Morrow Elementary will most likely close within the next few years. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)
Though Northside residents were unanimously opposed to the closing of Morrow Elementary and Rooney Middle School at a Pittsburgh School Board meeting Monday night in Oakland, the board appears set to go ahead with the closings, which were recommended by a consulting group in November.
“By law we’re only following procedures,” said Mark Brentley, District 8 school board member and Northside resident. “We need 60 to 90 days to address the public before closing schools.”
At issue is the recommendation of consulting group DeJong Inc. to close Morrow, move its students into the nearby Rooney building, and spread current Rooney students among multiple middle schools, one of which is in Homewood.
Brentley will vote against Morrow’s and Rooney’s closures, but he said with a board that favors whatever Superintendent Mark Roosevelt pushes, there isn’t much hope that the board will be persuaded.
Northsider Larry Ehrlich pleaded his case anyway: “Last week you got $40 million [from the Gates Foundation], and that’s wonderful. But if you let these schools close, you’ll fail these students.”
Ehrlich expressed to the board that with the Northside’s high dropout rate, forcing students to take multiple buses to schools on the other side of the city would further stoke existing problems.
Northside activist John Canning explained the relevance of having neighborhood schools. “When I went to Morrow, there was a close relationship with Brighton Heights,” Canning said. He argued that neighborhoods lose their identity when schools are closed, because neighbors lose their connections to each other.
Two members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP denounced the school board scheduling the hearing so close to Christmas and far away from where the schools were closing.
“Parents do care, but this is not a good week — not the week of Christmas,” said Marilyn Barnett, education chair for the Pittsburgh chapter.
Barnett added that since closing schools couldn’t happen in a “piece-meal fashion,” since educational quality and community relevance weren’t factors in the decision to close schools.
“I support closings, but they have to be done in an organized and dignified manner,” Brentley said. He said that certain areas that are ripe for school closings, like the South Hills, remain “barely touched,” because it’s more difficult politically to close schools there.