School turnaround plan criticized

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Parents and education advocates are fighting the school district's efforts to give Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania control of Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary in North Philadelphia.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Parents and education advocates are fighting the school district's efforts to give Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania control of Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary in North Philadelphia.
Posted: March 09, 2016

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is scheduled to roll out a plan Thursday to begin academic turnarounds in the fall at four Philadelphia elementary schools with low test scores.

Critics are blasting the idea, even though they don't know the details.

On Monday, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools released a letter it sent to Marjorie Neff, chair of the School Reform Commission, urging her to put a stop to Hite's plans.

The alliance, an activist group founded by former teachers, said Hite's idea would "only lead to further destabilization of schools already struggling to survive in conditions caused by both financial and managerial crises."

In a statement, Neff said that while change can be unsettling at first, it also can bring new opportunities. "I believe that the School District has the capacity and know-how to improve our lowest performing schools, but it is crucial that we include school communities in the process."

The schools targeted for district-run makeovers, which were first identified by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, are Roosevelt Elementary, East Germantown; Munoz-Marin, North Philadelphia; Rhodes, North Philadelphia; and Mitchell, Kingsessing.

Mitchell was the subject of a recent article that described Stephanie Andrewlevich, the school's dedicated first-year principal, and many staffers who go out of their way to find resources and help for students, who all live below the poverty line.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said community meetings will be held at the schools this week.

He said Thursday's announcement would outline investments the district will make at the schools.

"We're going to talk about millions of dollars that are going to be invested in these schools," Gallard said. "When parents get to hear what these investments are, they're going to be excited."

He said the money will come from a combination of "redirecting funds we currently have and new funds we expect to get." Gallard said the amount would be revealed Thursday.

Staff at district-run turnaround schools are required to reapply for their jobs. Only 50 percent will be retained.

"We're giving the principals the ability to match the skills of the staff with the needs of the students," Gallard said.

He added that staffers who are not selected would have jobs at other district schools.

He said the announcement also will affect 13 schools that already are part of the district's turnaround network, including Martin Luther King and West Philadelphia High Schools.

In the letter to Neff, the alliance said that while the SRC is not required to vote on district-run turnarounds, it is "responsible for the financial and academic success of every school in the district."

District-led turnarounds are one approach for overhauling schools with a history of weak academic performance.

Another involves turning district schools over to charter operators to run as Renaissance charters.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789 @marwooda

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