Praise for Hite, SRC and their reform efforts
Carolyn C. Dumaresq
is Pennsylvania's acting secretary
When Gov. Corbett recently announced the release of $45 million in one-time state funding to the city for the School District of Philadelphia for this school year, he cautioned that additional funding was only part of the solution. He stated that true reform requires the will and hard work of all parties to accomplish the goals we all want for Philadelphia's students.
Nowhere is this more evident than in what Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and the School Reform Commission are seeking to achieve in the collective bargaining process with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The superintendent and the SRC have two primary goals in these negotiations: providing for the financial stability and sustainability of the district, while improving academic outcomes for students.
On academic outcomes, they seek changes that will enable them to organize schools in a way that will make them the type of learning environments our children deserve. This flexibility is particularly important when resources are so limited.
Hite and the SRC are seeking reforms that, at their core, will empower principals to change schools to meet the needs of their students and raise student achievement. As the person held responsible for the success of the school, principals should have the authority to make a number of key decisions. This includes which teachers and support staff to hire, how to use prep and collaboration time for staff, and what professional development is best suited to the needs of the staff and school.
Preparation periods should be used for professional development and collaboration around instructional practice - all to increase support for teachers. Working with their school leadership team and teachers, principals should be able to schedule activities during prep periods, such as collaborative meetings focused on instructional practice improvements, peer-to-peer classroom visits and feedback, and demonstration lessons. Research consistently shows that teacher effectiveness is the critical factor in improving student achievement, and collaborating on instructional practice will lead to continued improvement in effectiveness.
The importance of appropriate staffing has, unfortunately, been lost in the recent discussions on the issue of leveling.
Leveling is the process the district uses each year to shift teachers based on fluctuations of enrollment. This year, the district has about 131,000 students, 6,000 fewer than last year and several thousand fewer than it had anticipated for the current school year. As a result, some schools have fewer students than expected, while some have more. While the media and others understandably tend to focus on the schools that have resources reduced as a result of a decline in enrollment, we should not forget that other schools are gaining much-needed resources based on enrollment increases.
Hite and the SRC should be commended for making leveling-related transfer and assignment decisions based on student and school needs, rather than solely on seniority. This school year, for the first time, the primary factor in making assignments and transfers has been the best interests of the students and the school's educational program. The governor and I applaud the district's leadership for its continued focus on making decisions based on the best interests of students and communities.
Effective teachers are our most important educational asset; they deserve the appropriate support to help them sustain, as well as improve, their instructional delivery.
The district is pursuing changes that will provide meaningful opportunities for teacher collaboration and professional development. This, in turn, will allow the flexibility needed for schools to adapt to meet students' needs and boost achievement levels. We all must support the district's efforts to achieve the types of meaningful reforms our students truly deserve.