Isaac A. Sheppard School located at 120 W. Cambria St., had been on the radar of the School Reform Commission for years. With a building constructed in 1897 and an enrollment of less than 300 students, the commission did not see the school’s operation within their budget.
The Sheppard community in Kensington was preparing for what seemed inevitable, the elimination of their beloved school. Sheppard parent Betsy Hernandes had tears in her eyes at the thought of the elementary school closing. Her friend Yvette Caban translated her words from Spanish.
“I had three children go here, the education they were given was very good,” Caban said.
The School District of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission was created in 2001. Governed by five appointed members, the commission oversees district decisions and votes on matters including school closures. Fernando Gallard is the Chief of Communications at the School District of Philadelphia. He explained why a vote on school closures needed to be made.
“In the last decade the school district has not closed schools,” Gallard said. “There are more buildings than seats.”
Enrollment at public schools in Philadelphia has dropped significantly over the last decade. Approximately 210,000 students filled seats a decade ago, today the number has dropped to 145,000. This is due to relocation of students, as well as enrollment in private schools.
The expenses of operating low enrollment schools did not fit within the district’s $2.5 billion budget. A $186 million budget gap needs to be closed within the next school year. As a result, nine schools were up for closure. On Thursday, the commission voted to close Drew Elementary, FitzSimons High, Harrison Elementary, Levering Elementary, Pepper Middle, Philadelphia High School for Business and Sheridan West Academy.
Only E.M. Stanton Elementary and Sheppard Elementary were voted to stay open. The improved test scores of students were the main reason for the positive votes.
“The SRC wanted to keep schools open with education programs that were successful,” Gallard said.
Gallard said the commission did not want to do harm to schools where students were learning and succeeding. Principal James Otto talked about the success of the school community.
“Our teachers focus on the state standards,” Otto said. “Overall our children are doing very well.”
Sheppard parent Blanca Sosa agreed children are learning.
“I have two daughters here and the school is very good,” Sosa said.
Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh met with Sheppard volunteers fighting for the school’s survival. He said he is happy the school is not closing. Oh congratulated the school’s students, parents and faculty for their success.
“Continue to provide the type of education and presence that will uplift the community,” Oh said.
Sheppard has served as a place of safety in a neighborhood filled with crime and drugs. Had the school closed, many students would have had to walk through these dangerous blocks to learn. Now children in the neighborhood will have Sheppard as their school for the foreseeable future.