This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced that 26 of the state’s lowest performing schools will receive a share of $66 million in the second round of federal School Improvement Grants funding. Five Philadelphia District schools and two charters will receive grants this year.
Schools applied for the grants by describing plans to undertake one of four federally endorsed reform models. Due to the "transition" within the School District of Philadelphia, the state has "asked the district to revise its plans" for schools awarded grants this year and last, which may affect the funding needs of schools, according to an email from Department of Education spokesperson Tim Eller.
The five District schools in Philadelphia that are slated to receive these funds are:
- John Barry Elementary School: Turnaround model, $1,944,171 grant
- Horace Furness High School: Transformation model, $1,471,653 grant
- William D. Kelley School: Transformation model, $1,702,928 grant
- Olney High School East: Restart model, $5,384,040 grant
- Penn Treaty Middle School: Transformation model, $3 million grant
Additionally, Hardy Williams Charter School, which recently joined the Mastery Charter School network, was awarded $4,337,647 under the restart model and People for People Charter School was awarded $2,966,000 under the transformation model. The awards are doled out over three years.
The status of several District schools awarded SIG funds is affected by the Renaissance Schools initiative, and other schools may be affected by the facilities master plan.
Changes in Renaissance plans
Barry Elementary and William D. Kelley were both to become Promise Academies in fall 2011 before the budget deficit curtailed the program. According to Eller, Barry "will still be required to implement all requirements of the turnaround model, including the replacement of at least 50 percent of the instructional staff. " Kelley was slated to become an “Innovation” Promise Academy, which like the transformation model allows, does not have a requirement on replacing instructional staff.
Perhaps this funding will be used to include these schools in year three of the Renaissance Initiative, which Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery has expressed he will continue. Both principals will be under the two-year maximum and could remain to see through the transition to a Promise Academy.
Another school affected by the Renaissance process is Olney High School, which its new charter operator ASPIRA reunited as a single school. Last year, Olney West was awarded SIG funds under the transformation model, and this year Olney East was awarded funds under the restart model. Eller said that it has "not yet been determined" how the merger will affect the funds awarded to these schools.
Possible school closures
Furness and Penn Treaty both found themselves on the leaked facilities master plan list that detailed draft suggestions for closing, consolidating, and co-locating District schools.
The proposal for Penn Treaty was to change the grade configuration to 5-12 and close nearby Douglas High School. The $3 million for Penn Treaty could go towards funding the transition.
Furness is under consideration for closure, with its catchment schools being divided to a potentially rebuilt Southern and Universal Audenried Promise Neighborhood Partnership Charter School. If Furness is closed, "it would have to forgo SIG funding. It is possible, but not guaranteed, that it could get a small amount of funding for closure activities," Eller said.
Three schools that received grants for the transformation model last year were designated Promise Academies – South Philadelphia High, Sayre High, and Alcorn Elementary, but remain Empowerment Schools this year because of cuts to the Promise Academies funding.
Questions remain about implementation
The most confusing aspect of the SIG funding is the fluidity with which turnaround models are actually implemented. Promise Academies in both cohorts received funds for both transformation and turnaround models. Olney West, Gratz, and Clymer were all to implement the transformation model, but ended up undergoing turnaround as a charter restart instead.
With plans for the schools changing even between the application and award period and the confusion that results from the changes, it is clear there needs to be additional transparency on how these funds are being awarded and implemented.