Will Renaissance Schools Be Coming To An End in 2020?

By Lin Lin

On September 10th, the Board of Education had a committee meeting to review their enacted policies. One of the interesting aspects of the agenda was how the board considered eliminating Policy 141: Renaissance School Initiative. What is this initiative? Why was it established in the first place? 

Let’s go back to 10 years ago when it was first adopted district-wide. This policy was a portion of the "Imagine 2014" imperative layout. The School Reform Commission wanted to express the notion that the School District of Philadelphia has “chronically underperforming schools that are not serving the needs of students and families and have not made adequate yearly progress as defined by state and federal laws, and that these schools need fundamental change to facilitate a transformation of the learning environment.” The school district really wanted to transform the underperforming schools into “better” learning environments through implementing a more modern form of learning in these schools. 

Underperforming schools in the district are considered a renaissance school with any of the three forms. The school would be either innovation, contract, or charter. They all have differences but all share the common goal of giving more autonomy to these schools so they can have more accountability. 

1) Innovation School 

- School district-managed 

- Has the power to control the programs that will increase more expectations and achievements in students. 

2) Contract School 

- Managed and staffed by an external organization that isn’t the school district - it can be lead by a for-profit or a non-profit organization 

- The institution must “manag[e] all aspects of the school, including the employment of school staff under a reconstituted design and program.”

- The school district will hold a contract with the organization that stipulates the liabilities of both parties 

- The contract will include the following: 

- Conditions for enrollment, achievement, grades, the staff, and 

inclusion/diversity in the School Annual Report. 

- The organization will have sovereignty over the school’s budget and staff. 

3) Charter School 

- “An independent Local Education Agency” 

- Has a board of trustees to oversee the curriculum and services. 

- The correlation between these charter schools and the school district will have to follow the Pennsylvania Charter School Law and with a mutual agreement between the two parties like the contract schools. 

- Similar to the contracts from earlier, the agreement will have to discuss the rules for enrollment, achievement, grades, and the staff in the School Annual Report.

 -The stipulations will measure if the charter schools are reaching success and will be used as a turning point to see if the school district will renew or revoke the charter when the due date comes. 

The elimination of schools created under the initiative begs the question of how would that affect students in the long run, especially during this ongoing pandemic? If the board were to eliminate the initiative, would the education gap become bigger than what it is now?

It is no secret that Philly schools are pretty segregated looking at student populations in schools that either perform well or are underperforming. It is a time where our peers feel pressured to perform on these same tests and assignments as if we are not in a global pandemic. Students often have to pick between the choices of their own well-being and their chances of moving to the next grade. 

This is when schools play such an important part to refigure our expectations. Their role is very important because how it’s addressed will affect the student crisis. If this policy was enacted in 2010 to help underperforming schools if it were eliminated, how would that affect our peers?

The questions that I want to leave at the end are these from teachers, Lynn Shon and José Luis Vilson: 

1) How are we to feel protected by a system that has long failed to meet our most basic physiological and safety needs? 

 

2) With the attention of those previously unharmed by the status quo, we began to ask, why did it take a global pandemic to secure the soap, nurses, working windows, air conditioning, outdoor spaces, and smaller class sizes that we have needed all along? 

 

3) Will this be our chance to secure the counselors, BIPOC teachers, and culturally responsive curriculum we have always demanded? Will this be our opportunity to achieve equity in our public schools?