The Germantown High School Coalition met with the Concordia Group, the company poised to purchase the shuttered Germantown High School (GHS) building, at State Rep. Stephen Kinsey’s office on Saturday.
Organizers said a small group met with the developers to discuss the Coalition’s ideas for design and rebuilding a school at the building.
The meeting was closed to the press, but several organizers shared some information on what took place.
“The meeting with Concordia was to introduce ourselves to them and learn who they are and what they do and what their intentions were with regards to the building,” said Julie Stapleton-Carroll, lead organizer of the task force. “They really welcomed community input and … they don’t really have an idea what they want to do with the GHS building. [So] we took that opportunity to give them our presentation on what it is we want to see in the schools.”
Carroll noted that the group presented a design to Concordia, focused on their plan to use a portion of the school for instruction and other parts for a “boutique hotel and restaurant” that could serve as training grounds for students in the “hospitality and tourism” industry.
The task force has consistently discussed the importance of their proposed school providing a trade to learn and their formal mission is, “To create a transformed and transformational Germantown High School that meets the educational, job training and cultural needs of our community while supporting the well-being of our students.”
Now that they have shared their plans with the Concordia Group, Carroll said the next step is to submit a charter school application to the school district. This would mark an initial step in their goal of installing a school at the GHS building. If approved, they would move forward with raising funds to start the school.
Creating a charter school, however, was not the group’s choice for the type of school they initially proposed. Their first choice was a public neighborhood school — no lottery and no companies. They chose the charter school route, said Carroll, because it could help with their chances of being approved to build a school at the site.
“We are going to try the cigarette tax increase being voted on by the state [legislature],” said Carroll. “It currently has a provision that allows Philadelphia charters to apply to the district … and if they are ignored or rejected, then they can appeal to the state. It’s an opportunity for us to take a different route than trying to work with the district to put a district school back in there.”
At a public meeting, several hours after the meeting with Concordia, three people, out of nearly 30 that voted, said they were against the school being a charter, while the majority said it was necessary to move their process along.
“If we had our choice, we would choose to have a public school as opposed to the privatization of a public school,” said Greg Paulmier, a 12th ward democratic leader. “Charter schools are run by CEOs and run with lottery programs that would discount the needs of community children.”
Carroll answered these concerns, by stating that, the task force’s charter school application will include a provision that children living in the “19138 and 19144” area codes would be “guaranteed a space” and any remaining room would be “available to others through a lottery.”
The Rev. Leroi Simmons, founder of the Germantown Clergy Initiative, said he is hopeful that the school can make an impact on community children, even if it ends up being a charter.
“Charter schools are public schools and they do have community control,” he said. “I’m on the board of Imani [Charter School] and they outscored all the schools in the 19144 zip code on state testing. The problem comes in with charters because people get a bad taste in their mouth from these million dollar conglomerates.”
Simmons added that he felt a community driven charter is a good option, especially considering the circumstances.
“I think the [task force] has come to [realize] that the school district and the state are not going to fund another public school in Germantown, so we have to look for another way to do this, to bring education back in the building and benefit children. A charter school is the logical next step.”