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Countdown, Day 35: District revamps its support system for principals

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

As principals scramble to ready schools for opening, the District has again changed the way it internally groups and supports its schools, reshuffling the system of assistant superintendents tasked with providing assistance and oversight.

According to a document and email obtained by the Notebook, Philadelphia’s schools will now be separated into eight regional "learning networks." Superintendent William Hite notified principals last week of the change in an email. It reads, in part:

One of our central priorities as articulated in the Action Plan v1.0 is to provide effective principal support. To this end, I am pleased to announce our new school groupings for this coming school year.

For SY13-14, we are organizing our schools into eight regional "learning networks." Each network is a heterogeneous mix of schools within the same geographic area, incorporating feeder patterns. Attached, you will find your school network.

A full-time Assistant Superintendent has been assigned to each network, and will provide on-the-ground, real-time support for principals. Your Assistant Superintendents will be the "learning leaders" of the networks, and will work closely with you to implement evidence-based practices of high-performing schools.

Please also know that your Assistant Superintendent for SY13-14 will be in touch with you this week to schedule an initial visit to your school in preparation for school opening. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to them with any questions.

Finally, we know that your work is the most critical in the District, and that this year you will be asked to do more with less. We are continuing to work hard to identify and obtain resources that are vital to the functioning of schools. Thank you for working together with us to ensure a highly successful year.

This restructuring occurs less than a year after the District moved from a region-based school network to one that emphasized schools with different levels of principal autonomy. In that model, assistant superintendents led networks called Principal Learning Teams.

With nearly a quarter of schools opening this year with new principals, the high rate of turnover has added to the formidable task that principals face in trying to open schools on Sept. 9 with only one secretary, almost no support staff, and now, a new system of support and supervision.

Of the eight assistant superintendents assigned to these school networks, three are new to the School District of Philadelphia.

  • Dion Betts, a former superintendent from Boyertown, Pa.;
  • Donyall Dickey, a former principal from the Howard County Public School System;
  • Cheryl Logan, a former principal from the Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Three others, Benjamin Wright, Kenneth Cherry, and Dennis Creedon, were hired or promoted to their assistant superintendent posts last year.

The two other assistant superintendents are Lissa Johnson and Karen Kolsky, who will both continue in their roles.

In his turnaround blueprint, Action Plan v1.0, Hite stressed that improved principal support through improved principal supervision was a District goal. That goal, he wrote in the plan, was not yet attainable with such a small number of assistant superintendents:

"With only eight assistant superintendents, each of whom is tasked with supporting between 30 and 40 schools, we are not currently able to provide principals the support and oversight they need to be most successful."

The District did not return a request for comment on the new system in time for this story’s publishing.

The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.

This feature, appearing each weekday, is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginnng of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to

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