The Innovation School model was one part of the Renaissance Schools plan that I thought might offer a real way for teachers, students, parents, and community members to come together and create plans to transform their schools together.
I thought this could be a great way to show that with the right resources and flexibility, public schools, with public school teachers can really work. Unfortunately, after reading the plan more carefully, I am not sure that that opportunity exists.
One problem is the provision in the contract that says that in Renaissance Schools all staff receive a forced transfer, and while they could reapply to the same school, no more that 50 percent of them could be rehired.
I am not necessarily against the idea that to transform a school the staff should reapply so that you can create a team that is on the same page. What I cannot support is the idea that even if they wanted to, the leadership of the new school cannot rehire more than half of the old staff. This is an unnecessary indictment of the staff as the problem. Why not give the leadership team the authority to bring back as many teachers as they see fit? The result of this provision is that none of the staff in the Renaissance Schools will support applying for an Innovation School.
Take West Philadelphia High School as an example. They have made tremendous progress on climate in the last three years, and now academics are starting to improve.
At first I thought the Innovation model might be a great way for a school like West to get more resources and flexibility to continue their progress.
If more than half of the staff were to be replaced, however, it just isn’t worth it. Much of the staff at West is new anyway and the investments they have made in that staff over the last few years would be lost. Then there is the fact that the staff of the school is unlikely to be interested in applying for an Innovation School since they know most of them would not be back. The requirement to remove at least 50% of the staff kills any possibility of teachers engaging in and being part of the change, something that I think is really necessary.
Another problem is the hiring timeline. Site selection begins April 15. Renaissance Schools are scheduled to be announced on March 15, but staff won't know who the managers are till May. Even if staff wanted to apply to come back to their old school, they will have to start applying for and accepting other jobs before they even know what will happen to their current school. This also seems to mean that Renaissance Schools will be the last schools to hire and therefore may be left with the least qualified teachers. That doesn’t seem like a good way to start a major reform.
There may be some schools where nothing is working and replacing everyone and starting fresh is a good idea. There are many other low-performing schools, however, where many good things are happening, and people just need more support and flexibility to turn the corner. Wouldn’t it be great if the District had a way to support these kinds of schools? The Innovation model could have been that, but as it stands now it just isn’t.