Community con­tin­ues to sup­port school

The Ambler Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Devlin

The rec­om­men­da­tion to close Mat­ti­son Av­enue El­e­men­tary School has be­come in­cred­i­bly un­pop­u­lar across the Ambler community — a point made very clear as ev­ery per­son who ad­dressed the Wis­sahickon School Board Mon­day voiced dis­plea­sure with the idea.

The dis­trict held the sec­ond of two pub­lic hear­ings re­gard­ing the pos- sible clo­sure of Mat­ti­son Av­enue at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 inside the high school au­di­to­rium. The hear­ing of­fered con­cerned mem­bers of the community an op­por­tu­nity to get an­swers to many of their ques­tions from the pre­vi­ous hear­ing, voice their dis­plea­sure and try to con­vince the board to re­con­sider the pro­posal.

The board must now wait at least 90 dDyV EHIRUH D finDO dHFiViRn FDn be reached, ac­cord­ing to state law.

In June, the dis­trict rec­om­mended clos­ing Mat­ti­son Av­enue due to low­er­ing en­roll­ment trends, lower test scores on stan­dard­ized tests and to al­low all el­e­men­tary schools to fol­low the same K-5 model, in­stead of the cur­rent K-3 model at Mat­ti­son Av­enue.

The hear­ing be­gan with the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­swer­ing ques­tions from the Oct. 1 hear­ing.

The fail­ure to achieve Ad­e­quate Yearly Progress at the high school level based on Penn­syl­va­nia Sys­tem of School As­sess­ment test scores, be­cause of low scores in the AfricanAmer­i­can and In­di­vid­u­al­ized Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram sub­groups, caused a num­ber of peo­ple to ques­tion the pri­or­i­ties of the dis­trict and why it seemed fo­cused on clos­ing Mat­ti­son Av­enue in­stead of ad­dress­ing the seem­ingly more press­ing is­sue. The ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponded that while the high school had failed to achieve

AYP five out of the past six years be­cause of the two groups’ scores, trends show that progress is be­ing made and it ex­pects to per­form much bet­ter in the fol­low­ing years with the goal be­ing 89 per­cent of 11th grade high school students demon­strat­ing pro­fi­ciency on the Al­ge­bra 1 Key­stone as­sess­ment.

An­other is­sue the ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­dressed was the ru­mor of a pos­si­ble Boys & Girls Club at the fa­cil­ity should Mat­ti­son Av­enue close. The ad­min­is­tra­tion said while the idea of hav­ing a Boys & Girls Club is not a new idea, the Mat­ti­son Av­enue El­e­men­tary School site was not con­sid­ered un­til the rec­om­men­da­tion was made to close Mat­ti­son Av­enue in June. Cur­rently, though, no de­ci­sion has been made to close the build­ing and, there­fore, the board has not made fu­ture plans for Mat­ti­son Av­enue at this time.

A third is­sue re­garded the Head Start pro­gram that helps low-in­come chil­dren pre­pare for school. The dis­trict said dur­ing its pre­sen­ta­tion that it is will­ing to host a pro­gram at one of the re­main­ing fa­cil­i­ties and there is no de­sire to re­move the pro­gram from the dis­trict. It is “cur­rently in dis­cus­sions with Mont­gomery County Head Start to in­ves­ti­gate op­tions to re­tain if a de­ci­sion is made to close Mat­ti­son Av­enue,” ac­cord­ing to a dis­trict hand­out at the hear­ing.

Other top­ics dis­cussed in­cluded the achieve­ment gap, the Mea- sure of Aca­demic Progress stan­dard­ized test scores, per­son­nel, pro­gram op­por­tu­ni­ties un­avail­able at Mat­ti­son Av­enue such as band and cho­rus, fi­nan­cial in­quiries, the fa­cil­ity fea­si­bil­ity study, en­roll­ment and ca­pac­ity.

Af­ter the dis­trict’s pre­sen­ta­tion came the pub­lic com­ment sec­tion that dom­i­nated the three-and-ahalf-hour hear­ing.

To be­gin, community mem­ber Diane Frustaci brought 41 third­grade students all wear­ing the same yel­low Mat­ti­son Av­enue T-shirt to stand be­fore the board to rep­re­sent the students who took the PSSA. Pinned on their shirts were the let­ters A, P or B rep­re­sent­ing ad­vanced, pro­fi­cient and ba­sic or be­low ba­sic on the PSSA, re­spec­tively.

“Of the 41 students, 14 scores fell into the ad­vanced range,” Frustaci said be­fore send­ing those chil­dren with an A on their shirt to sit down. “Twenty of the 41 students’ scores fell into the pro­fi­cient range,” she said, again send­ing those chil­dren back to their seat.

