Northsiders advocate for increasing enrollment, not closing schools

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Brighton Heights homeowner Tony DeCarlo said he plans to sell his house when his daughter graduates from Morrow Elementary in two years. (Photo/Henry Clay Webster)

With twice their number sitting in the wings, more than 20 Northsiders spoke out against the proposed closing of Rooney 6-8 at the Pittsburgh School Board’s public hearing on Monday, March 15.

Though much more civil in tone than at previous community meetings where administrators unveiled plans to use the closed Rooney building to house the elementary students at Morrow K-5, speakers were uniformly clear about the effect the school closing would have on their Brighton Heights neighborhood.

Like many other speakers to follow, Tony DeCarlo, president of Morrow’s parent teacher organization, told the board a vacant Morrow building would be a “scourge on the neighborhood.”

“I plan on selling my house in two years when my daughter reaches the sixth grade,” DeCarlo said.

Another resident, Edie Grill, said she was concerned that closing the Morrow building would reverse the thriving real estate market in the neighborhood.

“Brighton Heights has one of the highest ratios of elderly [people] in the city,” Grill said. “If we don’t bring kids into our neighborhoods, there goes the neighborhood.”

Kelly Day represented the future Grill spoke about. Having recently bought a house in Brighton Heights with her husband in hopes of starting a family there, Day said losing a nearby school would definitely help Brighton Heights lose its appeal to young families.

“We moved to Brighton Heights from Lawrenceville because we liked being near Downtown but still having a yard for the kids,” Day said. “What I’m not looking forward to is driving my kids out of the neighborhood to attend school.”

Diane Annis-Dixon, president of the Brightwood Civic Group, confirmed Brighton Heights residents’ fears when she spoke about the closing of Horace Mann K-5 in 2003. Since then, Annis-Dixon said, Brightwood has seen increasing violence, such as the murder of retired firefighter Mark Berry just one block from the school the night before.

Other speakers recommended the board look at ways to increase enrollment rather than accept decreasing numbers of students.

Brighton Heights Citizens Federation President Pete Bellisario tried to convince the board that closing schools because of low enrollment was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“If you want to grow city schools, listen to the neighborhoods,” Bellisario said.

John Canning echoed Bellisario’s statement. “We need to reverse what has become a very unhealthy cycle of using decreased enrollment figures as the major basis of closing schools,” he said. “The impact of this seems to have the constant effect of pupils leaving the public school system and of families leaving city neighborhoods. This then leads to another round of decreased enrollments and then more school closings.”

City Council President Darlene Harris, herself a former school board member for eight years, reminded board members of what increases enrollment. “When we listen to the community, we draw students into the system. We did it with Brashear. We did it with Woolshair,” she said, referring to two schools that received an influx of students after administrators began working closely with parents.

Still others recommended the board focus on building better Northside educational options.

Danetria Craig, a graduate of Manchester Elementary and later Cornell University, said she sends her son on a long bus ride to Barack Obama International Baccalaureate because the Northside doesn’t offer the necessary public education to help her son reach the Ivy League.

“If we had a quality option on the Northside, I’d be ecstatic to send my daughter there instead of Linden [K-5 in Shadyside],” said Angel Gober.

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