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Committees at work on plans to overhaul 25 troubled schools

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

The School District has stepped up its work around its much-debated Renaissance Schools plan – an initiative to transform chronically failing schools – appointing a 50-member panel to help drive the process.

Dubbed the Renaissance Schools Advisory Board, the group has three subcommittees consisting of educators, business and community leaders, District staff, parents, faith-based representatives, and youth advocates.

One subcommittee, chaired by Mayor Nutter’s education chief Lori Shorr, will define the process and criteria by which the schools are selected. Another, led by Robert Peterkin of Harvard University, will develop criteria for evaluating proposals from internal and external providers interested in operating schools. The third subcommittee, chaired by Urban League of Philadelphia CEO Patricia Coulter, will strategize about community input.

PlusUltre founder Leroy Nunery will facilitate the process.

The goal of the Renaissance Schools plan is to overhaul 25 of the District’s lowest- performing schools by closing and then reopening them as District-run charters or privately operated schools. The first 10 will be named this fall and are due to reopen in September 2010.

They will likely come from the Empowerment I Schools, a group of 20 schools in Corrective Action II status under No Child Left Behind. During an August press conference, Shorr said, “Our group will look at the quantitative and qualitative data that we have currently collected.”

Since then the board has been operating in a closed-door process, declining to reveal any additional information about the process until its work is complete.

Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement at the Philadelphia Education Fund, said he was surprised by the “gag order.”

“I would have liked to see more concurrent discussion while the work is going on,” Armstead said. “I think it would enrich it.”

Education First Compact submitted a list of recommendations to the board, among them suggestions for crafting selection criteria.

“We thought that their process should not strictly be a deficit model, but that they should be looking at what are the strengths in these schools as well,” Armstead said.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that Renaissance Schools will not be named solely on the basis of achievement data. Social impediments to learning will also be considered.

The board is expected to complete its work in early October, after which parents and school communities will be invited to review proposals from provider finalists, recommend models, participate on site visitation teams, and fully participate in the transition process.

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