This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Superintendent William Hite announced Monday a strategy for intervening in 11 of the District’s lowest-performing schools that avoids either closure or charter conversion, but could include merger with another school, engaging a “contract partner,” or replacement of staff.
Hite also said that the Renaissance schools initiative will be re-evaluated before any other schools are turned over to charters. There are 21 schools now operating as Renaissance schools.
The 11 schools were chosen because they’ve been performing below standard for three consecutive years, are not currently undergoing any kind of intervention or turnaround, and have a School Progress Report score of 15 or lower (on a scale of 100).
The schools include five neighborhood high schools: Bartram, Ben Franklin, Kensington Health Sciences Academy, Overbrook, and Fels; one middle school, Warren G. Harding; and five elementaries, John Marshall, Blankenburg, Delaplaine McDaniel, Heston, and Hartranft.
In a related development, the Philadelphia School Partnership announced Monday that it was giving a $1.1 million grant to Roxborough High School to implement a three-year turnaround plan built around career and technical education offerings.
The 11 schools targeted in Hite’s initiative will have community meetings and “school quality reviews” starting next week and lasting for a month. Stakeholder engagement and collaborative listening forums will be held among school staff, parents and school communities about how best to improve their school.
According to the statement, the activities will include meetings, parent-led focus groups, neighborhood canvassing, surveys, and a “two-day, on-site school quality review visit,” according to the statement.
Once the information is gathered, it will be presented to each school community at a public meeting in November.
“Despite investments made in all schools, some schools are not meeting students’ needs and parents’ expectations. There are schools that require additional support right now so that children can have the learning opportunities they deserve,” said Hite in the statement. “To achieve the goal of a great school close to where all children live, each year the School District will prioritize schools to receive focused intervention as we work to drive school-wide academic improvement and ensure better outcomes for our students.”
Other options for the schools besides staff overhaul, engaging a contractor, or merger are entering the District’s Turnaround Network and adopting an “evidence-based plan” to improve academics.
Roxborough High, recipient of the PSP grant, already works with Philadelphia Academics Inc. and has several career and technical education options, including web design, film and video production, biotechnology, and business technology. The grant will “help the school create more alignment and synergy between general education classes and career and technical education classes.”
“Roxborough’s team and staff have worked hard to create a transformation plan that is focused on ensuring that their students are prepared for college or a career,” said Hite. “This is an exciting opportunity as we work to improve academic outcomes at our neighborhood high schools.”
Last year, PSP gave Roxborough a $150,000 “incubation grant” to develop a plan and for educators to undergo professional development. The community was also engaged in developing the plan.
Dana Jenkins, the school’s principal, said that due to the Career Academies model, students are already becoming “enterprising” and focusing more on their futures as they see practical applications in what they are learning in school. With the PSP money, the school will engage consultant Michelle Wilcox, an expert in building school leadership capacity in schools using career and technical education, and will upgrade technology, curriculum, and facilities. In addition, it will underwrite a permanent in-house substitute teacher to minimize disruption when teachers are absent.
PSP, begun in 2011, has now invested $56 million in city schools for improvement and “turnaround” –$34 million to charters, $16 million to District schools and $6 million to private schools.