Community continues to support school
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.
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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.