From reshaping the high school experience to rewarding top teachers with tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness, dramatic change could come to the Philadelphia School District.

Released yesterday, a report on the steps needed to achieve Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's vision for the next five years of public education in Philadelphia outlines hundreds of actions that would follow if her strategic plan is adopted by the School Reform Commission.

Much attention has been focused on Ackerman's plan to close up to 35 failing schools and reopen them under private management or as charters. But a look at the full plan shows sweeping shifts in multiple directions.

In addition to opening four new small high schools - three career and technical high schools and one to prepare future Philadelphia teachers - Ackerman wants to reimagine the high school experience for district students, about half of whom do not graduate.

High school students would get individual graduation plans in ninth grade, including career assessment. Each would have his or her own "adult advocate." There would be flexible scheduling and a credit-acceleration program so students could move through school at their own pace.

All high school students would get some kind of career experience, and students would receive formal preparation for the SAT.

The district's hiring process - long criticized as ineffective, resulting in a high level of teacher vacancies this year - also would be remade.

New teachers would be hired by June, not August. City teachers would need to signal their wish to transfer to a different school by May, and teachers and administrators who planned to retire also would need to notify the district by the spring. Those who did not would face consequences.

A pipeline to teachers from local colleges of education would begin in the students' sophomore year, with contracts offered to the new teachers by February of their senior year.

Teachers dubbed "highly effective" would be rewarded with tuition reimbursement and student-loan forgiveness. Teachers with five or more years in the system would be recognized with funded opportunities for professional development, sabbaticals, and networking forums.

Highly effective teachers and other staff also would get greater pay for working in tough schools and filling hard-to-staff jobs, such as math, science, and world languages.

There would be smaller class sizes at the elementary level - 20 for kindergarten, 22 for first through third grades - and more guidance counselors for middle and high school students. An early-warning system would monitor all students' attendance, behavior, and achievement in math and English.

Intramural sports programs and student-government programs would be offered at every middle and high school. Students would have more summer, after-school and Saturday opportunities in music, visual arts, dance, and drama.

Students returning to traditional classrooms from alternative-education settings would receive a six-month reentry program and a separate counselor to help them. In-house suspension would be reinstated, keeping suspended students off the street.

The district also would create an Office of Institutional Advancement to formally curry private and public support. Officials hope to beef up partnerships with businesses and universities, and to create a district-wide alumni association to engage in networking and fund-raising.

A separate specialized curriculum would be developed for English-language learners, and the district would open three "newcomer welcome centers" throughout the city to provide intensive transitional support for up to a year.

Schools that implemented "with fidelity" the individualized, detailed plans each special-education student received would get some sort of incentive from the district.

Top-performing schools that met annual targets would be rewarded with "autonomy agreements" allowing them flexibility from district requirements.

Another group of schools would be closed in order to "embrace bold new educational approaches with proven track records for success." Ackerman has said that the first 10 new schools - operated as charters, or by outside providers - could open in September 2010, after a transition year preparing the new providers.

The criteria for selecting the failing schools have not yet been drafted, district officials said.

All the steps are necessary, the plan says, given the district's stark realities: 57 percent of all schools were dubbed "failing" by state standards.

And large gaps still exist between white and minority students - white students scored 23 percent higher than black students in reading, and 25 percent higher than Hispanic students.EndText