When School District of Philadelphia Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen unveiled the “Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools” last month, many critics panned it as short-sighted and incomplete at best — and at worst, an elaborate attempt by the district to patch over its decades of fiscal mismanagement with a five-year plan that includes very little on what the students stand to gain with the plan’s implementation.
But that blueprint wasn’t the only such plan created at 440 North Broad Street.
In what has received little media attention, District Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon sent an internal memo to all principals in April, detailing her office’s own reorganization plan. The “Reorganizational/Transitional Proposal for 2012–2013” includes what Knudsen’s plan did not — specifically the details concerning the academic office’s reshuffled priorities, anticipated implications for principals and their schools, and a refocused strategic objectives plan.
“Basically, as the chief academic advisor, every year what I have to do is lay out the academic priorities for our principals and schools,” Nixon said. “It was an internal thing, but we’re going to implement the full plan” for the coming school year.
The 38-page document also redefines the academic office’s functions, one of which is to provide principals with a slew of “Support Services,” which include: accountability, equity and compliance; curriculum, instruction and assessment; school culture, climate and safety; leadership and talent development; and parent, family and community services, along with student enrollment and placement.
One of the more revealing items included in Nixon’s proposal is the creation of “Principal Learning Teams,” with schools being slotted to “teams” or groups, based on geography; coordinators will work loosely with the PLTs and each PLT will meet monthly. Charter, independent and parochial schools will be allowed to become team members as well.
According to the plan, each team must include a neighborhood high school, a feeder-plan assigned elementary and middle school, along with any special admission, Promise Academy, Renaissance Charter School and Empowerment high school in the area.
Nixon’s plan calls for 12 teams.
“It is the academic plan for fiscal year 2012/13,” Nixon said. “It’s been out; the principals have it, and I continue to meet with principals and give them updates, documents and materials. We are planning development, PLTs and really working with the principals around the implementation of the plan.”
Nixon’s proposal does include a few connections with the plan Knudsen introduced. Both plans call for a certain degree of privatization, while Nixon’s model outlines the exact services partners could provide on an academic level.
For example, Nixon’s plan calls for area colleges and universities to help with professional development and student teacher placement, while libraries and museums can assist with SAT preparation, literacy programs and museum content integration.
The plan also calls for area businesses to develop industry pipelines, provide internships and summer employment. The plan proposes further partnerships with college preparation programs, community and enrichment organizations, houses of worship, performing arts organizations, behavioral health institutions, professional sports teams, hospitals and other community enrichment organizations.
Also echoing Knudsen’s plan is Nixon’s call for varying levels of autonomy for principals. Full autonomy will be granted to schools that have “had consistent leadership for the past two years and have either improved their School Performance Index score or met Adequate Yearly Progress,” Nixon’s plan read. “These schools will have full independence in development of their school’s state-mandated action plan for school year 2012–2013.” The plan will also lend more support to the principals and schools that are struggling.
While the plan doesn’t take into consideration the 64 schools that are slated to close if Knudsen’s five-year plan is initiated, Nixon voiced pleasure with the plan, its foundation and what it means for principals and students.
“We’re excited about it, as it provides principals with some of the flexibility they’ve sought over the years,” Nixon said. “We can’t wait to get started on our professional development plan.”