“The chil­dren who stand in front of you now rep­re­sent the seven chil­dren who scored ba­sic or be­low ba­sic. One can’t help but to ask, does clos­ing an en­tire school be­cause of seven students who are iden­ti­fied to have the great­est need for ad­di­tional ser­vices make sense? I’m sorry, to me, and to many, it does not,” she said.

Board Pres­i­dent Young Park did not take kindly to the pre­sen- tation, call­ing it “in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

“I can­not see how you can sin­gle out cer­tain students in pub­lic and show whom are be­low the per­for­mance,” Park said, to which came many protests from the au­di­ence.

You are mak­ing your point “by us­ing the kids in pub­lic, and peo­ple are look­ing at it on TV. What they will see, they’re go­ing to look at those kids … I un­der­stand that you were try­ing to make a point but I find it in­ap­pro­pri­ate. And let me say one more thing as a school, you keep say­ing the num­ber six or seven,” he said, re­fer­ring to the PSSA data par­ents were cit­ing. “Our goal is to have ev­ery stu­dent achieve their goal … and I think for you to keep say­ing it’s six or seven, I find it very offensive.”

Many com­ments came from cur­rent and for­mer students who pleaded to keep their “home” open.

Ambler Mayor Bud Wahl pre­sented a res­o­lu­tion from Ambler Bor­ough Coun­cil in sup­port of Mat­ti­son Av­enue.

Diane Burgess, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ambler chap­ter of the NAACP, also spoke, voic­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sup­port for the school.

Mat­ti­son Av­enue par­ents Rich Palumbo, Joe Hu­ni­cutt, Chris­tine De­lau­ren­tis and Tara Graefe later made a pre­sen­ta­tion an­a­lyz­ing the data pre­sented by the board, say­ing the fo­cus should be clos­ing the achieve­ment gap rather than clos­ing the school.

The pre­sen­ta­tion high­lighted the fact that Mat­ti­son Av­enue has a greater num­ber of eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged students com­pared to the other el­e­men­tary schools, ex­plained how Mat­ti­son Av­enue MAP scores in­creased the high­est over a year com­pared to the other el­e­men­tary schools and re-ex­am­ined the 41 stu­dent PSSA test scores.

The pre­sen­ta­tion also showed the dif­fer­ence in test scores among eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged students at Mat­ti­son Av­enue and Lower Gwynedd El­e­men­tary School, where Mat­ti­son Av­enue’s scores were sig­nif­i­cantly higher in both read­ing and math. The group also showed how the K-3 struc­ture works in school dis­tricts where PSSA scores were much higher.

Fi­nally, state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, whose dis­trict cov­ers Ambler Bor­ough, ad­dressed the board, not­ing this was the first time he’d seen an is­sue have 100 per­cent agree­ment among his con­stituency.

“You know in my line of work I hear from a lot of peo­ple ev­ery day on a lot of dif­fer­ent is­sues,” Stephens said. “I can tell you I’ve never had a unan­i­mous, unan­i­mous, over­whelm­ingly unan­i­mous po­si­tion from my con­stituents. I don’t know of any per­son who sup­ports clos­ing Mat­ti­son El­e­men­tary, not one per­son that lives in the dis­trict that I’ve heard from, nor that you’ve heard from, as far as I know. And I just think it’s re­ally im­por­tant when we talk about how high is the bar, how con­vinc­ing must the proof be that the right de­ci­sion aca­dem­i­cally for these students is to close Mat­ti­son El­e­men­tary?”

Su­per­in­ten­dent Ju­dith Clark thanked the au­di­ence for their in­put, not­ing it was “won­der­ful to see the car­ing and the pas­sion” demon­strated. She also ex­pressed pride in the num­ber of students who spoke.

She said she be­lieved the board would take its time in de­cid­ing the fate of the school and would weigh ev­ery­thing care­fully and in the event Mat­ti­son Av­enue closes, the dis­trict would do “ev­ery­thing we can to make the tran­si­tion pos­i­tive for the students and their fam­i­lies.”

Park said it was a “very dif­fi­cult process” that wouldn’t be taken lightly. He said the board would continue to ad­dress the is­sue over the next few months.

He also ad­dressed jeers the au­di­ence made ear­lier.

“Typ­i­cally it’s never a good idea to in­sult the peo­ple who are mak­ing the de­ci­sions just for our sake. We’re not work­ing against you, but just for what­ever you do, I think that’s wise,” Park said.

He ex­pressed pride in the num­ber of ac­com­plish­ments the dis­trict has made. He said the dis­trict never in­tends to lose fo­cus on clos­ing the achieve­ment gap and he felt in­sulted by some of the neg­a­tive com­ments made re­gard­ing staff mem­bers at Shady Grove. He said he was proud of ev­ery­one on staff.

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