Philly targets 11 low-performing schools for intervention

 (NewsWorks file)

(NewsWorks file)

Eleven Philadelphia public schools are in line for a major shake up, the school district announced Monday.

The selected schools — known as “focus schools” — are considered low performing by the district and could undergo major staff and programmatic overhauls as part of turnaround efforts.

The 11 schools will be slotted into one of five intervention programs.

The options include placement in Philadelphia’s “turnaround network”; combination with a higher-performing counterpart; bringing in a nonprofit organization to run the school; adopting a community-developed academic improvement plan; or restarting the school.

The district took two of its more controversial interventions off the table. None of the 11 schools will be closed,  and none will become charter schools through the district’s Renaissance Charter initiative.

The district said it is conducting a “comprehensive review” of the 21-school Renaissance Charter cohort before it determines whether to add more schools.

To qualify for the dubious focus school distinction, schools had to be considered low-performing for three years; not be already engaged in an official turnaround effort; and have a score of 15 or lower over three years on the district’s 100-point School Performance Profile scale.

Here is a list of the 11 schools along with the date and time of upcoming community meetings that will be held to determine the future path of each.

Bartram High School — Oct. 19, 5 p.m.
Blankenburg — Oct. 25, 11 a.m.
Fels High School — Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m.
Ben Franklin High School — Oct. 25, 6 p.m.
Harding — Oct. 18, 8:30 a.m.
Hartranft — Oct. 17, 4 p.m.
Heston — Oct. 17, 5:30 p.m.
Kensington HSA — Oct. 25, 4 p.m.
John Marshall — Oct. 19, 9 a.m.
McDaniel — Oct. 20, 4 p.m.
Overbrook High School — Oct. 18, 5 p.m.

Collaborative process

Individual school communities will have a say in determining which turnaround initiative their school implements, according to the district.

“Before we make a decision, we will consider school community feedback, review facts and evidence gathered, and then decide on the best way to intervene and improve learning opportunities for children at each school community,” said superintendent William Hite in a statement.

The district formed its turnaround network last year. It consists largely of schools that used to be Promise Academies, an internal district turnaround initiative that crumbled under the weight of tepid results and budget woes. For schools entering the turnaround network, staff must reapply for their jobs, and only 50 percent of teachers can be brought back.

Another option for the 11 focus schools would be to partner with a nonprofit organization and become a contract school. Like charters, contract schools are overseen and managed by private entities. But unlike charters, the schools remain under district control with unionized staff. Schools are not permitted to partner with charter organizations for this particular turnaround option.

Schools choosing to merge with a better-performing school would be following in the footsteps of Morris Leeds Middle School, which this year merged with Hill-Freedman World Academy, a magnet school for high-achieving students.

Perhaps the most open-ended option is the one that allows school communities to draft their own improvement plans. There are examples of schools who have undertaken a similar process through the district’s school redesign initiative. Schools in the redesign program have shifted learning styles to become more project-based or adopted a subject area focus such as science and technology.

The final option, restarting a school, calls simply for schools to make “major changes to the school staff or academic program.”

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