Nicetown/Tioga: John G. Whittier Elementary School Closing

The School District of Philadelphia.]

A number of schools are scheduled to close after a vote by the School District of Philadelphia. Of the three schools in Nicetown-Tioga, two are staying open and one is closing. The closing of John G. Whittier Elementary school has left many students and parents in the Nicetown-Tioga area with an uncertain future of where their children may attend school in the fall.

The School District of Philadelphia.
The School District of Philadelphia headquarters are located at 440 N. Broad St.

Kim Wharton, mother of a second-grade student at John G. Whittier, said she believes that the school hasn’t been improving much over the years. “Over the last 35 years, the school district has been going downhill due to politics and money,” Wharton said.

The School District of Philadelphia’s website does allow parents to submit a Facilities Master Plan Student Reassignment form. This form gives parents the opportunity to relocate their child to another school if they don’t know or like the school they are assigned to.

Back in February, the district voted to close 37 schools. The district was able to knock that number down to 23 buildings as the final recommendation.

According to the School District of Philadelphia Communications Specialist Deirdre Darragh, “The School Reform Commission votes to determine if a school does or does not close.  The SRC held hearings in February to hear testimony from community, students and staff and then voted on March 7 to close 23 schools, and keep four that the SDP had recommended for closure open,” Darragh said. “The SRC also voted to approve the closure of M. Hall Stanton on April 18.”

Communications Specialist Dierdre Darragh.
Dierdre Darragh is the communications specialist for the Philadelphia School District.

Darragh said that the district looks at everything from academic performance to the quality of the actual school itself to determine whether or not a school will stay open or ultimately have to merge with a neighboring one.

“The School District of Philadelphia recommends the schools they think should close to the School Reform Commission.  The SDP did an analysis of all schools looking at academic performance, utilization, building quality and cost to repair,” Darragh said.

Superintendent William R. Hite is trying to assure parents and students that the No. 1 priority is the students. He said he believes that closing schools and relocating children are in their best interest.

“Our goal is to provide every child in the School District of Philadelphia with an education that prepares them for the rigors of higher education, the workplace and life beyond our doors,” Hite said. “Our current financial challenges are undermining that goal. Closing schools with low enrollment and others with declining achievement is a step towards more effective utilization of resources and maximizing learning opportunities for all students.”

Darrragh added, “Spending fewer dollars paying for old buildings and unused space will allow the SDP to enhance safety and climate and academics in the facilities that remain open.”

John G. Whittier Elementary, the only school in Nicetown-Tioga that is closing, was evaluated on the School District of Philadelphia’s School Performance Index. According to the website, the method uses a rating school performance based on a variety of academic progress and engagement indicators.

SPI rankings are based on a 10-point scale with 10 being the best possible score, one being the lowest and five being the average score.

How is the school’s performance assessed? This is how the SPI ranking is broken down.

According to the district’s website, John G. Whittier along with the other schools in Philadelphia, obtain their SPI ranking through performance. The district used four criteria to identify schools for actions. Final recommendations were based on the relationship between the schools.

Based on a two-year average from 2010-2011, 25.9 percent of students at John G. Whittier scored below basic on the math portion of the PSSA, earning an SPI ranking of five. About 42 percent scored below basic on the reading portion, earning an SPI ranking of four. The other 42.9 percent scored proficient/advanced level on the math portion earning an SPI ranking of four. Slightly more than 30 percent scored proficient/advanced level on the reading portion earning an SPI ranking of three.

John G. Whittier received an SPI ranking of five for parent satisfaction, two for parent survey response rate, five for student satisfaction, seven for teacher satisfaction and six for student attendance rate. Overall, these numbers earned the school an SPI of nine–one of the highest SPI a school can receive.

John G. Whittier Elementary.
John G. Whittier Elementary is scheduled to close.

Whittier’s Adequate Yearly Progress, which under No Child Left Behind requires all students’ reading and mathematics skills to be at a proficient level. Nearly 44 percent of the students have proficient mathematics skills but only 28 percent are reading at a proficient level.

Along with low academic performance, John G. Whittier had also been experiencing declining enrollment and an aging building inventory. The number of students attending Whittier has decreased from 600 students to 400 students over an eight-year period, according to the district. The school is also at capacity but is only utilizing 45 percent of the building and materials.

Check out the latest on nearby Bayard Elementary staying open.


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