This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Chris Lehmann has stepped down as assistant superintendent of the School District’s Innovative Schools Network to become CEO of all three Science Leadership Academy schools and will remain the co-principal of SLA Center City, where he will be spending more time.
“There’s only so many hours in the day,” Lehmann said. “We’ve got a lot going on in the world of SLA.”
Lehmann said one immediate focus would be finding a permanent facility for SLA Center City, which has been in the same rented building at 22nd and Arch Streets since it started in the fall of 2006. In May, the SRC extended the lease for just one year amid controversy. Students were expecting a three-year extension, but SRC members and others consider the lease too expensive and have been pushing for a location already owned by the District outside of Center City.
Another task will be finding and funding a permanent facility for SLA Middle School, which opened last school year in a temporary space in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia.
Lehmann became an assistant superintendent two years ago. Christina Grant, the assistant superintendent for the Opportunity Network – which includes discipline and accelerated schools – will take on double duty, heading up the Innovation Network as well.
“It is with great excitement that I am now returning to that work full-time as CEO of SLA Schools,” Lehmann wrote on his blog. “Dr. Hite has developed this position so that I can continue to support and grow the SLA model in Philadelphia.”
Referring to SLA’s admission process, Lehmann said, “Last year, we did over 1,400 interviews for what is now 250 9th-grade seats across the campuses. That means there’s still a lot of kids who would love to go to SLA who don’t get the opportunity.”
Lehmann said he hopes to expand the network, but has no plans to open new schools at the moment. Instead, he intends to focus on building a culture of collaboration among the three existing SLA schools.
He wants to “build systems across multiple schools that allow great ideas to scale more quickly,” he said. This is the focus of the SLA “network,” which will not function like a feeder network, although Lehmann said many students from the middle school may choose to attend an SLA high school.
“How do we create conditions under which it’s easy for SLA teachers to share their work?” Lehmann asked rhetorically. “That would be huge.”
One of those systems will be a digital “curriculum bank,” a database for teachers to “share across multiple campuses how we do unit design, and then share that with the world.” Initially, this would allow teachers at SLA schools to instantly look up the lesson plans and curriculum units designed by teachers at other SLA schools, and it would eventually be available online for all teachers.
Lehmann will not only spend more time at SLA Center City in his role as co-principal, but he will also spend more time at SLA at Beeber and the new SLA Middle School, known as SLAMS.
“It is an amazing thing to be able to help other school founders and school leaders work on their vision of their schools,” Lehmann wrote on his blog, referring to his work as assistant superintendent. “We accomplished a great deal — including opening SLA Middle School and Vaux—a Big Picture School (which will open in September), bringing New Tech Network to Philadelphia, and creating a model for innovation within a large urban district like Philadelphia.” New Tech Network, a national school design organization, is working with the LINC high school.
He will not have any formal role in the new Vaux School, although he “told plenty of folks that my phone number’s not changing.”
Grant started her expanded duties on July 1.
Lehmann said that he thinks Grant will do a “wonderful job” and that he has “no doubt that [the innovative schools] are going to be well taken care of by Christina.”