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Partnership brings business expertise to Furness

By Samantha Byles on Mar 22, 2012 01:16 PM
Photo: Samantha Byles

Gillian Facher and Principal Timothy McKenna at Furness High School.

Facing budget cuts, but also the possibility of increased autonomy, principal Timothy McKenna decided to be proactive in getting help creating a vision for Furness High School.

The PENCIL Partnership Program pairs business leaders with school principals to help the school reach its strategic goals.

Through Philadelphia Academies, Inc., McKenna has been paired with Gillian Facher of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP law firm. Last month, the pair led a vision planning meeting about the future identity of the school with Philadelphia Academies members and Furness High School staff.

McKenna hopes to create a new identity for Furness and programs that make students excited to come to school, even with a smaller school budget.

PAI seeks business and school leader partners to help “develop strong partnerships between the private sector and Philadelphia public high schools.”

“We are looking for [school] leaders who are passionate about what they do and who have a good understanding of what it means to be in a partnership," said Diera Shaw-Mendez, business partner specialist at PAI. "For business partners, they have to understand that the schools are different than a business, and vice versa for our principals.”

In this case, McKenna and Facher met before being officially matched by PENCIL. “I had actually heard Tim [McKenna] speak before the PENCIL program at an event for Philadelphia Academies,” Facher said. “He had me sold.”

Facher, who has been a PAI board member for 10 years, was attracted to the program because of the similarities between schools and businesses.

“What principals do is very similar to what I do. ... They have many constituencies, actually, in the same way that I do. They have teachers, students, parents, the District ... in the same way that I have partners, non-partners, staff people, vendors, clients,” Facher said.

With the support of Facher and PENCIL, McKenna created a plan of action for his vision of Furness, but he wanted the opinions and ideas of his staff before he continued.

“This is just us talking openly about ideas about the school,” McKenna said. “I feel that this is a different school than it was four years ago when I got here. I feel that in a lot ways, it improved, and I think there are a lot of ways we can make more improvements.”

Improvements under consideration include adding a career academy and block scheduling, or longer classes. While the ideas and vision for Furness High School are still being discussed, McKenna is excited to hear from the students, teachers, and his partner, Facher.

“I’m glad I have people in this room because I’m not the smartest person in the room," he said. "If I could restructure the school, I wouldn’t want to do it on my own. I would say, 'Let’s do it together.'”

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Comments (10)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 22, 2012 4:01 pm

Alright Tim let me be the first to give you props!

Just remember it is the "collective vision" that counts and you're on the right track with building that. You might think about creating a magnet program to attract students. Magnet programs at neighborhood high schools allow neighborhood schools to compete.

I've got faith in you guys.... Just an idea for your thoughts....

Submitted by Social St. teacher (not verified) on March 22, 2012 5:18 pm

Rich, just a question...How do you propose creating a magnet program at a comprehensive neighborhood high school when the # of students who could truly be successful in that program is not high enough to justify a separate academy, and rostering them to stay together all day would be a nightmare?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 22, 2012 6:23 pm

A magnet program within a neighborhood school (e.g. Northeast HS) would attract students to the program. It would take a few years to promote the program but, in time, it would help. Academy at Palumbo has become the magnet program of Furness. The SDP is letting Palumbo double enrollment. If Furness had a viable magnet program, students would come. (It would also be nice to have part of the $25M plus Palumbo received in renovations.)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 22, 2012 6:40 pm

Back pre Vallas, Furness had a Law Academy which drew students from all over the city. They still have a Courtroom there. If they are given the freedom to create an attractive magnet program, students will come and there will be plenty of students to fill up a new small learning community.

Prior to the state takeover, there were many magnet programs at neighborhood high schools. When Vallas came, he forced his limited version of academies on schools and decimated the school based programs that were created within schools to meet student needs. He had the ego and attitude that everything that came before him was bad and everything he did was good, but in reality, he decimated many of our schools and was the one who supplanted the student based programs with his test prep curriculum.

When I attended the principals' academy (Now ALPS) at the end of the Vallas regime, we read a book which presented evidence that successful urban schools were the ones which had magnet programs. I do not know the exact number of students they have now, but I am sure they still have more than enough to support more than one small learning community.

When you have a great staff of caring teachers, along with a collaborative principal who is supported by his staff, there is no telling what great things they can come up with. I would put my trust in them.

It is all about collaboration and ownership of what a school community does. And school based autonomy.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 24, 2012 2:07 pm

This is why Tim McKenna is one of the best high school principals in the city of Philadelphia.

Submitted by Plumber (not verified) on December 11, 2013 9:35 am
Really i appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge.The topic here i found was really effective to the topic which i was researching for a long time
Submitted by Eduardo (not verified) on January 16, 2014 10:46 am
PAI is the only local youth development nonprofit supporting the career academy model in Philadelphia high schools. The model is evidence-based. According to national researchers, it’s been proven to increase graduation rates and lead to higher earned incomes for program graduates. check here
Submitted by verhuisbedrijf soest (not verified) on August 12, 2014 2:49 am
This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here keep up the good work
Submitted by Kristina (not verified) on September 3, 2014 11:41 pm

He let these schools released some versions, to meet the needs of students. Basis of the school curriculum, and his research on these, let him think everything is bad, and he did everything good, but in reality he destroy our school.

Submitted by natuurstenen keukenwerkblad (not verified) on April 17, 2015 4:27 am
Wish I had found this blog before. The advices in this post are very helpful and I surely will read the other posts of this series too. Thank you for posting this.


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