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Philadelphia District Invites Educators, Community to Redesign Schools

The Philadelphia School District is looking for partners to help redesign its public schools.

The "School Redesign Initiative," launched Tuesday, invites teachers, administrators, families, universities, and community organizations to submit "bold, new" plans to redesign and lead some of the city's traditional, neighborhood public schools.

Philadelphia appears to be taking a page from Indianapolis' play book, where the city's public schools and the mayor's office partnered with The Mind Trust, a local education non-profit, to launch a competition to select three fellows to design and run "innovation" public schools in the city.

A key tenet of the Indianapolis experiment is a one-year residency during which the winners fine-tune their designs and learn more about school finance and operations before taking over the schools in 2015.

Philadelphia's proposal also includes a year during which the successful applicants will focus on strengthening the plans, including working with the school community to tweak their academic programs to fit the needs of the individual schools. The intent will be to open the redesigned schools in fall 2015.

In announcing the initiative, the district said it "welcomes innovative ideas to redesign a school's instructional program to better meet students' needs."

Applicants "must put forth evidence-based, viable and innovative ideas on engaging all students in 21st century learning—as well as demonstrate a commitment to the school community, a history of successful leadership and strong instructional expertise," it said.  

"The District is excited to work with educators, parents and community partners in reshaping education to better meet students' needs and interests," Superintendent William R. Hite said. "By leveraging the assets of our existing school teams and other talented thinkers, educators, and advocates in our communities, we can bring about powerful change in our students' lives."

The district is seeking proposals that, among other characteristics, heavily emphasize personalized learning;  stress high expectations for students; incorporate community and family engagement; and creatively use time, talent, and technology.

Based on the eligibility criteria, parents  and guardians can be co-leaders on design teams. And parents were integral part of the focus group that participated in the concept-phase leading up to this project. 

The schools will remain district-managed schools. (In Indianapolis, while the students of the innovation schools will be considered Indianapolis Public School students, the administrators will be allowed much more latitude in management.)

The district says it will consider designs for all of the city's public schools, except for Promise Academies—district-run turnaround schools.  

The district anticipates that between five and 10 schools will be selected for the redesign group, but only those schools that have been designated "watch" or "intervene" schools in the district's own progress report will be eligible for grant funding to support the new designs.

Interested parties should submit a letter of intent to the school district by Aug. 19. More information on the School Redesign Initiative can be found here. 

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