The closing of Robert Fulton Elementary School has not only left students unsure of what is next, but some faculty and staff members as well.
Fulton Elementary was one of the 24 Philadelphia schools picked to close by the end of the 2012-2013 school year. It was a decision that came hand-in-hand with the closing of Germantown High because Germantown High provides the heat for Fulton Elementary.
State Representative Stephen Kinsey wanted to keep Germantown High open and utilize that space, but the School Reform Commission had a different plan. “Some of us are still upset with the SRC in regards to the way that they did this,” said Kinsey.
He added that they already had their decision made by the time Kinsey and his team came to them. “I don’t think they gave any great thought of the impact it was going to have in the community,” he said “that’s doing away with so much education in central Germantown.”
Teachers are worried for their students as well. Christine Palermo, a Head Start Program teacher, has been at Fulton Elementary for 2 years now. Palermo works with children living in poverty from ages 3-5.
The Head Start Program is like “an early intervention for the children,” she said. The Head Start Program helps to prepare these children for school by supplying them with educational, health, nutritional, social and various other assistances.
“So many Head Start programs have closed,” said Palermo, “the children that really need it aren’t going to have it available because it’s not accessible to them.” Two Head Start programs have now closed at Fulton Elementary School.
“There has been no transitional activities for our children and I think that’s a disgrace to our school district,” said Palermo “nobody bothered to worry about the children and that’s who it’s really going to affect, the kids.”
Ericka Johnson, a third grade teacher at Fulton Elementary who started in January, said her students are upset about the school closing and often mention how far they have to go for school next year. Johnson added that the parents are upset they have to go even further as well. “It’s affecting everybody,” she said.
Johnson has recently found out she has been laid off, but is hoping the school district will re-hire teachers back between August and November. “If not, then I’m going to get unemployment,” she said.
She said her students keep asking her where she is going to teach next year, but she just keeps saying she doesn’t know yet. “They don’t know I got laid off,” said Johnson, who mostly attributes her lay-off to seniority.
“A lot of good teachers are getting laid off,” she said “that doesn’t produce good students, a good district, good classrooms, anything like that because it just makes teachers who are older safe and it doesn’t matter what happens they are just always safe.”
Michelle Schwenk, a 2nd grade teacher at Fulton Elementary has only been at the school for one year, but has recently secured a job at Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School.
On the topic of lay-offs, Schwenk thought it was “really unfortunate because I know some of these teachers have been here for a really long time, it’s a pretty senior staff,” she said.
Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Foster III, a senior pastor at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church directly across the street from Fulton Elementary; next to Germantown High, believes the closing will be “a great travesty for the entire community.”
He said the kids “have really been despondent and not knowing what the future is going to hold for them, so they really kind of have gone into a cocoon because they really feel let down and just don’t know what to do next.”
Janes Church adopted Fulton Elementary School in the early 70s and they hold a tutoring program for students. Rev. Foster added that the church also mentors at Germantown High.
“The community has just shrunk drastically, so we’re praying on what to do next,” said Rev. Foster “we have to be in the community, we need to be in the community to do ministry.”
Rev. Foster said the church is now currently trying to connect with Martin Luther King High School as well as Rosemont Elementary School.
The Providence Baptist Church of Germantown, also across from Fulton Elementary, ran an after-school program for Fulton students called, “On The Rope,” targeting students who needed support in succeeding to the next grade.
“We are very sorry about the school closing because we had an after school program here that some of the students from Fulton benefitted from,” said Rev. Timothy M. Collins of Providence Baptist Church.
A 1989 Germantown High graduate, Constance Booth-Shannon (Connie Booth), expressed her distress over the school closing as well. “It’s a shame we can’t find the funds and resources to keep it open,” she said.