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At last, a plan for high schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District’s much anticipated high school plan, released February 27, emphasizes improving the quality and variety of programs offered in neighborhood high schools.

"Our goals are that our students will enter high school academically and socially prepared, that there will be more high school choices, smaller high schools, academic support programs for struggling students, and exemplary programs in every neighborhood high school," School District CEO Paul Vallas said.

Deputy Chief Academic Officer Creg Williams, who headed the planning process, described it as a team effort involving all stakeholder groups and over 100 individuals.

Over 60,000 students attend the system’s 45 high schools, most of which have done poorly at preparing students for success in post-secondary education. For example, the District reports that last year more than half the system’s freshmen were retained in ninth grade.

Components of the high school plan include:

  • An improved transition to high school: a self-contained Ninth Grade Academy at every high school, with double periods of English and math; a mandatory freshman orientation; stiffer eighth grade promotion requirements including mandatory summer school for students not at grade level in reading and math.
  • A rigorous and unified core curriculum supported by improved professional development: a standardized curriculum that is multicultural and diverse; new instructional coaches for ninth grade reading and math; Advanced Placement courses in all high schools, with teachers trained by the College Board; expanded art, music, and athletic programs.
  • Enhanced academic and counseling supports for students: doubling the number of counselors and creating Student Support Centers in all high schools; a "Credit Recovery" program to make up courses through afterschool and summer school work; smaller class sizes; expanded SAT preparation programs; a summer job program providing job opportunities for students in good standing; driver education programs.
  • More high school choices and reduced student population per high school: creating and constructing new high schools in five regions; adding three charter high schools; converting up to 10 middle schools and three annexes into high schools; new programs in Career and Technical Education; military academies; International Baccalaureate programs at neighborhood high schools.
  • Student participation in school decision-making: elected student governments in all high schools; student involvement in the School Improvement Plan, School Safety plan, budget and professional development plan; a citywide student government and an annual citywide student conference.

The District estimates the price tag of the reform plan to be a minimum of $30 million annually, not including planned facilities improvements.