Year-round school, a new curriculum, enhanced safety: Here’s the Philly schools’ new 5-year plan
‘This is our roadmap for how we’re going to align all of our resources in the school district,’ Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. said
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Chanel Hill
PHILADELPHIA — A new curriculum, a pilot program for year-round education for 10 schools, recruiting and retaining teachers and student and staff safety are among the priorities in School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr.’s five-year strategic plan.
Watlington will present his plan to the Board of Education, the school district’s governing body, on Thursday. The board will vote on the plan June 1. If the plan is implemented, it will launch in July.
The plan comes nearly a year into Watlington’s tenure and covers five priority areas and 63 strategic actions. The plan is a result of Watlington’s listening and learning tour with 3,300 stakeholders during his first 100 days as superintendent.
“This is our roadmap for how we’re going to align all of our resources in the school district, so that the school district can get better faster,” Watlington said.
In the plan, the district would replace security cameras at 150 schools, continue investments in mental health initiatives and expand the safe path program, which is a collaboration between the district, businesses and community members that aims to provide extra supervision for students traveling to and from school during dismissal periods.
The district would also continue to upgrade the school buildings and evaluate open gate weapons detection technology for stand alone-middle schools.
“We’re going to audit all of the social and emotional and mental health programs that we have in the district right now and figure out which ones work best,” Watlington said.
“We’re also going to launch a facilities project team with internal and external people so that we can finalize the process for exactly how we will bring our facilities up to 21st century learning standards,” he added.
Watlington said the district will continue to partner with parents and community members in the district. He said the best way to do that is by improving communication at the district’s administration building.
In the plan, the district will launch a two-way communication system that will give community members an opportunity to rate their interaction with the school district.
Watlington’s plan also includes paid parent ambassadors at schools and re-starting the Parent University Program.
The program, which was originally introduced by former superintendent Arlene Ackerman, educates parents on how to help their children achieve academic success at home.
To improve student learning, the plan calls for access to quality pre-k programs. The district would spend $70 million over two years on a math, reading and science curriculum. According to Watlington, federal funds will supplement the district’s budget for the curriculum.
“The staff has told me that we’ve not been able to buy a robust science curriculum in 20 years because the district has been historically underfunded,” Watlington said.
“We’ve done the research to see what curriculum is rated the best for the students we serve in our school district and we’re going to buy those, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a good curriculum already.” he said.
The plan also calls for high-impact tutoring in six to eight schools, the launch of swim programs in various schools, reducing school dropouts, increasing graduation rates as well as launching a financial literacy module for all high schools.
The district would also launch a pilot program for year-round education in 10 schools. In the United States, students attend school for about 180 days a year, with months-long breaks over the summer and smaller breaks during the school year.
In the year-round school model, the calendar reduces the summer break and allocates those days throughout the school year, which would produce more frequent breaks and limit long periods of in-session days as well as longer vacations, according to the National Association of Year-Round Education.
However, both the traditional calendar year for students and the year-round school calendar would still have 180 days of instruction.
According to the National Association of Year-Round Education, 11 states have school districts following the year-round school model including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The model is also popular overseas in countries like Japan, Australia, China and India.
“Research says students lose some of what they learned during the summer, we want to eliminate the summer slide,” Watlington said. “We want to give children more time by extending the school day, or adding more days, beyond 180 days.
“We’re going to meet with the community, go into schools and talk with parents to share the research in very user-friendly ways,” he said. “We’re going to give parents the opportunity to opt into participation in a year-round school model.”
Recruiting and retention
Recruiting and retaining teachers is another priority in the plan. The district wants to develop a teacher preparation middle college high school in partnerships with colleges, universities and the Center for Black Educator Development.
The district also wants to recruit more Black and Latino male teachers and expand “Grow Your Own,” an apprenticeship that allows teacher candidates to go to school for free and get paid to teach.
According to the National Teacher and Principal Survey, nearly 1.3% of public school teachers were Black men in the 2020-21 school year.
The final priority in the plan is high quality and cost-effective operations. The district wants to develop an evaluation system for all central-office employees and provide the staffing, resources and training necessary to meet “school cleanliness standards.”
The district will also review the school selection process. In March, teachers and students from Philadelphia magnet schools protested the possible budget and staffing cuts due to flaws in the district’s school selection process.
Watlington said the implementation of the strategic plan is the next step in making Philadelphia “the fastest-improving large urban school district in the country.”
“If we all wrap our arms together, as one community, one Philadelphia, we can use this strategic plan as a roadmap to significantly improve educational outcomes and life outcomes for all of our children, especially the Black and brown kids who’ve been underperforming,” he said.
“We can position ourselves to be the fastest improving a large urban school district and I absolutely believe together we can do it.”
Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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