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District should learn from its own history in school overhauls

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  • ben franklin high
    Photo: Harvey Finkle

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The Notebook and NewsWorks covered the stark contrast last week in how much community input was offered in meetings at Ben Franklin High School and Kensington Health Sciences Academy to develop school-improvement plans. This striking difference between the meetings simply underscores how little the School District has learned from its own history.

Would anyone familiar with Ben Franklin have expected more than a handful of participants at the community meeting, given the fact that the school draws most of its students from outside its neighborhood?

Assuming a non-existent "community" will select a school-improvement strategy from a variety of complex options is akin to yelling louder at a deaf person. Guaranteed futility.

Simple common sense would dictate that the School District needs a personalized approach to convening Ben Franklin's industry community partners and far-flung parents first to examine the school's strengths and needs, based on performance data. Using that framework, this group could then select the intervention best-suited to addressing its needs and building on its strengths.  

This is a process, not an event.

Ironically, the process was used more than a decade ago to match persistently low-performing schools with Renaissance charter providers. Had anyone at School District headquarters cared to learn from history, they would have found the very person who developed and implemented the process still at School District headquarters!

Although Kensington Health Sciences had an impressive turnout of engaged and supportive stakeholders, the Notebook/Newsworks account suggests that there is a strong element of denial about the school's academic challenges. 

Loving the students is important, but it is no substitute for effective instruction.

I hope the principal will use his impressive leadership to help the faculty acknowledge the need to enhance their instructional skills. And in so doing, he might want to check out the experience of Potter-Thomas Elementary School, also in Kensington, which, decades ago, had created a positive climate and community engagement, but almost experienced a faculty revolt when confronted with data demonstrating consistently poor academic performance.

Is anyone at 440 N. Broad St. interested in learning from history? Or are we satisfied with repeating our mistakes?

Debra Weiner is a longtime advocate for public education at a variety of nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions. She is a member of the Notebook's editorial advisory board.

 

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