In an unexpected move, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced yesterday that all 14 schools that were eligible for a major transformation will be made over as part of the district's Renaissance Schools initiative.
In January, her staff had said that only some of the low-performing schools listed as eligible would make the final cut. But yesterday Ackerman said: "It was hard to decide which schools would not move forward."
Letters were sent home yesterday to parents and district employees of affected schools - nine elementary schools, three high schools and two middle schools - informing them of their status and detailing the district's next steps.
Nine of the schools will be matched in May with one of six private managers that have been preapproved. The five other schools will be run by the district as so-called Promise Academies.
The Renaissance program allows broad leeway for reform, including longer school days and years, and a controversial proposal to require all staff and faculty to reapply for their jobs. Only up to 50 percent of current employees are allowed to return.
News of the announcement was met with mixed reviews by education officials and community leaders. In a statement released yesterday, teachers' union president Jerry Jordan had harsh words for the program, one of Ackerman's major reform plans.
"This plan makes a mockery of collaborative labor-management relations," Jordan said. "And instead of making neighborhood schools a lifeline for disadvantaged students and a beacon of hope in struggling communities, the district is once again auctioning them off to the highest bidders."
Isaac Barber, president of the Walnut Hill Community Association, in West Philly, was hopeful of the future of West Philadelphia High, one of the schools chosen.
"We're very happy," he said, adding that the high school will likely be paired with Johns Hopkins/Diploma Now, which has provided services in the school this year.
Parent and advisory council member Joy Herbert, whose son is a sophomore at West, said that the organization also plans to keep the current principal, Saliyah Cruz. A district spokesman would not confirm that information, saying that it was too early to say which turnaround team will run which school.
Since the district unveiled the Renaissance plan last August, it has been met with staunch resistance from teachers, who balked at provisions that would require them to work longer school days, two Saturdays a month and 22 days in July. Education advocates said that it would drive veteran teachers out of the district and into suburban schools.
In January, a group of teachers demonstrating outside district headquarters objected to measures in their recently ratified contract that allowed for the flexibility to implement some of the Renaissance reforms.
Ackerman said that she isn't worried. "It's really not about the adults - it's about accelerating students' achievements," she said, noting that she hopes that educators stay put. "We want them to embrace the change that's going to happen."
She noted the number of applications already beginning to pour in for the Renaissance schools. Teachers and principals who work at those schools will be given "sizable" bonuses and other incentives over a three-year period, she said.
Starting next week, parents can attend open houses at the schools, take tours of high-performing schools and visit schools run currently by private managers who were selected as turnaround team finalists.
At University City High, one of five proposed Promise Academies, athletic director Jeff Rosenberg said that he wants to stick around.
"Personally, I would like to be able to return to University City," he said. "I will interview, submit a letter of interest and a resumé. I feel very comfortable there."