Fairhill: Students and Teachers Displeased With ‘Their’ School Closing

Robert H. Harris and his wife, Carla, met each other while teaching at Fairhill.


Young Joselino Gonzales, 13, who will be graduating from Fairhill at the end of this school year.
Joselino Gonzales, 13, who will graduate from Fairhill at the end of this school year. Fairhill Principal Darlene Lomax-Garrett stands in background.

With the Fairhill School set for closure at the end of the school year, many children and teachers will find themselves in a totally new environment with new peers, new colleagues and new challenges.

For some students this closure caused transition will be a little bit easier, as they were going to be graduating from Fairhill.

“I going to be attending Constitution High School,” Joselino Gonzales, 13, said about his post-Fairhill plans.

“I think the decision to close Fairhill is terrible,” Gonzales said. “A lot of kids started out at this school and they have brothers and sisters that are going to be graduating. It’s just really hard for them to know that they will not be able to carry on the tradition.”

Gonzales explained that he first started at Fairhill in 4th grade, moving from Julia De Burgos, where he had attended from first through third grades. He said that Fairhill, for him, had been a much better experience.

“I really think that Fairhill was better – aside from the food,” Gonzales said with a little bit of a smile. “In my opinion, I think that they should have closed down Julia De Burgos rather than Fairhill. One of the reasons I changed schools was because there was a lot of fights over at De Burgos, not that there aren’t fights here, but they were more common over there.”

Despite Joselino Gonzales’ opinion, the data posted online paint a different picture. In the 2011-2012 year, Fairhill had 23 incidents of assault. Julia De Burgos only experienced four incidents of assault.

For students not returning to Fairhill, located at 601 W. Somerset St., reassignment options include the Potter-Thomas and Julia De Burgos elementary schools, or for children in 6th through 7th grades the reassignment option is the Roberto Clemente Middle School.

“The parents have an option” Fairhill Principal Darlene Lomax-Garrett said. “They are filling out the applications now to indicate what schools they would like their children to attend in the upcoming school year, 2013-2014.”

Lomax-Garrett only served as Fairhill principal during the current 2012-2013 school year. The many staff, parents and students that praise Lomax-Garrett state the school would have better performances on test scores and lower fights if she were in her post longer. Fairhill has had four principals in the past six years.

Angeliz Neris, a 7th grader who attends Fairhill also expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to close the school, “I’ve always wanted to graduate from here,” she said. “I won’t be able to, and neither will my brother or sister.”

Angeliz Neris said that she will be attending De Burgos after Fairhill is shuttered.
Angeliz Neris said that she will attend De Burgos after Fairhill is shuttered.

Neris’ siblings are Joshua, who is currently in pre-kindergarten and Chastity, who is in 3rd grade. Neris will attend Julia De Burgos after Fairhill is shuttered. She was very clear as to why she loved Fairhill so much.

“It’s the principal,” she said with a smile. “She is an amazing support system.”

Kianna Araizmendia, and 8th grader from Fairhill, echoed similar sentiments, “The teachers made the experience great,” said Araizmendia, “My favorite teacher has been Ms. Lomax-Garrett.”

Children attending Fairhill are not the only ones that will be displaced by the closure. Teachers face a similar circumstance. Some teachers have taught at Fairhill for nearly twenty years. Robert H. Harris has been working at Fairhill for 17 years. He has been teaching Special Education, from 2nd grade to 8th grade.

“This is the only school that I have taught at,” Harris said. “I started in 1996. I met my wife here. It really is like a second family to me.”

Harris addressed that fact that many outsiders that are looking in would most likely think that his experience at Fairhill would be very hard and stressful but he insisted that this is not the case.

“For me, personally, it’s been an experience that has shaped my life and my future, as well has convinced me that I was meant to teach,” Harris said. Harris explained that he was not necessarily surprised when the school was announced for closure.

“The rumblings had come far before the actual announcement had been made,” Harris said. “So by the time that there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt, it wasn’t as much of a shock. But it was definitely painful when I heard it.”

Robert H. Harris and his wife, Carla, met each other while teaching at Fairhill.
Robert H. Harris and his wife, Carla, met each other while teaching at Fairhill.

Elizabeta Dumea has worked at Fairhill for only a year. She teaches English despite originally being from Romania and comes from a background that is much different than teaching at a public school.

“I worked in private schools before switching over to the public sector,” Dumea said. “It was very different, much smaller classes, very selective classrooms and students who were very eager to learn.”

Dumea goes on to explain how hard it was for her to adjust to the American way of things and the differences that were chasm-like when comparing her private school life in her native country and the public school life here in Philadelphia.

“Believe me, I cried every single day for a year,” Dumea said about making the initial transition. “But I was involved with many activities.”

Dumea said that she is very sad to see that Fairhill School is closing down.

“I had heard bad things about the school coming in, the former principal told me to expect agitation,” Dumea said. “But things turned around, mainly due to Ms. Lomax-Garrett’s determination.”

Susan McCleod, who has a ten year-old named Damon currently attending Fairhill explained what the closing meant to her. “It means a longer commute in the morning, having to get acquainted with new teachers. Damon takes a while to adapt to change, so I don’t know if that’s going to result in anything good for him.”

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