November 28 — 12:00 am, 2002

Students have ideas about restructuring high schools

The School District of Philadelphia is developing a plan for restructuring of local high schools, including the creation of nine new high schools. In addition, major renovations are planned at existing schools.

This process could be part of a plan for very meaningful school reform. The simple fact that more schools should mean smaller schools is a good start. Smaller student populations are necessary for developing personal relationships within schools.

The Philadelphia Student Union is pleased that the new administration is ready to make such big changes in high schools. The Student Union is looking forward to working with Deputy Chief Academic Officer Creg Williams and others in charge of restructuring high schools to make sure student voices are heard.

On November 16, Student Union members participated in a task force on high school restructuring. We hope that School District leaders will continue to listen to the voices of students and others who have spent a lot of time in these schools.

In 2000, the Philadelphia Student Union ratified its platform for school reform. Many of the issues in the platform should be implemented in restructuring high schools.

For example, changes need to be made in the citywide curriculum. However, curriculum development does not mean scripting uniform lesson plans for teachers. There is concern among students that regulating teachers may stifle teachers’ creativity. Scripted lesson plans will be too inflexible to assure that individual students’ needs are met. Rather, we hope to see interactive and engaging teaching that is held to a high standard by evaluations from administrators and students.

A long-term solution would be to provide more frequent, higher quality professional development, where teachers and students have input in the training. This would also improve student-teacher relationships, a crucial step in improving schools overall. Students can give teachers ideas on what we would like to learn as well as how we would like to be taught. This includes developing a stronger approach to multicultural education, as well as innovative ways of presenting material.

Another change we hope to see in high schools is to increase the counselor-to-student ratio. Some schools have one counselor for every 900 students. This means that students have no one to talk to about getting into college or problems in school. School police forces have increased dramatically while the number of counselors has stayed the same. If there were more counselors and if students had people to talk to about their problems, fewer problems would arise.

We also want to ensure that the new high schools have a good plan for involving students in decision-making. If high schools are really to work, students need to feel a sense of ownership. In addition, we hope to see a greater focus on increasing parent involvement and creating a more welcoming atmosphere for parents entering school grounds.

The changes we hope to see reflect our conviction that students, parents, teachers, and administrators must all have a voice in running schools. The more fully this happens, the more fully everyone will be invested in the quality and success of schools in Philadelphia. We hope this process will provide an opportunity to really reinvent our high schools and make them work.

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