EDUCATORS, PARENTS, community groups and universities that have bold ideas to improve a Philadelphia public school now have a vehicle to pitch their plans.
The school district yesterday announced the start of the School Redesign Initiative, its latest effort to allow stakeholders to identify, develop and implement their innovative plans at existing schools.
The district said the goal is to increase the number of high-quality schools, but many question the rationale behind the plan at a time when schools lack basic resources, such as counselors, full-time nurses and librarians, and the district faces an estimated $93 million deficit, which could require hundreds of layoffs.
"I find it disturbing," said Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. "The way that I read how this plan was thought up and how they plan to implement it, I don't see it as a new design, I see it as a new destabilization plan."
The district said the number of schools selected for redesign will depend on how many high-quality proposals it receives, though they anticipate that between five and 10 schools will be selected. Those schools would remain district-managed and keep the same students, but could undergo major changes to staff and faculty.
"We have lot of incredibly talented people, passionate people, people with evidence-based ideas that want a way to engage in helping transform specific schools," Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said.
Applicants from low-performing schools would be eligible to receive a $30,000 grant for design, but no additional money is expected to be available for implementation.
"These are schools that will be district-managed that will have to operate within existing district budgets, so that's the expectation and we're making that very clear to anybody who's interested," Kihn said.
He said the district would help design teams apply for startup funding from charitable and corporate entities.
Charter operators and for-profit entities cannot submit a proposal, but can partner with applicants, Kihn said. Teams who apply are not required to have a current or former principal among them, but must have at least one person who holds or can show the ability to obtain a principal certification by July 2015.
The district said the proposals must be evidence-based and incorporate a set of established principles. Applications will be assessed based on rationale for selecting the school; strength of proposal in accordance with established design principals; strength of the applicant team; connections to the school, and the quality of community and family outreach; the proposed design-year process; and ability to be implemented within existing budget constraints.
Interested teams must submit a letter of intent by Aug. 19. The deadline for final proposals is Oct. 10, with design teams selected in November. Design teams would have about seven months for planning. If chosen to move forward, implementation would take place in September 2015.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said he likes the fact that teachers have the chance to decide how a school should be run but scoffed at the notion that others could do more with the current bare-bones funding.
"Schools need to have certain resources and I don't think that in a redesign that anyone is going to think in terms of running a school for city children without guidance counselors, and if that's what the district is asking for, that's just unfair educationally for kids," he said.
Kihn said the initiative is a combination of similar past efforts by the district and current work in other districts around the country.
"We anticipate that this initiative is going to do nothing but bolster the strength of schools and continue to provide improved and, we hope, transformational outcomes for student learning," he said.