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SRC approves creation of three small, innovative high schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 21, 2014 11:27 AM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

A new innovative high school will share space with Roberto Clemente Middle School in North Philadelphia.

The School Reform Commission approved the creation of three small, non-selective high schools Thursday that are meant to personalize learning while stressing inquiry- and project-based learning. 

The schools, which are still being designed, will abandon the model of consecutive, subject-based periods for a school day to make more effective use of technology, off-campus internships, and community integration. They are meant to reinvigorate the concept of neighborhood schools, said Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn.

The schools, all to be located in North Philadelphia, will also stress youth development, said Kihn and people involved in their design.

Two of the schools, called the U School and Project LINC (for Learning In New Contexts) are being developed with a $3 million planning grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which is interested in creating new school models for underserved children.

The third, called Building 21, is being developed by Laura Shubilla, former head of the Philadelphia Youth Network, who is working on this with colleague Chip Linehan as part of a doctoral program at the Harvard School of Education. Building 21 is being developed with a $100,000 planning grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges and a $50,000 grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership.

The U School and Building 21 will be co-located in the vacated Ferguson Elementary building at Seventh and Norris Streets, near Temple University. Project LINC will share the Roberto Clemente Middle School building near North Front Street and Erie Avenue.

Officials said they would cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, but it is unclear whether that is over and above the amount needed to educate the students in existing schools. 

All three schools will start with 115 students in 9th grade in September and gradually add grades.

"These are small, highly personalized high schools," said Grace Cannon, who heads the District's Office for New School Development.

"They are not small for small's sake, but they can embed deep youth development and use technology to enable personalization and mastery."

The two schools devised through the Carnegie grants are meant to completely "re-engineer" the school day, Cannon said, combining remediation and acceleration in order to "meet students where they are." These new schools will also offer very different experiences for teachers.

While at Philadelphia Youth Network, Shubilla worked with students who were near-dropouts -- overage and undercredited. She hopes that Building 21 will appeal to a cross-section of students. It will have interdisciplinary classes and outside internships for which students can get credit, she said. 

The goal is to "customize learning for children, regardless of where they're coming into the system," she said.

Linehan said that each student at Building 21 will also have a computing device. 

"We are focused on technology as a means or tool to think about organizing learning in a different way," he said. "That will allow us to push students outside the building into authentic learning environments."

Blended learning, which combines more traditional classroom teaching with learning on computers, will not be treated as "an end of itself, but as a means to a richer educational experience." 

The schools will have "no admission criteria -- not behavior, attendance. ... There will be a one-page application," said Cannon. If there is more interest than space, students will be chosen by lottery. Neighborhood students will get preference, but the schools will be open to students from all over the city.

Creating these models is one way of providing more neighborhood school choices that are innovative without being charter schools. Neighborhood schools are generally regarded as choices of last resort for students who cannot get into selective admission schools or charters.

This is to "expand choice [for] a group of young people who haven’t been afforded that opportunity," she said.



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Comments (18)

Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 21, 2014 1:02 pm
I'm glad the District is opening up high schools with fewer admission requirements. Under Vallas, all the samll high schools like SLA, Constitution, Academy at Rush and Palumbo, Parkways, etc. have varying admission requirements. That said, a school with an application still has admission requirements. Neighborhood high schools are still the schools of last resort - they are where the students no one else will take end up. Will these small schools have to take anyone in the neighborhood? Will they accept students with mental health issues? students new to the U.S.? students with many layers of special needs? If not, they are not neighborhood schools. They are taking, like "The Workshop," students who apply, have an interview, and "fit" with the program. Also, why are the schools only being opened in North Philly? Aren't there other areas of the city that deserve an alternative?
Submitted by Mr. Tibbs (not verified) on April 14, 2014 6:11 pm
Two words---educational apartheid…push Brown and Black students into North Philadelphia.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2014 9:34 am

I see it as more money poured into neighborhoods that are not helping the city along, while the middle class neighborhoods in NE Philadelphia and South Philadelphia are left to rot. The poor kids get grants from the Carnegie Foundation, the rich kids go to private school and the middle class, who fights the wars, pays the taxes and maintains our standard of living gets the shaft.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2014 9:10 am

What a warped view of your city! Since the loss of manufacturing jobs and the loss of the social safety net over the last thirty years, the black community has been in a Depression. These are political and economic factors over which they have no control. Now that your priviledged economic position is threatened, you blame them rather than the business, financial, and political interests that are behind the falling living standards for everybody but the privilidged class.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2014 10:26 am

News flash! The standards for the middle class have fallen even further, most of the families I know are basically living paycheck to paycheck and what little extra money we have, we donate to our neighborhood school to buy paper and pencils. You need to redefine what the word "privileged" means. We are "privileged" to have had our property taxes more than double last year, while I have had to take a 5% pay cut.  We are privileged to get up every day and work to maintain a basic standard of living for our children, but not enough to pay for a private school or a state college education for my bright middle class kids.  And then, when any money comes into the system, it gets tossed into a bottomless pit without a cent being directed towards neighborhoods that struggle to pay taxes, work and maintain the city.  Tell me why the SDP doesn't give the same amount of money per student to each and every student in Philadepha, are some students more "equal" than others?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2014 5:39 pm

Sorry, I wasn't clear.

I said, "Now that your priviledged economic position is threatened, you blame them rather than the business, financial, and political interests that are behind the falling living standards for everybody but the privilidged class.

I didn't mean you and anyone in the middle class. I was speaking about "business, financial, and political interests" which I cited in the same sentence. I wasn't clear when I said you are "priviledged" and then said you should stop blaming the lower income people. 

