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Smith Academics Plus in jeopardy

Point Breeze residents are rallying to convince the school district to salvage a beloved school.


By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Jan. 31, 2013

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Smith Academics Plus students could have only five more months of dismissals ahead of them. 


Photo by Greg Bezanis

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


“The School District of Philadelphia doesn’t know that it is hurting so many children from the inside out,” Betty Beaufort said Monday. “So many of them are already in turmoil over their situations, such as being from single-parent homes, and losing their site would only harm them more.”


The resident of Garnet and Reed streets and her Point Breeze allies are pleading with the educational overseer to spare Smith Academics Plus, 1900 Wharton St., one of 37 schools, including 22 elementary locations, that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. recommended for closure Dec. 13. With decades of dedication to Smith, Beaufort is vowing to rally support for its survival, with a recent City Council decision as a potential godsend.


The Concerned Citizens of Point Breeze president has found the news especially disheartening because her son graduated from Smith and she serves on its advisory council.


“These children are spirit beings,” the activist said of its 402 enrollees. “They have feelings, too, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the district if they suffer spiritually.”


Beaufort has aligned herself with other crusaders to launch a petition and has distributed information at Garnet and Wharton streets as a safe corridor program volunteer, all to keep the young minds from having to say farewell to Smith come June and hello to figures from Chester A. Arthur, 2200 Catharine St.; George W. Childs, 1599 Wharton St.; and Edwin Stanton, 1700 Christian St., schools in September. She planned to speak at Tuesday’s Facilities Master Plan community session at South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad St., where she hoped to learn why Smith’s pupils could need to venture out of Point Breeze.


“Nobody has heard a thing, but, aside from that, what’s disgraceful is the district’s advocating for the further decline of our community,” she said.


Gladly recalling better days, Beaufort knows Smith has declined, registering a “10,” the worst possible score, on the School Performance Index in 2011, the last year for which data is available, and meeting only six of its 24 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment targets that same year, but would not speculate on the causes for its inclusion on the list, which the School Reform Commission will address and likely vote on in March. Hite compiled it with assistance from the Boston Consulting Group to respond to a 27 percent enrollment plunge since 2002; 53,000 empty seats; $300 million borrowed to cover this year’s expenses; and to elevate the district-wide capacity rate from 67 to 80 percent. 


Along with the closings, the first-year head is proposing grade changes, mergers and program co-locations in what would amount to the largest-ever constriction for the nation’s eighth-largest school district. His suggestions include shuttering Abigail Vare School, 1621 E. Moyamensing Ave., and relocating learners to George Washington School, 1198 S. Fifth St., whose program options would end, and halting operations at Edward Bok Technical High School, 1901 S. Ninth St., with Southern as a replacement. The moves, which Beaufort says are rooted in greed, could save Hite’s employer $28 million beginning in ’14-’15 but would rob Smith’s youths of their enriching times at their present spot, Sterling Rideout said.


“I hate to say it, but I think it’s a done deal,” the resident of 16th and Tasker streets said at Friday’s dismissal as he re- trieved nephew Devon Hudson, a thriving fourth-grader. “There’s too much money to be had, so I think it’s going to be sold and converted into condos.”


rideout’s kin and the boy’s peers received letters announcing the possible desistance and details on Newbold’s Childs and South of South’s Arthur and Stanton. Parents must select their most desired school option, with the letter coming to serve as an application the district will address on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the master plan. When an institution becomes full, the Office of Student Enrollment and Placement will assign learners to their families’ next choice, with another correspondence to announce their new destinations coming by April 1. For Devon, finding a different educational haunt would not represent an example of novelty.


“Yes, I’ve been through this before,” the 9-year-old said. “Just because I’m used to it doesn’t mean I want to do it again though.”


The precocious youngster began his elementary career at Childs, then 1541 S. 17th St., but its advanced age of 116 years led the district to close it in ’10 and send registrants to the current address at the former Norris S. Barratt Middle School. Devon became a Smith student, with twin sister Dajoir landing at the current Childs site. If Smith were to shutter, Devon would reunite with his relative, but he knows that gain would come as the result of a huge loss.


“My teachers and Ms. [Rachel] Marianno encourage me to work very hard,” he said of his instructors and their fourth-year principal, who elected not to comment. “I really feel they are making a difference in my life and for my schoolmates.”


“We need for everyone at Smith to be a voice for our future,” Beaufort, who led a prayer vigil adjacent to the school Jan. 14 and will participate in an onsite meeting with district personnel Feb. 8, added. “We can again be vibrant and overcome leadership flaws to make it back to where we once were, to being an outstanding academic facility.”


With a 14-2 vote, City Council backed 3rd District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s call for a one-year moratorium on school closings Jan. 24, and Beaufort hopes that the legislative body’s decision will resonate with the five-member commission.


“I keep reading about problems, gang stuff mostly, that people in North and West Philly are saying will make some moves dangerous,” Rideout said. “I don’t know what sort of stuff might go down if Smith’s kids have to relocate, but I do know everyone in that building is a hard worker.”


“These children have enough on their minds,” Beaufort said of their non-school circumstances. “They shouldn’t be treated as if their future doesn’t matter. Nobody should have to struggle to get a good education.” 


Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

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1. mimi said... on Feb 1, 2013 at 12:08PM

“How many of these kids are really here to learn???? The parents send them for the free lunch and to get them out of their house..... as a tax payer I tired I paying for schools that are not producing productive students.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Feb 11, 2013 at 11:32AM

“MiMi have you ever walked in that school. Have you ever asked to volunteer. All children want to learn but sometimes outside influences effect what is really going on with these children. I am a tax payer to but b4 i complain about a situation I asked myself have I tried to help the situation if at all possible”

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