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Advisory councils proposed for lowest-performing schools

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by Paul Jablow

"We don't want to sacrifice sustainability for speed."

This will be the reasoning behind the newest plan to phase in School Advisory Councils in more schools in the District, according to the official charged with coordinating that effort.

Karren Dunkley, chief deputy of the District's Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement and Faith-Based Partnerships, said on Monday that the District would soon develop a proposal to launch SACs in the 115 lowest-performing schools.

Dunkley said that she and Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery had met with members of the SAC working group on Friday and that "Dr. Nunery said he would be very open to us presenting a phase-in plan."

She said the plan would probably be drawn up after a SAC Summit at Fels High Benjamin Franklin High School Oct. 29.

The possibility that there will be a District push to create SACs in 115 schools is a hopeful sign to activist groups. They pushed back against Nunery's proposal to limit SACs this year to just Promise Academies and Renaissance Charter schools.

SACS – advisory councils of parents, teachers, and community members – were first introduced in 2010 as part of the Renaissance Schools process. District officials say the success there created the impetus to eventually have them in all District schools. The working group of District officials and other stakeholders had met over the summer to plan the next steps in the program.

The District's original goal under the previous superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, had been to have a functioning SAC in every school by the end of the current academic year. But Nunery, citing budget and personnel limitations, had proposed severely scaling back the initiative.

"We really want to phase in the lowest-performing schools first," Dunkley said. "This is where we need the most parent engagement. We want to make sure that we're doing the supports really well, and that we're spending the time we need to move toward shared leadership."

"Sustainability is the word," she said. "A lot of times we implement a program without a sustainability plan. We really want to institutionalize this through the School Reform Commission and the District." 

Dunkley said the phase-in plan would be developed with aid of Research for Action, which has studied the original SACs, as consultants.

Two members of the Parent Power advocacy group were encouraged by the plan. Founder Sylvia Simms said she thinks the effort can be successful if principals and parents buy in. Her granddaughter goes to Peirce Elementary, and Simms said she and others are determined to start a SAC there whether they're on the District's phase-in list or not.

"I'm an optimist. I think they're going to do the whole thing,” added parent Jay Cohen, who, like Simms, has been part of the District’s SAC working group. “Building SACs in every school is a big, big job."

Dunkley said, however, that there are no current plans to extend the initiative beyond the 115 schools. The plan will also take into consideration schools where there is a strong parental interest in starting a SAC.

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