I should have said: "Now that your slightly better economic position is threatened, you blame lower income people rather than the business, financial, and political interests that are behind the falling living standards for everybody but that privilidged class.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 3, 2014 9:00 am

I'll stand by my original statement, the middle class overwhelmingly support this country, state and city.  And the middle class neighborhoods get shafted by the SDP in favor of communities that rarely offer any help to the city and in fact are an incredible drain on increasingly dwindling resources.  

Your original statement is telling of how you and many others feel about our society. Being poor is not a permanent condition. And being middle class does not make you rich and financially independent. The desire to rise above poverty and the sense of pride derived from making your own way in the world needs to be strong, as it was in my family.  I am blessed to be healthy and determined enough to make my own way and support my children in doing the same. I received almost zero financial support to go to college and worked full time while I attended, while I watched my teenage peers who were "poor" go to better schools that I could afford even though my grades were better and I ultimately would have worked harder to exploit that support. I have had to change career paths a few times already to continue to support my family and myself; and I have relocated twice.

Each child should be receiving equal amounts of financial support from the SDP and each neighborhood should receive an equal amount of attention. Even if North Phildelphia received an equal amount of resources, they would still be getting more than they are paying in as a collective. As it stands, the working class communities are not receiving even their fair share.

My original comment was provoked by a person who saw the creation of three new high schools all in North Philadelphia as a form of apartheid.  I see the way government takes my hard earned money and shifts it to people who often lack the desire to make a better life for themselves a much more insidious form of apartheid, because it is racism masquerading as fairness in a time where society should have evolved to the point where it would no longer tolerate such unfair behavior. Again I ask, are some children more equal than others?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 3, 2014 1:28 pm

Do you have any control over your declining living standard if fought by yourself alone? Neither do low income people. Your statement about "people who often lack the desire to make a better life for themselves" is simple prejudice. You want understanding for your increasingly stressed economic situation, but low income people you blame for their situation for being lazy. Divide and conquer is how ruling elites always maintain their rule and you are playing into their hands!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 3, 2014 2:54 pm

Why won't you answer my question? Why shouldn't the pie be split equally among all students in all neighborhoods? There are people who lack the desire to make a better life for themselves, just as there are people that are trapped by circumstances. I don't want understanding, I want equality in spending. If you don't, then you are prejudiced! If they are opening 3 new schools, should they not be dispersed evenly throughout the city? A dollar spent from my taxes on my children's education is the same as a dollar spent on someone else's. They are less deserving somehow? When these policies drive the last handful of people who love this city out into the suburbs, who will be paying the bills?


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 2, 2014 10:28 am

yes, they are stripping all the resources away from these neighborhood schools in Southwest and Northeast. Schools like West Philadelphia, High school of the Future, Fels, FRankford, Overbrook, Bartram are all left to die and so are the students.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 21, 2014 3:12 pm
This sounds interesting. My question is are these schools going to have an "innovative governance" structure?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 21, 2014 3:45 pm
There are several models of school governance which I can, and have, cited and discussed in my book which are superior to the models being used. One is the Independent School Model which allows the district to create any governance model it can imagine. It is already enacted in Section 5-502.1 of the PA School Code, entitled "establishment of Independent Schools. This a chance folks to move into the 21st century in our notions of school governance and leadership!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 21, 2014 5:43 pm
Why couldn't these models be used in existing schools?
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on February 21, 2014 7:28 pm
Because once they gut the contract they are going to hire new young teachers. Probably supplied by TFA. If they used existing schools it might look bad when existing teaches are laid off. Under this plan teachers still get laid off but they are not from the school.
Submitted by inthetrenches (not verified) on February 21, 2014 7:23 pm
Vallas stripped neighborhood schools of special programs. Only Northeast HS and Washington HS were allowed to retain their magnet programs. With the surge in charters and special admit magnets, neighborhood schools were left out to dry. Same with "The Workshop" - a new school was opened while others were closed. This could have been a program at West Philly HS. No, those in power - including the new principal and many teachers hired who were NOT SDP teachers - didn't want to deal with a neighborhood school and the fact that ALL students must be admitted. These new lottery schools will be able to pick and chose unlike neighborhood schools. So, good question. Why not put these programs in neighborhood schools. Instead, they will have another layer of administrators who get to do what they want while neighborhood schools are micromanaged.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on February 25, 2014 6:30 am
"The Flash Media Lab pilot program is an extension of the media literacy courses offered at WHYY’s Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons. The project is funded by an $82,500 donation from the William Penn Foundation and a $5,000 donation from the Hamilton Family Foundation."-----from the NB story on media projects at two high schools. This project gets money from the ubiquitous PSP. They push Common Core and testing and VAM, then dispense funds for a project-based school. The libraries at Masterman and Central are open only because of anonymous donors. NE High had its aeronautics program restored by funds from private donors.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 6, 2014 9:19 pm
It is disheartening that the children who attended the now closed elementary schools were sacrificed. They attend schools which are 7-10 blocks away, with NO transportation offered other than walking. Unfortunately, this is/was the worst weather conditions, for walking to school when many of the students were only 2-4 blocks away. Couldn't other, already closed buildings been used for this "experiment"? Not fair to the elementary children who were forced to be reassigned to another school!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 3, 2014 1:23 pm

I am with you for that! It is very sad. All the resources from the neighborhood schools have been stripped out. Is Hite going to run these schools like last year with no support at all. Or he is going to hear to principals requests to run these schools safely. Last year was DISASTROUS. DO NOT OPEN SCHOOLS IF YOU CANNOT GET THE STAFFING TO ATLEAST TO 2012. please please PLEASE PLEASE. We, staff at neighborhood schools rae scared to go back with all these new superintendents sho have no clue with the neighborhood schools.

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