2 N. Phila. schools explore new turnaround models

Posted: March 12, 2014

TWO NORTH Philadelphia schools that were awarded grants last year to create their own turnaround models are revealing their plans to the community.

James G. Blaine Elementary and William D. Kelley Elementary will become district-run turnaround schools in September. The schools will keep their principals, unlike Promise Academies - another district-run turnaround model - but teachers must reapply for their positions, with no more than half being brought back.

After receiving additional students due to nearby school closings, both schools won a $1.5 million grant in July from the Philadelphia School Partnership, a controversial nonprofit group that funnels philanthropic dollars to schools.

A small portion of the money was used this year for planning, and the rest will be spent on implementation. Officials hope that giving the principals more autonomy will translate to accelerated academic growth, increased parental involvement and improved school climate.

"What we are excited about in these two schools is they can be a proof point for doing turnaround in district schools, but this isn't a one-size-fits-all turnaround," said PSP executive director Mark Gleason.

Kelley, on 28th Street near Oxford, will become a STEM academy, reshaping the curriculum around science, technology, engineering and math, said principal Amelia Brown.

"We want our students ready to compete with society at large on a greater scale," she said, adding that parents want their children "to be able to get into the high-performing high schools, so they can get into high-performing colleges and one day change the world and get into careers that are in high demand."

Blaine, on Berks Street near 30th, will shift to a blended learning model, which lets students take instruction from teachers and computers. Principal Gianeen Powell said the school hopes to have a ratio of one computer for every two students.

"We're making sure that every child is growing, and really looking at their personalized learning," Powell said.

Both principals said a longer school day has been considered, although no final decision has been made. The schools will host separate meetings Thursday to discuss the plans with parents and others.

At a meeting last week, residents applauded in excitement, according to Powell, who noted: "I haven't had any negative comments, not one."

Some teachers, however, claim the turnarounds will eliminate the teachers who have worked hard to improve the school.

"We won the $1.5 million, but they're getting rid of half of us," one teacher said. "They're using it against us."

Another teacher said: "I'd love to know where all the fantastic teachers are going to come from to teach the same kids."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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