine role model.”

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4. louise gaddy said... on Jan 24, 2013 at 05:53PM

“I am a 1965 graduate of BOK. It prepared me well for my future. I learned a trade (dress-making), which I have not used in 33 years, although, I was among the tops in my class. I always knew that I had a trade to fall back on if needed. I was accepted in and attended the first class of Community College of Philadelphia. I have lived in Missouri for 42 years and have a good life. I owe my success and good life to the wonderful staff of BOK. We used to say " go to BOK and B.O.K." My niece is also a graduate of BOK. I hate that future generations will not experience the BOK tradition.

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 26, 2013 at 10:37AM

“I lived on Hoffman street for 42 years both my boys went there the school has had there share of problems but I have watch it go down hill for many years it was one of the best schools for vocation even had night classes for adults I'm not surprised they let the school go down hill for many years the neighbors new sooner or later it will go. Sad”

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6. Engrid B. said... on Jan 29, 2013 at 07:28PM

“We as parents must keeping fighting until we can't fight anymore to keep our school (BOK) open. If we don't fight, then how can we expect help form others. PLEASE COME OUT AND SUPPORT OUR CHILDREN/SCHOOL.”

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