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Plan would bolster troubled city schools

A task force recommended added services for 70 struggling facilities.

A task force led by the Philadelphia School District's interim chief academic officer has recommended an overhaul of 70 of the district's lowest-performing schools that could include an array of added services, including academic coaches, corporate partners, and outside management.

The report, finished last month and provided by school officials in draft form, proposes to divide the 70 struggling schools into three tiers, with the worst performers getting the most support.

All of the schools have failed to meet federal targets for academic improvement for more than four years, landing them on the list for overhaul. At some of the schools, three-quarters of the students perform below basic levels in reading and math.

The plan calls for dismissing several of the private companies that were hired in 2002 to manage 16 of the 70 schools on the overhaul list. Among those companies is Edison Schools Inc. of New York, a for-profit education company.

The companies, however, could reapply to manage the schools, said Cassandra W. Jones, interim chief academic officer.

Jones cautioned that the School Reform Commission had yet to weigh in on the draft plan. Under a proposed timeline, the commission won't be making decisions or awarding any contracts until late in the school year.

"The SRC has not made any decisions yet," Jones said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The draft plan also could be changed before going to the commission, she said.

Sandra Dungee Glenn, chairwoman of the commission, said she had reviewed the report and generally supported it.

"I might reconfigure the tiers, but overall the approach is sound," she said.

The plan does not mention how much the district was prepared to spend on the overhaul.

Jones said it was too early to talk money.

"We haven't costed it out yet. When we get to the point of making final recommendations, that's what we're going to do," she said.

In anticipation of the recommendations, a group of parents and students blocked traffic outside school district headquarters on Broad Street earlier this week and called for Edison and the other private managers to be fired.

They urged the district to spend money on better-qualified teachers and more supplies, rather than private management.

Of the 70 schools on the overhaul list, the 19 highest-performing would make up Tier One and get the least amount of intervention. Among the possible remedies listed in the report for them are academic coaches; after-school, Saturday and summer programs; and increased staff training.

The middle group of 28 schools would be paired with partner companies or agencies that could include companies such as Edison.

Philadelphia Academies Inc., a local nonprofit that has worked in the school district for years and currently provides career-themed programs in such areas as automotive repair and business at 16 city high schools, could be tapped to help the middle-tier schools. Lisa Nutter, Mayor Nutter's wife, is president of the nonprofit's board.

"We're listed as one of the options, but nothing has moved forward beyond that," Connie Majka, communications director for the nonprofit, said yesterday.

The Big Picture Co., which operates more than 50 schools around the country, including one in Camden, also could be hired to help this group.

The company has opened an office here, Big Picture Philadelphia, in the hope of becoming involved at one of the city's high schools, according to its local director, David Bromley. The company's model, he said, includes an individual learning plan for every student.

The remaining 23 schools - the worst performers - would get academic coaches, increased support personnel and resources, principals who work year-round rather than on the district's regular 10-month calendar, and more time for training and planning, among other benefits. The model for these most troubled schools was created by the district in 2002 and yielded good results until the program office for them was disbanded a few years ago.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

 
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