by Pete Mazzaccaro

As temperatures dipped into the 20s last week, talk about the future of Philadelphia’s public schools continued to heat up.

At issue is a proposal that looks a lot like recent campaigns to consolidate schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In an effort to save $29 million, a number of schools – some in Northwest Philadelphia – would be closed and their students sent elsewhere.

For many in Chestnut Hill, the threat to nearby schools like Germantown High School and Emlen Elementary School are not immediate concerns. Many in this neighborhood send their children to private schools. Those who don’t send their children to J.S. Jenks Elementary, which is under no immediate threat of closing, though some Jenks parents are wondering what impact nearby closings will have on the student makeup of their children’s school.

And it’s not hard to predict that even if the district closes the schools it has listed, it will be facing the same financial challenges going forward. Today it might be Germantown High. Next year it will be special education for district elementary schools.

Again, the conversation around local public schools in Philadelphia is simply depressing. Short $250 million annually and expecting a $1.35 billion deficit in five years, the struggling school district, desperate for funds and aid, seems impossible to fund correctly or fully.

That we continue to be unable to address something as fundamentally important as funding and fixing our schools continues to baffle me. Instead of committing to doing everything necessary, we wade into debates on whether these schools are deserving of funding to begin with.

The stalemate is the fault of advocates on both sides. Often, public school advocates fail to account for the many shortcomings of the public system. Privatization proponents are eager to blame teachers unions and greedy school districts without recognizing that the challenge of providing safe effective schools for Philadelphia’s children is bigger than that debate.

No matter what, parents everywhere deserve to have a school to which they can trust their child’s education. And kids deserve to have a good school as well. Schools in communities where it seems impossible to meet those goals must determine what extra measures should be taken to make things better. These schools aren’t failing. They’re serving troubled neighborhoods where the neighborhood is failing. Schools give us the opportunity to begin helping those neighborhoods directly.

It’s an opportunity we seem perpetually too preoccupied to take.

A very special Hiller

Two weeks ago, Chestnut Hill lost a remarkable resident in Ann Spaeth.

I first met Ann when she joined groups of people who were protesting the Fairmount Park Commission’s decision to control deer populations in the park through controlled shooting. Ann joined other protesters who sneaked into the park at night to try to disrupt the shootings. I remember thinking then – nearly 12 years ago – that she had a remarkable amount of courage and grit.

Spaeth brought that same straightforward conviction to nearly every cause she cared about. From working to save the VFW building on Germantown Avenue, to tirelessly sticking up for employees at the Chestnut Hill Local through tough times, you could count on Ann to speak her mind and you could be sure she would be honest and stick to her principles.

For that, I and many others here will really miss her.

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