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District rejects Creighton teachers’ proposal

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

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks

District officials have shot down an effort by teachers at Creighton Elementary to stave off charter conversion and lead their own school turnaround effort.

A teacher-led proposal calling for a council of teachers and community members to assume control of the school “does not provide sufficient evidence of the…ability to implement, manage, and sustain a large-scale school turnaround at Creighton,” wrote Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon in a memo dated May 29.

The School Reform Commission will vote on Creighton’s future on Friday, June 1.

Although Nixon rejected the teachers’ proposal, she expressed openness to the idea of teacher-led turnarounds. The District has apparently not yet made a formal recommendation on who should manage Creighton next year, although Universal Companies, the second choice of Creighton’s School Advisory Council, would appear to have the inside track.

Officials from the District and Universal were not immediately available for comment.

Regina Feighan-Drach, the primary architect of the Creighton teachers’ proposal, expressed disappointment.

“It’s a sad situation if they’re going to privatize another public school,” said Feighan-Drach, a longtime art teacher at Creighton.

“I just keep thinking that you need to trust your employees.”

In February, Creighton was one of four elementary schools targeted for conversion to charters as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools Initiative. In April, however, Creighton’s School Advisory Council voted in favor of the teacher-led proposal over five charter operators vying to manage the school. The School Reform Commission delayed a vote on Creighton’s future until the teacher-led plan could be more fully vetted.

Feighan-Drach said she felt the Chief Academic Office gave thorough consideration to the teachers’ proposal, but she said she is frustrated that she and her colleagues were given only a short window to put their plan together.

“We should have been given the same opportunities that the charters got, and we weren’t,” said Feighan-Drach. “It was written in less than four weeks, so it’s not going to be perfect. We were more than willing to amend it and work with the School District.”

In making her recommendaton, Nixon cited a “lack of literature on the necessary infrastructure for preparedness to implement a teacher-led model” and a lack of data on teacher-led turnarounds, as opposed to newly created schools.

She also offered a laundry list of reasons why the teachers’ proposal failed to align with the goals of the Renaissance Initiative, including a lack of “detailed evidence of leadership experience with implementing and/or managing whole school turnaround efforts” and a lack of “discussion of how … data will inform teaching practice for teachers to personalize instruction and implement interventions to increase student achievement.”

Despite rejecting the Creighton teachers’ plan, Nixon expressed support for the notion of teacher-led turnarounds.

"The CAO recommends that the District and the SRC explore research-based models and opportunities for teacher-led teams to participate in the RFP Renaissance Schools Initiative process," she wrote.

"In addition, the District should provide professional development opportunities to support teacher-led turnarounds."