Philadelphia School District seeks to 'do better' for students with 'Turnaround Network'

Sarah Bloomquist Image
Friday, March 11, 2016
VIDEO: School turnaround
This year, the district grouped the lowest performing schools into something called the "Turnaround Network".

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- This year, the Philadelphia School District grouped the lowest performing schools into something called the "Turnaround Network".

Superintendent William Hite announced Thursday the district is implementing a new, highly-structured approach at the schools, which included the 11 Promise Academies.

Four more schools will be added next year: Mitchell Elementary, Munoz-Marin, Rhodes and Roosevelt Elementary Schools.

"My vision for the schools is that they exit the 'Turnaround Network' because then they are schools where we're seeing growth," said Hite.

This new approach calls for, among other things, smaller classes, more intensive training for teachers and new, innovative ways of assessing student progress. The district hopes to invest $23.7 million into these schools next year.

"It's important for us also to acknowledge that we have to do better, and we have to do better for the children of our schools," said Hite.

The principals of the schools will need to reapply, and so must the teachers with up to 50 percent being rehired. West Philadelphia Principal Mary Dean says not every teacher buys in to this more intensive approach and some want out.

"It's a lot of work. A lot of work. You're consistently reevaluating your data," said Dean.

Critics, including one group of former principals, argue the plan will further destabilize the schools.

Tasha Samuels' son is a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School. She believes the schools will only see improvement when more parents get involved.

"The teachers feel overwhelmed. I think the students feel undervalued, and to me the missing key is always going to be parental,"said Samuels. "Your school is as amazing and impactful as you are as a parent."

One school is already exiting the network - Cayuga Elementary - because of improved academic performance. The district says the school does have very strong parental involvement.

All of this is contingent upon approval of both Gov. Tom Wolf's current budget and a budget for next year.