Two of Chester’s three high schools will merge come September according to Chester Upland School District officials and confirmed with a letter sent to parents and legal guardians of the affected students.
District administrators have previously said recent budget concerns would not force consolidation or closings of public schools.
However an official district letter to parents and legal guardians dated July 18th indicated Smedley Allied Health High School will merge with the Science and Discovery High School. The two merging schools opened in 2009 and neither have had a graduating class to date. Before their opening, Chester High School was the only option for students in the city. The consolidation will leave Chester with two high schools.
The new high school will be in the recently renovated Science and Discovery building and curriculum for both schools will still be the same. The schools will still remain autonomous for special courses; however it was not immediately known what it will be called or what will happen to the Allied Health name that is part of a multi-million dollar partnership with Crozer-Keystone Health System.
Acting CUSD Superintendant Dr. Joyce A. Wells confirmed the contents of the letter in a Tuesday afternoon telephone conference call with the Spirit, however when concerned parent Christina Wilmer asked at last week’s regular CUSD board meeting, whether public schools would merge or close, Wells didn’t answer with a “yes” or “no.” The meeting was three days after the merger notice was dated.
Wilmer, whose son attends Allied Health’s dual enrollment program with Widener University, said she needed an ample amount of time to decide where to send him in September. Wilmer said she never received a proper answer until she read the letter, less than two months before classes reconvene.
The consolidation appears to be a stark contradiction to the district’s desired intentions.
In mid-June, when state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland threatened to sue the state to force the closing of all three high schools in Chester and let students attend any other school in the county, district officials appeared shocked and completely in opposition.
Throughout June, district officials downplayed rumors of school closures or mergers.
What makes consolidation particularly puzzling is that the board, in June, floated a $55 million bond issue to restructure the district’s debt and lower its repayments over the next three years. The bond also financed renovations at the former Showalter Elementary School, now Science and Discovery High School. And at the end of June, the state restored $10.5 million of what the district had planned to lose.
“We made a very concerted decision to put the two schools together to manage our fiscal responsibilities,” Wells told the Spirit. Wells said the initial goal was to keep all three schools open, but having looked at all the possibilities during the planning stage, this decision seemed to be “a natural fit.” CUSD spokesman Joel Avery, himself the target of recent public scrutiny over his $4,000 monthly consultation fee, clarified during the conference call that the district was not “staunchly” against merging schools, despite earlier public indications to the contrary.
“This merger doesn’t take away the fact that the two schools are still choice schools,” Wells said. She also said the district was waiting for an “appropriate” time and for the letter to reach parents before it was publicly addressed.
Wells said two meetings will be held in the near future for parents who have questions about the schools’ consolidation.