Second meeting to decide fate of G’town High

An inspirational message on the side of the Germantown High School building is still visible, though a fence surrounds it. - Photo by Samaria Bailey

State and local officials, along with Germantown leaders, met with Camelot Schools on Wednesday to determine if the education provider would be a good fit for the recently closed Germantown High building. It is the second meeting officials have hosted since last week – this time focusing on more in-depth questions and concerns raised by community leaders at a July 24 meeting on the same issue.

“We wanted to have an open dialogue among leaders and elected officials about how folks interpreted the [information],” said State Rep. Stephen Kinsey. “Some folks supported it and some didn’t.” Kinsey said he and City Councilwoman Cindy Bass will use the feedback from the meeting to provide a recommendation for the Camelot move and then provide it to the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), possibly within the next two weeks. The district will make the final decision on whether Camelot moves in or not.

During the meeting, the SDP and Camelot provided graduation and retention statistics on the programs and responded to community concerns. If approved to move in to the Germantown building, the school plans to bring in two accelerated programs – for students who need to catch up and graduate, and one transition program for students with behavioral issues.

Even though the meeting provided more insight into Camelot’s record and efforts to engage the community, some in attendance said they still had concerns about the specifics of the move, especially as it related to the School District’s role.

“What is still unclear is the lease term agreement between the School District and Camelot, and that’s important because there are concerns that Camelot is operating at a much lower rate than SDP and our [question] is ‘can it be a quality program,’” said Julie Carroll, board vice president for the Germantown United Community Development Corp. “They took away our high school and put a program that is saving the School District money, but where is the cost savings coming from, and why couldn’t we operate our own school there?”

In response to cost concerns, SDP Communications Director Fernando Gallard stated that maintaining the Germantown High School building with two-thirds of it being non-occupied was a misuse of resources and that Camelot is not being funded with funds from the school closure, but with funds already provided for such alternative programs.

“We are always looking to use our money the best way we can, whether we should bring Camelot on board is not the question. The question is where they will do it,” said Gallard, adding, “I think looking at the cost angle is the wrong angle. You have to look at the results of the program that is serving the students. We conduct monthly reviews of all alternative education providers and they are judged on what they are able to achieve in terms of educating students. If they are not doing their job, the contract is not renewed the next year.”

Germantown High School Alumni Association President Vera Primus said the question of Camelot’s performance is not a primary issue, just the fact that Germantown High’s building would be used for its services.

“My whole focus is the support and help for students,” said Primus. “We have Germantown students that live in the community that do not have an education institution to attend and now they are bait for other people, for gangs and predators. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Kinsey stated that he hopes the community can work together so that this will not be a permanent situation. He said, with the collective efforts of state and local elected officials, Germantown organizations and citizens, work could be done to get a high school back in the neighborhood.

“We are talking a comprehensive high school exceeding the norm in Philadelphia. We are going to find businesses and programs to help a new Germantown high school evolve and we have to work on that, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

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