Crowd gathers to rally for Oliver Heckman Elementary

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Matt Schickling / Wire photo – Maddie Hammon, 7, a first-grader at Oliver Heckman, attends a rally to keep her school open.

The grassroots effort to keep Oliver Heckman Elementary School open mobilized on Monday with a rally at the Middletown Township Building.

Around 100 people came together to lay out a plan for countering the Neshaminy School Board’s decision to close the school as part of the district-wide consolidation plan. Heckman supporters will have until April 19, the assumed date of the final closure vote, to make their case to board members.

The “roadmap” for Neshaminy, as laid out by current and past boards, is to close three of the district’s eight elementary schools by the end of the 2015-2016 academic year, move fifth graders from elementary to middle schools and build an 800-student elementary school in Lower Southampton.

That plan is well on its way, despite much public skepticism and resistance. Samuel Everitt Elementary in Levittown closed at the end of last school year, fifth-graders were moved into middle schools and the new “mega-school” is expected to be completed in time for the 2016-2017 academic year.

“Sometimes we have to redraw our maps,” organizer Staci O’Brien said. “It’s time to redraw this particular roadmap.”

Many centered around the idea that the school, which serves Langhorne and parts of Middletown, is integral to the way community functions there.

Barry Truchil said he meets with other Heckman supporters at Langhorne Coffeehouse each Thursday to discuss ways to keep the school open. As a father of children who went to Heckman and graduate of Neshaminy High School, he views neighborhood schools as vital to the communities they serve.

“The smaller the school, the greater the sense of community and attachment to the school,” he said.

Janice Lewis, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization outlined this community connection. She talked about how students contribute to the surrounding community, whether it be through their efforts with the school’s food pantry or other charity projects.

Langhorne Police Chief Steve Mawhinney talked about his connection to the school. Each morning, he patrols the area outside Heckman, greeting children and parents, many of whom he knows by name. He noted that his presence at the school could encourage long-term trust in police-community relations in a time when “policing is taking a beating.”

“I get down there in the morning … because I want to have a positive effect on that little memory,” he said.

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick also addressed the crowd, urging them to stay vigilant in their efforts. In October, he said, he wrote a letter to the school district in an effort to keep both Oliver Heckman and Samuel Everitt, where he and his siblings were educated, open.

“Local education delivered in the community, in the neighborhood, is really important,” he said. “I want to work with you to make the case and I think the case is there to be made.”

The organizers printed several hundred fliers and 100 lawn signs reading “Keep Heckman Open” in bold print. These were distributed at the meeting for supporters to place at their homes and businesses. The plan is print 400 more signs with funds raised from donations.

The group set up an account at the First National Bank of Newtown in Langhorne, where donations can be made. They also suggested Neshaminy residents write letters to the editors of local news outlets, attend and speak at school board meetings and email school board members to support their efforts.

For information on the efforts to keep Oliver Heckman Elementary School open, visit the Save Our Neshaminy Schools Facebook page.

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