SOMEDAY, I believe, the School District of Philadelphia will make a sincere and workable effort to garner the talents of teachers and principals, and the commitment of parents and community members, to transform our neighborhood schools into models of innovation. But the recent unveiling of the district's unwieldy and counterproductive School Redesign Initiative makes it clear that today is not that day.
The School Redesign Initiative is yet another turnaround scheme, akin to the district's Renaissance model, by which control of neighborhood schools is given to outside entities with no established connection to a school or its community, and without a vote of approval from its teachers or parents. SRI allows a self-appointed group to "assume the management" of that school. The plan does not spell out how that group would be held accountable, or to whom, while it enacts a three-year plan that would overhaul the school's staffing, administration and curricula.
Superintendent William Hite has appealed for support of his redesign plan, but the hurried nature of the process so far has allowed for only minimal community input. Letters of intent, required for all applicants, are due today, less than one month after the initiative was made public. Although select groups were able to give their reactions to the district's proposal at one focus group event, there was never any detailed presentation of the plan given at a School Reform Commission meeting. And how teachers and principals could meet and formulate a viable plan when schools are closed is a mystery.
Principals of chosen schools would, in almost all cases, be replaced by the team member who holds a principal certificate (or will by September 2015), whether that replacement has any administrative experience or not. Close to 75 principals have left the district in the past two years. One-fifth of Philadelphia's public schools will begin this school year with new principals. Removing even more established and experienced principals, in the name of "innovation," makes no sense.
The most obvious question about the School Redesign Initiative is how its goal to create an innovative learning environment could be achieved without the very basics of what every school needs. It provides no additional funding for a full-time nurse or counselor, a functioning library with a certified librarian or enough support staff for special education or English language learners. How would the "personalized learning" it predicts take place in a classroom with more than 40 students, a scenario the district has already laid out?
Superintendent Hite's desire to have Philadelphia's students experience progressive and innovative education, even in the face of their abandonment by Harrisburg, is admirable. Right now, when the very survival of our schools is at stake, Dr. Hite, along with SRC chairman William Green, should garner the passion and commitment of teachers, parents and community members to fight for equitable, proven education for all our students.