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SRC approves creation of three small, innovative high schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 21, 2014 12:27 PM
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 Project 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 (9)

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 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!

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