The Girard Estate school recently bid farewell to its long-tenured principal, whose retirement will lessen its budget woes.
“The only way this nation is going to continue to move forward is to invest in education,” Dr. Angelo F. Milicia said Monday at the Girard Academic Music Program, 2136 Ritner St.
In announcing his retirement last month, the 62-year-old gave new meaning to putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, as his decision will aid the cash-strapped institution by sustaining two teachers’ jobs and most of its lauded music program. His departure as principal will end a 16-year affiliation with the school and will allow assistant principal Dr. Jack Carr to head the facility he helped to establish in 1974.
Milicia, with local roots that stretch back to his elementary and secondary school days at the now defunct St. Edmond’s, 23rd and Mifflin streets, and Bishop Neumann High School, Seventh and Christian streets, vacillated on severing his immediate connection to South Philadelphia. What he termed “a tiring year” because of budget dilemmas made GAMP’s spring break a contemplative period.
“I had planned to stay a couple more years, which at a school like GAMP is very doable,” Milicia, whose 40 years in education include time at James Alcorn Elementary, 1500 S. 32nd St.; Andrew Jackson Elementary, 1213 S. 12th St.; and Stephen Girard School, 1800 Snyder Ave., said of his march toward 65.
Monetary matters made the resident of Chews Landing, N.J., reconsider. Many school systems are desperate for funds, with the School District of Philadelphia staring at a $629-million deficit. Though state lawmakers are hoping to make modifications, Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed budget would strip basic education of more than $1 billion.
With standard curricula imperiled, Milicia knew arts programs would suffer. He calculated GAMP would need $175,000 for textbooks, supplies, instrumental and academic programs and extracurricular activities, but his figures were off by $85,000.
“I wondered what I would tell people,” he said of having to inform thousands of the school’s impending identity shift.
Milicia had often obtained substantial funding to provide his magnet school’s 500 middle- and high-school students with ample ways to thrive. A realist, he knew fate would not be so charitable this time.
The district offers an early retirement option with 18 months of health care to the highest-paid principals and teachers. Milicia approached Carr and asked his colleague if he felt he could assume the principalship.
“I knew what his answer would be,” he said of Carr, the music program’s overseer.
Their plan called for Carr to operate the school alone, a move they learned could save two jobs and a significant part of Carr’s offerings. The loss of planned advanced placement courses constitutes the only academic casualty. Music-based setbacks include one teacher’s position and a chunk of the theater arts program. The deficit will not jeopardize GAMP’s musical productions, in which Milicia made yearly cameos.
“I don’t like those people who retire and don’t go away, and I don’t want to become one of them,” he said. “I do, however, want to remain present and do not want the school to experience a deficit in any way. If Dr. Carr needs to call on me for help, I will be right here.”
Effective tomorrow, Milicia will hand off the academically and musically proficient school to Carr. Under the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law, 97 percent of the high school students and 100 percent of the middle-schoolers make adequate yearly progress. Their counterpart is likewise strong, as GAMP’s singers have delighted thousands at school productions and concerts through invitations to renowned sites and participation in the Philadelphia All-City Choir.
The employees, who will acquire more leadership roles next year, and their charges had chances to show their talents June 14, when Mayor Michael Nutter made their auditorium a stop on his five-school tour of budget-affected sites. Cuts to the district’s 2012 fiscal year plan include $7.7 million in art and music funding. In a brief meeting, Milicia told Nutter of the students’ acquisition of resolve and peace through music and of his school’s need for copious currency.
“Mayor Nutter’s a great advocate for the arts, so he knew exactly what GAMP means to the children,” Milicia said.
Nine days after the visit, City Council approved a bill that Nutter signed Friday to bring the district a projected $52.5 million sum through a one-year property tax increase and permanent boosts in select areas’ parking rates. The money’s use is thus far undecided, but Milicia feels funds will go toward reducing class sizes and upholding transportation services and not toward adding rhythm to art programs’ existence. News of the cuts, however, has not hurt enrollment figures.
“Applications are up, in fact,” he said, noting 1,000 submissions for what will be a few spots.
The new learners and their contemporaries will make their way through the halls without his towering frame to look up to and gentle voice to listen to, but Milicia believes all will be well.
“Dr. Carr and I have always operated as co-administrators,” he said of GAMP’s setup. “We share a vision for populating GAMP with outstanding teachers, eager students and a wonderful support staff.”
Though he is confident about the school’s next steps, he remains unsure of his own.
“My daughter [and support staff member] Victoria asked me what I’m going to do with myself since she feels I have no hobbies. I told her I’m going to be on my couch all day,” he said with a laugh.
“When I came to GAMP to audition, Dr. Milicia had huge tears in his eyes after I finished my song and asked if he could give me a hug. I knew this was the right school for me,” Kara Mulder, a Fairmount resident and recent graduate said of the gentle giant. “Dr. Milicia is instrumental in creating the feeling that GAMP is a family.”
His last name would remind someone of military service, but Dr. Angelo Milicia probably would prefer aquatic duty. The latter role seems more apt because he runs such a tight ship as principal of Girard Academic Music Program [GAMP], 22nd and Ritner streets.
Those who have encountered Angelo Milicia might consider him a godsend to the community. Though he is modest about his endeavors, they have not gone unnoticed.
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