December 8, 2014 will be an unforgettable date etched in the minds of some 60 plus residents of Germantown. It was the date of the presentation of the first in a round of applications for a school charter to resurrect the now vacant Germantown High School, and transform it into a viable educational center. It's the date they boarded a yellow school bus and rode to the School District of Philadelphia to make their case for a new paradigm in educational excellence: THE GERMANTOWN COMMUNITY CHARTER SCHOOL.
|Germantown High School stands empty waiting to be transformed into GERMANTOWN COMMUNITY CHARTER SCHOOL|
Throughout the year, Carroll and a core group have come together, forging their considerable expertise, enthusiasm and knowledge to devise a way to have the school re-opened. Their first proposal fell on deaf ears, and was denied by the SRC. They were informed that the only recourse would be to apply as a Charter School. Additionally, they were subsequently informed that the building, which they were negotiating to acquire, had been sold as part of a package deal to Concordia, who was possibly looking to develop it for other purposes.
Undaunted, the group continued to forge ahead, holding meetings, bringing in experts knowledgeable about special needs students, school discipline, creative curricula, vocational and technical training, fine and performing arts, historical and cultural development - all to be a part of a comprehensive program for the new, improved, community based Germantown Community Charter School.
In less than three months time, meeting two to three times a week, and some 300+ pages later, in compliance with the rigid requirements of the SRC, the proposal was completed and submitted on November 15 - the deadline for all charter school applicants. The news later came that the date for presentation was set for December 8, and they would be the first of the 40 applicants to present.
During that time, a great deal of energy went into developing the presentation package, power point, logos, rehearsal for appearances before the committee. Hundreds of emails back and forth ensued between and among the members, only taking a minor break for Thanksgiving, than back to work once again.
In order to allow for community participation, a Yellow School Bus was chartered to take the committee and community members back and forth to the hearing - free of charge And even the bitter cold could not dampen their spirits as they gathered to show support for the reopening of the school in their community. While there were about 40 people on the bus, an additional 30 made their way independently to 440 No. Broad Street, the headquarters for the School District of Philadelphia.
|A YELLOW SCHOOL BUS TOOK THE GERMANTOWN COMMUNITY CHARTER SCHOOL COALITION TO THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATION HEARING|
The journey was made even merrier by one of the members who provided hot chicken and corn bread for those who, like yours truly, hadn't had an opportunity to have breakfast.
Upon entering the building, there was a mild confusion as to whether or not the banners would be allowed in the hearing chambers, and security guards initially instructed them to remove them from the premises. It was thought there would be some sort of danger of sticks or weapons - which shows we are truly living in interesting times. Once it was clarified that there was no danger, the group moved forward.
|SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA|
I had rather expected a huge tribunal of panelist seated in a row prepared to grill us to the teeth about why we wanted to be a charter school, etc. Instead, sitting in the front of the room, just below a huge movie screen was one lone woman, who read from a pre-written document, giving the rules and regulations of the presentation in a rather dry monotone voice. Ms. Meagan Reamer then greeted the applicants, informed them that everything was being recorded by a court stenographer, as well as being video streamed for viewing online. Each applicant had 15 minutes, which were being monitored by an electronic device that started off as green, then yellow, and finally red when the allotted time had expired. There was also provision for public input of at least 3 minutes.
This was the first of two hearings - the second of which will be held 45 days later. The decision as to whether or not a charter would be granted has to be made within 75 days of December 8th, by Pennsylvania State Law. And the charter, if granted would be for a period of "no less than three and no more than five years."
By the time the presentations were set to begin, the entire left hand side of the room was filled with supporters for the Germantown Community Charter School, all wearing green t-shirts.
Julie Carroll, who had been the spearhead of the coalition, and Joe Budd, President of Men Who Care of Germantown, were called to the podium, along with two architects Kurt Raymond and Morrie Zimmerman who came up with a grand redesign of the facility. Sitting in the audience, nodding his approval, was State Representative Stephen Kinsey, who has been supportive of the group, often lending his office space and expertise, from the beginning.
However just prior to their speaking, a group who had been sitting quietly on the right hand side jumped up and began chanting down with charter school fraud - totally catching everyone off guard. Calling themselves PCAPS, and wearing blue tee shirts, they marched around the room handing out leaflets, it took the security ten minutes to escort them from the room.
