For years many of us have called for teacher led, community based approaches to improving schools as opposed to school “turnaround” policies that arbitrarily replace school staff and turn schools over to charters or outside managers.
In that spirit we welcome the School Redesign Initiative as a District effort to respond positively to these concerns. The SRI does open a window for educators, parents, and community partners to develop a plan for their own school. Unlike other turnaround initiatives promoted by the District, the reconstitution of staff is not required. PCAPS has been exploring how to move forward with a strategy of developing community schools and we see this initiative as a possible avenue for that effort.
However the SRI, in its present form, has serious flaws. Many advocates are rightfully concerned that SRI will end up being a fig leaf for more destabilizing churn and further privatization.
While the District did do some community engagement and incorporates some of the points advocates raised, this should have been the beginning rather than the end of the process. Substantive discussions about the Initiative prior to its release to try to forge more unity should have occurred. Moreover, the timelines are not realistic, particularly if the idea is to get proposals from teachers and community partners. Minimally the deadline for letters of intent should be extended into mid October to allow school communities a chance to convene and weigh applying.
The following are critical problems and issues that need to be addressed if the SRI is to realize its potential.
• The SRI needs to focus on encouraging and supporting teachers and community partners at their school to be the agents in the process. Instead the SRI allows for outside groups with minimal connection to the targeted school an equal footing.
• Rather than just allowing for the retention of staff, the SRI should give priority to proposals that focus on keeping and engaging existing staff while allowing those who don’t buy in to transfer without penalty.
• The design principles appear to favor the same test driven methods for evaluating student growth and teacher effectiveness. No allowance is made for more holistic approaches.
• Additional funding, should be an option for SRI proposals, given that it is included for Renaissance Charters. The potential for SRI is bound up with the continued fight for full funding for the District.
• Finally who will decide which proposals are accepted and how will those people be selected? A transparent process that insures that strong community voices are included is needed.
We hope, rather than forging ahead with a flawed proposal, the District will engage with teachers, parents and community partners to correct these problems and strengthen the positive elements of the School Redesign Initiative.