When the Facilities Master Plan was announced by the School Reform Commission, 66 schools were listed for possible closures or merging. The news came as a shock to people at several schools, especially for those at Bayard Taylor Elementary.
On Decc 13, the commission announced the Facilities Master Plan, which at the time included 37 different schools for closure in the area.
The Facilities Master Plan was formed to enhance academic achievements through optimizing resources and space. The commission recognized that there were a number of schools in the city that did not use all of the space they have, were facing low academic achievements and had increasing number of dropouts.
After the official announcement, the district hosted a series of parent and community meetings throughout the months of December, January and February.
The School Reform Commission created a proposal for Bayard Taylor Elementary, located on 3698 N. Randolph St. In the proposal, it was recommended the school to merge with Roberto Clemente Promise Academy, located on 122 W. Erie Ave. Faculty members and parents from Bayard Taylor Elementary were concerned about this.
The merging of the two schools would have meant that the 575 students from Bayard Taylor Elementary would attend Roberto Clemente Promise Academy, which has more than 700 students. Roberto Clemente Promise Academy would have turned into a K-8 grade school.
One achievement the district hoped to gain through the plan was to reduce any excess capacity through building closures and closure of annexes, which made Bayard Taylor Elementary a perfect fit with their annex building located a block away.
After receiving a shocking $300,000 grant to build a new school playground, from The Hamels Foundation in June, the news came as a shock to faculty, students, office staff and especially Principal Debra B. Drossner.
“I was absolutely blindsided. I knew how serious the budget situation is and I knew that there would be schools recommended for closure, but my thought was assurances made to the Hamels Foundation, that the Taylor school would not be on any kind of eligibility list because of this investment they made,” Drossner said.
After hearing the news, Drossner worked with the parents and faculty in discussing a plan but placed her personal feelings aside in order to remain neutral in the entire time.
“My role that I gave myself was to encourage people to come to the meetings, to hear what was happening not just to wait for me to tell them, to have a voice, to be heard, to have the data to support what they were saying and not just to talk from emotion and passion” Drossner said.
Parents and faculty shared information and research that they each gathered over the months before the different meetings. Their main concerns included exposing their young kids to violence in the school. In the last school year alone, there has been 32 documented incidents, 21 of them were for assault with six for weapons in Roberto Clemente. The community was worried the affect this could have on the children from Bayard Taylor Elementary, which has had only 14 incidents in the past school year.
Another issue parents raised was the concern of having their children walk further to the new school because the only way children could qualify to take a school bus is if they live over a mile and a half from the school.
State Rep. James Clay Jr. joined faculty members, teachers, parents and children, which included about 100 people, on a walk from the furthest point for a student to Roberto Clemente Promise Academy. The walk took well over 30 minutes.
Second-grade teacher Jacqueline Pinkston spoke to the School Reform Commission about her worries of how the closure could affect the community.
In her speech, Pinkston spoke about the lack of technology at the Promise Academy; the rule the academy has where 50 percent of the staff from Bayard Taylor Elementary would have to find another school.
After the teacher shared her concerns with the School Reform Commission, the community had to wait for the final vote.
“They were just knocking off schools left and right. So when they finally said that we weren’t going to close and they did the whole, it was so long and painstaking listening to them go yes, no, yes, no, and almost everyone on the panel said no; that it was very emotional. We all started crying,” Pinkston said.
For Principal Drossner, the moment of hearing the final vote was bittersweet because of the reality the situation brings.
“As happy as we were, my heart is aching for the schools that have to go through what’s involved with the school closure and making a transition. And helping their children and parents feel that it is a good decision for them and they will be welcomed at a new school that they are being sent to,” Drossner said.
Despite the win, the real fight is just beginning with the possibility for closures over the next few years as a part of the five-year plan to close the budget gap. For now, teachers are feeling the pressure to make sure their students achieve the academic standards.
“We are good for now but now we have to prove it, which I think we can, if we are given the chance to. If we are not pressured to reach unattainable goals then of course we can show what we are capable of,” Pinkston said.
Check out the latest on the John G. Whittier School closing in this area.