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Promise Academy teaching staffs include many who are new, inexperienced

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

The School District of Philadelphia has met its goal of radically overhauling the teaching staffs at six new Renaissance Promise Academies.

According to District data obtained by the Notebook, almost 75 percent of the 280 teachers working in Promise Academies are new to their schools. Forty-three percent are in their first year teaching in the District. Although unable to provide exact data, District officials said the majority of those are in their first teaching position anywhere.

Francisco Duran, the District’s assistant superintendent in charge of the Promise Academies, said that the high number of teachers who are new to their schools was not a major concern to the District.

“Certainly, we wanted to keep a percentage of the same staff [at each Promise Academy] because there is a sense of history and connection we need,” explained Duran. “But our goal was really around selecting teachers who were committed to the Promise Academy way, who were committed to their school, and who were qualified.”

At one school, Dunbar Academics Plus Elementary School in North Philadelphia, 20 of 21 teachers are new to the school. Roberts Vaux High School has the highest percentage of returning staff at 40 percent.

But the more pertinent issue, said Duran, is the number of first-year teachers.

“The bigger number I was focused on was how many first-year teachers we have, so we can make sure we are providing the supports needed for them,” he said.

Supports for first-year teachers have included coaching for the first two months of school from retired veteran teachers.

The District’s six Promise Academies – University City and Vaux High Schools, Clemente Middle School, and Dunbar, Ethel Allen, and Potter-Thomas Elementary Schools – were among 14 schools identified as chronically low-performing and slated for overhaul last spring as part of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools Initiative.

As District-run Promise Academies, the schools were required to "force-transfer" the entire instructional staffs from last year and could rehire no more than 50 percent. That approach is key component of the "turnaround" school improvement model outlined by the Obama administration.

Promise Academy teachers must wear uniforms, take part in an extended school day and school year, and participate in periodic Saturday classes. They remain District employees and members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers under terms negotiated by the District and union in their most recent contract.

In late July, there remained a significant number of teacher vacancies at several Promise Academies, in part because the more extensive hiring process for those schools involved candidates leading demonstration lessons.

The combination of a high percentage of new teachers with a late hiring process has proven more troublesome at some schools than others, said Duran.

At Clemente Middle School, for example, 51 of the school’s 58 teachers are new to the school, and over 48 percent are in their first year teaching in the District.

“The biggest challenge we had in the hiring process this past summer was getting people to want to come [to Clemente],” said Duran. “When people heard ‘middle school’ and thought of the neighborhood here, they shied away.”

The Promise Academy model will again be on the table as a possible turnaround model for a second group of Renaissance Schools, expected to be announced sometime in January.

“It’s certainly a goal we have in the next round of Promise Academies to have a better balance of veteran and new [teachers],” said Duran.

Check back later this week for a follow-up, an inside look at how the Promise Academy at Clemente has been impacted by the influx of new teachers.

Promise Academies Teaching Staff Overview

Total Teachers

First-Year* Teachers

% First-Year Teachers

New** Teachers

% New Teachers

All Promise Academy Schools

280

120

42.9%

209

74.6%

University City High School
86
37
43.0%
60
69.8%
Vaux High School
40
17
42.5%
24
60.0%
Dr Ethel Allen School
32
7
21.9%
21
65.6%
Dunbar Academics Plus School
21
10
47.6%
20
95.2%
Potter-Thomas School
43
21
48.8%
33
76.7%
Roberto Clemente Middle School
58
28
48.3%
51
87.9%
* "First-year" refers to teachers who are new to the School District of Philadelphia who may or may not have have experience elsewhere
** "New" refers to teachers who are new to their current school, regardless of prior experience
Source: School District of Philadelphia

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