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Closures, Charter Conversions and New Schools Proposed in Philadelphia

Two school closures, two new schools, three charter conversions, and up to three district-led turnaround schools.

Those were among the proposals announced Thursday in Philadelphia as Superintendent William Hite presented updated plans for the school district's future, one shaped by diminishing resources and the urgent need to improve school options for more students.

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The proposals, part of Action Plan 3.0, which was unveiled in March, will affect 15 school and more than 5,000 students, according to the district.  

The plans will still have to be approved by the School Reform Commission, the appointed governing body that oversees Philadelphia Public Schools.

Despite the small number of recommended school closures (You may recall Philadelphia's School Reform Commission famously voted to close nearly two dozen schools two  years ago because of financial constraints), the announcement still generated some animated exchanges on Twitter.

Hite, though, said in his statement, that the proposals were part of an "exciting step" to create "great schools in every neighborhood."

"These recommendations address parental demand for better academic programs in safe, familiar environments while presenting rigorous and engaging opportunities for students,"  Hite said.

Superintendent Hite's Recommendations

Two New schools.  A Science Leadership Academy middle school in partnership with Drexel University, scheduled to open in the 2016-17 school year, and Big Picture High School, which will be opened in conjunction with Big Picture Philadelphia.

Three In-District Turnarounds.  Up to three yet-to-be-named low-performing schools will undergo in-district turnarounds. The schools will be selected in 2016, with changes expected to take place in the 2016-17 school year. About 1,800 students will be affected.

Two School Closures (phase-out and grade reconfigurations). Dimner Beeber Middle School in West Philadelphia will be phased out over the next two years and close at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Morris E. Leeds Middle School in northwest Philadelphia will merge with Hill-Freedman World Academy. Leeds will stop accepting students at the end of this school year. Hill -Freedman was twice named a National Blue Ribbon School District.

Three Conversions to Renaissance Charter Schools. Three elementary schools, Jay Cooke, Samuel B. Huey, and John Wister, will convert to charter schools under the district's Renaissance charter schools model in the 2016-17 school year.  If the School Reform Commission consents to Hite's proposal, it could approve the charter operators for those three schools as early as January.

The district said the charter conversions were proposed to address "chronic academic and climate challenges."

"Over the past five years, many students at our Renaissance Charter Schools have made substantial gains in reading and math proficiency," Hite said. "Attendance at these schools has improved and serious incidents have dropped. The Renaissance program has rapidly transformed several struggling schools into good schools."

In a break from past practice, parents will be invited to serve on the committee that will review the proposals for the charter conversions, the district said.

Photo caption: Philadelphia school district Superintendent William Hite speaks at a town hall in May at the School of the Future in Philadelphia.
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