Once calm had been restored, Joe Budd gave introductory remarks, followed by Julie giving texture to some of the many programs that would be constituted within in the school. The school, which will encompass grades 6 through 12, will be community based, serving the students in the Germantown catchment area, including zip codes 19144, 19141, 19138, 19119, 19120 and other tangential areas. Because it will starting with sixth grade students, it will make it possible for early development of skills and abilities that will be nurtured progressively throughout their entire experience with the school, culminating with their graduating from high school, with skill sets that will enhance their success in institutes of higher learning, or in career choices, should that be their goal.
In addition to the application, the group had garnered over 1,000 signatures on a petition, as well as fifty (50) letters of support from elected officials, organizations, community leaders, and individuals - all of whom pledged their support for the Germantown Community Charter School.
For those of you who are interested in the detail of the application, it can be viewed online by logging on to the School District of Philadelphia/SRC Charter School Application Hearing/Germantown Community Academy - to view a copy of the power point presentation. Or log onto our Facebook page, Germantown Community Charter School, for more information, as well as updates of the next hearing. The commentaries were streamed on
But, for all intents and purposes, the community of Germantown in particular, and Philadelphia, in general, has much to be proud of. The coming together of communities in support of quality education is a clear indication of the love they have for the City of Brotherly Love, and for the children who live here. And with so much turmoil going on in other areas, that is indeed a good thing - an absolute blessing.
I'm including a brief note from Julie Carroll, without whom this would not have happened (of course, I highlighted it in green for the Germantown Highschool original colors):
"This is what we had been working for these past many months. Today we saw Germantown come together like I have never seen it. Early this frigid morning fifty people gathered in front of the shuttered Germantown High School (and across from Rep. Kinsey's new office at Harvey and Germantown) to board a bus for the school district's charter school hearing.
We donned our t-shirts over our coats and set out for 440 North Broad Street. We ranged in age from 19 to 90 from all races and neighborhoods of Germantown - including the rogue neighborhood of Mt. Airy.
We arrived with our banners and lunches to a suspicious School District panicking about what the intent was of the green mob coming up the stairs. They tried to take away our banners but we persisted. They frantically called up to the auditorium to make sure they were prepared for the "Sea of Green" that was approaching. We assured them that we meant no harm and would not beat anybody with our banners.
Our group filled half the auditorium and it was a mighty sight for the other groups and district administration. After the hearing officer went over the rules and procedures we were called to present as we were the first group. As Joe and I made our way to the podium, twenty protesters jumped up out of the crowd and began chanting that there should be a moratorium on charters until greater accountability is put into place. This was Action United.
Joe and I were undaunted as I believe both of us agree with the protesters. However, we are where we are.
Joe gave an impassioned introduction to our coalition and the situation in Germantown. We had a slide (presentation is attached) that presents the logo of all the organizations included in our coalition. As the logos came up, coalition members stood up and held their banners high. A very powerful signal of the support for this initiative. We concluded our presentation with information about the school design and Kurt and Morrie finished with the facility. We received a resounding woot woot from our green friends in the audience.
We all stayed for the next two presentations. One - a high school in Germantown. The other a school whose location is TBD. After that there was a break and the bus triumphantly returned to Gtown energized and tired at the same time!
Some of us stayed on as they were hearing public testimony at 3 pm. We were blessed with some very powerful advocates for us including:
>Yvonne Haskins (she's quoted in one of the Newsworks articles)
>Vera Primus (excellent job - including some survey statistics of students economic impact in Germantown before closing)
>Stephen Kinsey - very eloquent and clearly our supporter
We can't begin to tell you how proud we are of our neighbors and partners. We still have much work to do, but I think it's time to celebrate a bit! Look out for a date in early January where we can have a celebration at my house.
A couple other thanks - and I know I will miss someone, so please share if I do.
>Lisa Hopkins - t shirts
>Jill Saul - bus logistics and presentation support.
>Pam Bracey - lunches
>Lorelei Toombs and FUMCOG - without you we could not have shown this strength and thank you for the most inspiring prayer in the morning. It brought us together.
>Kim Douglas, Kurt Raymond and Morrie Zimmerman for being passionate about the building and spearheading our facility design team.
>Bob Seeley - presentation support.
>Vera Primus - for always being at the other end of the phone line or email.
>Joe Budd - for showing up at all our community meetings and speaking so powerfully on behalf of the school.
And most of all, I would like to thank each one of you. Your commitment, resolve and faith are driving this process.
We have another one to go in January (will tell you the date as soon as I know), let's try to get two buses this time!!!!!
There is still time to become part of the process - as we move forward, more will be required in bringing the school to fruition. Each and every member of the Germantown Community is vital in this process. We are making history in an historical community - and we invite you to become a part of it. Anyone interested can contact: