This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School Partnership is giving $3 million to two District-run North Philadelphia schools that will be receiving additional students in September as a result of nearby school closings.
William D. Kelley and James G. Blaine, both K-8 elementary schools, will each receive $1.5 million "to support the development of a school turnaround model" that will focus on accelerating academic improvement.
"The Great Schools Fund is committed to supporting turnarounds of all types of schools," PSP executive director Mark Gleason said in a statement. He added that the schools’ principals, Amelia Brown at Kelley and Gianeen Powell at Blaine, are "laser-focused on improving instruction."
The money will go, according to the statement, to schools with principals who have shown that they are "committed to the comprehensive transformation strategies that turning around high-poverty urban schools requires." Under Brown’s leadership at Kelley, the statement said, truancy has eased and parent engagement increased. At Blaine during Powell’s tenure, attendence as improved and serious incidents have gone down.
Kelley, in Brewertown, will absorb about 180 students from John F. Reynolds. Blaine, in Strawberry Mansion, will receive about 160 students from L.P. Hill.
Superintendent William Hite said in an interview that the District had "quite a bit of input" into the PSP’s choice of schools, although the final decision is made by the partnership’s board of directors, based on recommendations from its investment committee.
"We talked about receiving schools and schools that have demonstrated progress over the past several years," Hite said. "We did recommend a group of schools that met that criteria and also other schools that were receiving schools."
Gleason said that the two schools were chosen from 10 applications from District schools and that the awards were based on "reviewing applications, analyzing school data, visiting schools, and meeting with leaders." He did not say directly that other applications were rejected, but said there will be no further grants to District schools before the beginning of school in September. Each school presented its own turnaround plan, he said.
Gleason explained that the investment committee that makes the funding recommendations is a nine-member group. It includes five board members; two of the other members are teachers and one is a donor to PSP. The committee members are not now listed on the PSP website but will be shortly, when the organization completes a revision of its complete "donor prospectus" and posts it, Gleason said.
Hite said that he hopes that these latest grants will prove successful and be a catalyst for further grants from PSP, which so far has invested mostly in charter schools. However, he added that turnaround will be difficult in schools with minimal staff and resources.
Still, he is confident that progress can be made even under those conditions.
"We want to use this as a research project to show that these investments can impact District schools and that District schools with the right leadership can turn around and accelerate progress," said Hite. "When that happens I plan to come back to PSP and make requests for other schools."
Since 2011, PSP has awarded $29.5 million in 24 grants. Seven of those, totalling $9.4 million, have gone to District-run schools.
The principals will choose consultants to work with to help implement their turnaround plans, Gleason said.