This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Facing budget cuts, but also the possibility of increased autonomy, principal Timothy McKenna decided to be proactive in getting help creating a vision for Furness High School.
The PENCIL Partnership Program pairs business leaders with school principals to help the school reach its strategic goals.
Through Philadelphia Academies, Inc., McKenna has been paired with Gillian Facher of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP law firm. Last month, the pair led a vision planning meeting about the future identity of the school with Philadelphia Academies members and Furness High School staff.
McKenna hopes to create a new identity for Furness and programs that make students excited to come to school, even with a smaller school budget.
PAI seeks business and school leader partners to help “develop strong partnerships between the private sector and Philadelphia public high schools.”
“We are looking for [school] leaders who are passionate about what they do and who have a good understanding of what it means to be in a partnership," said Diera Shaw-Mendez, business partner specialist at PAI. "For business partners, they have to understand that the schools are different than a business, and vice versa for our principals.”
In this case, McKenna and Facher met before being officially matched by PENCIL. “I had actually heard Tim [McKenna] speak before the PENCIL program at an event for Philadelphia Academies,” Facher said. “He had me sold.”
Facher, who has been a PAI board member for 10 years, was attracted to the program because of the similarities between schools and businesses.
“What principals do is very similar to what I do. … They have many constituencies, actually, in the same way that I do. They have teachers, students, parents, the District … in the same way that I have partners, non-partners, staff people, vendors, clients,” Facher said.
With the support of Facher and PENCIL, McKenna created a plan of action for his vision of Furness, but he wanted the opinions and ideas of his staff before he continued.
“This is just us talking openly about ideas about the school,” McKenna said. “I feel that this is a different school than it was four years ago when I got here. I feel that in a lot ways, it improved, and I think there are a lot of ways we can make more improvements.”
Improvements under consideration include adding a career academy and block scheduling, or longer classes. While the ideas and vision for Furness High School are still being discussed, McKenna is excited to hear from the students, teachers, and his partner, Facher.
“I’m glad I have people in this room because I’m not the smartest person in the room," he said. "If I could restructure the school, I wouldn’t want to do it on my own. I would say, ‘Let’s do it together.’”