UPDATE: The District is planning to develop a proposal to start School Advisory Councils at 115 of the lowest-performing schools.
The problem – students being bullied going to and from school – wasn't that unusual, but the school community's response was.
Within weeks, corners within a five-block radius of the elementary school were being patrolled by male parents and community members before the school day started and after dismissal. Parents also set up a "safe corridors" program inside the school. The bullying all but stopped.
Karren Dunkley, deputy chief of the District's Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement, and Faith-Based Partnerships, didn't want to identify the school in question. But she was quick to attribute the solution to its School Advisory Council (SAC).
"The whole school climate changed tremendously," Dunkley said in an interview.
Successes like these, she said, have led the District to launch an ambitious plan to have a functioning SAC in every school in the District – not just at its "turnaround schools."
"This is going to require a huge culture shift," Dunkley said. "It can't be forced. It can't be 'compliance.'"
The rollout plan for taking SACs citywide started at the District's three-day Leadership Institute in August. There, 63 of the 459 principals and assistant principals attended optional panel sessions on how to develop and work with these councils, made up of parents and community members.
"Traditionally, we've had some acrimony, some lack of trust" in the process of getting the SACs started, Dunkley said, and the panel sessions were an attempt to build acceptance from the start.
District officials see this as vital as they take the SAC model from its beginnings in the first batch of Renaissance Schools – where this community-based process was part of the reform package from day one – to schools that have traditionally functioned without it. Some councils play a monitoring role and write quarterly reports.
The launch of new councils starts in October with SAC nominations, which will stretch into November.
A citywide "SAC Summit" will be held
October 15 October 29 at Fels High School Benjamin Franklin High School. Topics will include "Effective Recruitment and Retention of Parents," "Intercultural Competence," "Navigating the School District of Philadelphia's Action Plan and Budget," and "Conducting an Effective SAC meeting."
Once elections have been held, Dunkley said, the District hopes to publish a meeting calendar covering all the SACs.
December through April will be dedicated to technical and professional development for SAC members, followed in May by an end-of-year citywide "summit" to evaluate the work of the SACs.
Lauren Jacobs, Philadelphia coordinator for the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform, said that getting functioning SACs at every school in the District in one year may not be possible, but that she remains generally optimistic about expanding the program, even in austere fiscal times.
"You get a lot of bang for your buck," she said, adding that "there's not much money to be saved" in cutting SAC support, given the program's modest budget.
"We'll see more examples of vibrant SACs, and that will start changing the whole culture. A lot of principals aren't trained for this kind of shared decision-making."