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NCLB Outrages

7 schools' principals replaced

This is the plan that "business management skills" will raise student test scores.

Thank you, Bill Gates. Aren't we all glad he's cutting back work at Microsoft so he can devote more time to his education philanthropy?

Microsft Press Release: Sept. 23, 2004 Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner and Microsoft Corp. announced today in Portsmouth the formation of a relationship to support and expand the Virginia School Turnaround Specialist Program (VSTSP) for principals. As part of the Governor's Education for a Lifetime initiative, the program teaches school administrators proven business management skills, places them in charge of persistently low-performing schools, and works with local divisions to give these new principals expanded power to help turn their school around. Last spring Warner awarded a $1.4 million contract to the University of Virginia's Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education to implement VSTSP. Today Microsoft announced it will invest up to $3 million in the VSTSP over the next five years, through its Partners in Learning initiative, in collaborative projects aimed at addressing student achievement.


By Susan Snyder


The Philadelphia School District is giving some veteran principals the boot and sending a cadre of replacements to the University of Virginia next month for special training in how to turn around academically low-performing schools.

In the latest effort to improve poorly performing schools as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the district will replace the principals at seven of 14 schools targeted for the "turnaround specialist" program at the university.

Two schools that already had principal vacancies also will get new leaders, and the other five schools, which had their principals in place for less than two years, will keep their leaders, but they will take part in the Virginia training, officials said.

All but two of the schools are in the district's "CEO region," established last summer by chief executive Paul Vallas as his "line in the sand" for reversing persistently low achievement.

Also for the first time, the district will expand the principal's job at the 14 schools from 10 months to 12 months to increase time spent on making academic improvements. Principals will get higher pay commensurate with the increased time.

The district will spend $836,000 over two years for the turnaround-specialist program, which includes a week of training in Virginia this summer and continuing training during the school year.

The changes have brought criticism from some who say principals and their staffs are unfairly being blamed for poor performance when the real culprit is lack of resources.

"A turnaround specialist without all of the tools they need to provide a good education program for kids is going to be for naught," said Jerry Jordan, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "In Philadelphia, it's cut the [nonteaching aides], cut the teachers, cut the art, cut the music - all the things that children need in order to improve the outcomes."

But Vallas contended that schools with persistently low test scores and other lagging factors need change, and that the person at the top must be the one held accountable.

"If the Phillies don't win, you're not going to fire the team. You're going to fire the manager or you're going to transfer the manager," Vallas said, noting that the seven principals being removed will be given leadership jobs elsewhere in the district.

"When there's persistent failure, you've got to look to the leadership."

George DiPilato, president of the principals' union, called the new effort "bittersweet."

"Does the program have merit? Yes, it does. But a lot more TLC could have gone into explaining it to the sitting principals," he said.

Several calls yesterday to the University of Virginia were not returned.

Gregory Thornton, Philadelphia's chief academic officer, said the training would focus on "case studies," in which educators look at troubled schools and develop solutions.

The Virginia program, launched in 2004 under Gov. Mark Warner, has shown some impressive early results, according to a Dec. 7, 2005, Education Week article. Seven of the first 10 schools in the program met improvement targets under federal law. None had achieved that status in the two previous years, the paper reported.

The program, says a Philadelphia district summary, emphasizes data-based decision-making, communications, partnering, and "leading and sustaining transformations." Principals study leadership models from business, education and other areas, the Education Week article said. The idea is patterned after business, which hires turnaround specialists to overhaul foundering companies.

Philadelphia schools where longer-term principals will be out are: McDaniel, Bluford, Sheridan West, Douglass, L.P. Hill, Webster, and Roberto Clemente Middle School.

Thornton explained that the Virginia program, run jointly by the university's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and Curry School of Education, admits only new principals or those with less than two years in their post.

"Sometimes you can be so close to it for so long that you don't have the opportunity to bring about a really substantive change," he said.

University City and Fels High Schools, which have principal vacancies, also will get new leaders.

Principals will remain at South Philadelphia High, Olney's East and West High Schools, and Blaine and Barry Elementary Schools.

Bruce Stern, a computer teacher and teachers' union representative at Clemente, said the staff was outraged to lose principal Patricia Mazzuca, who has led Clemente for 11 years.

"They're feeling rudderless. It's a wonderful leader for 11 years since the place started, and all of a sudden, poof, and certainly through no fault of her own," Stern said.

The staff this week officially dedicated the school's auditorium in Mazzuca's name to show support, he said.

Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, also was stumped.

"She seems to be a good principal. Her faculty likes her. We don't get complaints about her. She's energetic. She's always trying things. If they're going to blame it on the test scores, I think you have to go beyond that, and the bilingual issue is a real issue," Kirsch said, referring to many students at Clemente for whom English is not their first language.

At Clemente, more than half of the eighth graders scored below basic levels in math in 2005, and 58 percent were below the levels in reading.

Some other turnaround schools performed even worse. At South Philadelphia High, three-quarters of the 11th graders scored below basic in reading, while 71.4 percent of fifth graders at Blaine did that poorly.

Thornton said other measures were considered, such as attendance, teacher turnover and suspensions.

Jim Douglass, principal of Sheridan West, said he was "flabbergasted" when the district decided to include the school in the CEO region this year. He will be transferred.

"I did question it because I felt that our school was making some small progress," he said.

But he added: "I love kids, and I will go to wherever the school district wants me to go."

The turnaround principals have come from inside and outside the district. Carmen Garcia, who had been a principal at a school in New York, will lead Clemente. Andrea Gonzalez, the daughter of longtime central office administrator Nilsa Gonzalez, will head Sheridan West. Gonzalez already was working in the district.

Turnaround Schools

"Turnaround specialist" schools that will get new principals are:

University City High School - Anthony Irvin

Fels High School - Greg Hailey

Roberto Clemente Middle School - Carmen Garcia

McDaniel - Darlynn Gray

Webster- Christine Connor

Bluford - Arthurea Smith

Sheridan West- Andrea Gonzalez

Douglass- Kwame Morton

L.P. Hill- Tamara Thomas

Other schools that will participate but keep their principals are:

South Philadelphia High School - Kevin King

Olney High School East - Newton Brown

Olney High School West - Rita Hardy

Blaine- Sterling R. Garris

Barry- Darlene Beasley

SOURCE: Philadelphia School District
Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

— Susan Snyder
Philadelphia Inquirer
2006-06-23


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