Education

Philly Asks for Help Overhauling Education

July 23, 2014

If you have an idea for overhauling a city public school, the Philadelphia School District is listening.

Officials on Tuesday announced the "School Redesign Initiative," inviting teachers, principals, universities, and community organizations to propose turnarounds of their own design.

That's a shift for a system that has relied heavily on charter conversions to reform struggling schools. Schools slated for redesign would remain part of the district and would continue to employ union-represented teachers.

As many as 10 schools could be transformed beginning in September 2015.

Successful teams would receive grants of up to $30,000 - to be raised through donations - to plan the overhauls, although teachers on redesign teams would have to do the work on their own time, and schools are not guaranteed bigger budgets to make the changes.

For a district where the ongoing budget crisis has cast a shadow over everything - including whether schools might open on time - it's a big step. But it's a necessary one, said Paul Kihn, deputy superintendent.

"It's really important that there be an outlet for all of the energy that we feel and hear about, even amid the financial turmoil of the district," Kihn said. "If we want to attract and keep all of the really terrific teachers and principals that we have here, they have to have an outlet for their energy and passion."

For a decade or more, the district has attempted school turnarounds with varying degrees of success. Some in-house turnaround schools - "Promise Academies" - still exist, but those overhauls were directed by the central office and have lost resources over the years, as the district's money woes have grown.

Officials said School Redesign Initiative schools would be different.

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