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Photo: Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks

Benjamin Herold / NewsWorks

Gates gives Philly schools $2.5 million to work together

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

by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

Philadelphia’s traditional public schools, charters and Catholic schools historically have been rivals.

Now they are receiving $2.5 million over the next three years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to foster greater collaboration.

The money will be used to:

  • Create a yearlong residency program for training urban principals;
  • Expand Mastery Charter Schools’ existing program for training teacher coaches;
  • Develop new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards in math and English.

Philadelphia was one of seven cities that received grants totaling $25 million.

The grantees "have moved beyond the question of whether charters or District schools are better and are working together to benefit all students in these communities." said Vicki Phillips, director of education, College Ready, for the Gates Foundation, while announcing the grant Wednesday.

Lori Shorr, the chief education officer to Mayor Nutter and the chair of Philadelphia’s Great Schools Compact Committee, said leaders from the city’s three educational sectors have been working to find common ground for almost a year.

"Initially it was, ‘If we were to stop fighting each other and use that energy for something else, what could that look like? What could we learn from each other?’" Shorr said.

The overarching goal of the Great Schools Compact is to eliminate 50,000 so-called "low-performing seats" in Philadelphia by 2017.

The Philadelphia School Partnership convenes the Compact committee and will be the intermediary for the grant. Executive director Mark Gleason said the group will look to an outside consultant to help develop the curriculum and structure of the principal-training effort.

"The crux of the program will be a full yearlong residency," Gleason said. "The aspiring candidate will be in an assistant principal role, learning to be a principal."

Host schools and mentor principals could come from District, charter, or Catholic schools, Gleason said.

The teacher-training effort, meanwhile, aims to scale up Mastery’s existing Teacher Effectiveness Institute, which uses a "train-the-trainers" model to prepare teacher coaches.

The goal is to involve 30 coaches in the effort in the first year, said Mastery CEO Scott Gordon.

"One of the assumptions we all share is that a great school means a great teacher in every single classroom," Gordon said.

He described the purpose of the institute, which is already funded by Gates, as "describing what good teaching is, then providing the resources and support to teachers and administrators to make sure that every teacher can rise to that standard."

That could include guidebooks, videos, coaches, and other materials and supports.

Officials have previously said that the compact will allow them to pool resources to jointly purchase benchmark test items aligned to the Common Core, rather than each party having to purchase or develop them separately.

Officials said they also remain committed to trying out a universal enrollment system for high schools next fall. That effort, however, will not be funded by the Gates grant.

The other cities receiving awards from the foundation are Boston; Denver; Hartford, Conn.; New Orleans; New York City; and Spring Branch, Texas.

Phillips, of the Gates Foundation, touted Nutter’s leadership and the involvement of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as reasons that Philadelphia’s compact stood out. Boston is the only other grantee where Catholic schools are involved.

"We think you have an opportunity here to set such an important example for the rest of the country," Phillips said.

Leaders from across the Philadelphia education community attended the event.

"We have a lot to gain through this collaboration, and we also have much that we feel we can contribute," said District Superintendent William Hite. "We feel like we have great teachers and leaders across this District."

Charter school leaders Lawrence Jones (Richard Allen), Naomi Booker (Global Leadership), and David Rossi (Nueva Esperanza) were also on hand.

Even Nutter, who is traveling in China, made an appearance via a prerecorded video.

"The Great Schools Compact … has been working tirelessly to improve the quality of education all across the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said.

"I know that this investment will bring all of us one step closer to our goal of building a system of great schools for the benefit of every Philadelphia student."

This story is the product of a partnership in education reporting between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.