This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Two elementary schools in North Philadelphia will undergo massive staffing changes before the 2014-15 school year in an attempt to transform school culture and student performance.
Blaine Elementary in Strawberry Mansion and W.D. Kelley Elementary in Brewerytown have been selected for what the Philadelphia School District is calling a "District-led Renaissance turnaround."
Teachers at both schools must reapply for their jobs. At least 50 percent of the teaching staff at each school won’t be recalled.
The move is designed to give increased flexibility to the schools’ principals.
"We basically believe in the autonomy of the principals and the school design teams to develop the transformation plan that they think is going to work best, given the students that are in their buildings," said Paul Kihn, assistant District superintendent.
Kihn rejected the view that this move would cause more tumult and upheaval to an increasingly fragile system.
"We think it’s a net benefit," he said, "and parents who have been part of the conversation in these school communities are excited."
The District has the right to exercise this provision based on its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers; it did not require any new action by the School Reform Commission.
"This is the exact provision that we’ve used for the Promise Academies," Kihn said.
This model differs from that one, he said, in that the Promise Academy model was a top-down, centrally designed initiative. For this turnaround plan, the District has handed over authority to school leaders.
"We are placing a very high degree of confidence in these principals and their leadership teams," Kihn said. "We are not imposing a transformation model in these cases, but we are allowing it to be designed at a school level."
PFT president Jerry Jordan, who said he doesn’t believe the plan will improve school performance, likens it to "just moving the chairs around."
"There is no evidence that by changing the staff at either of those schools that the teachers are going to be able to turn around the building just because the principal brings in a new team," Jordan said.
In his view, teachers at Kelley and Blaine schools are very committed, and "what they need are the tools in order to do their job and the supports that teachers in many other districts have."