Jun 1, 2023 - News

The five-year plan to overhaul Philly's public schools

Illustration of a golden apple on a stack of books.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Philly schools are poised for big changes that officials say could bring districtwide improvements in the coming years.

Why it matters: The strategic plan from Superintendent Tony Watlington, who was hired last year, will ultimately determine his success — or failure — in the district.

What’s happening: The city’s Board of Education is expected to vote on Watlington’s five-year plan this afternoon, dubbed Accelerate Philly.

  • The price tag for the plan remains uncertain and its implementation would hinge on funding and other resources.

Context: Watlington is contending with multiple challenges, including falling enrollment, chronic truancy, environmental issues in school buildings, and declines in academic achievement.

Zoom in: The plan lays out 63 actions within five areas — safety and well-being, partnerships with families and communities, academic achievement, teacher recruitment and retention, and operations.

Big changes include:

  • Establishing a standard for curriculum and programs districtwide, including increased access to advanced placement courses, and art and music classes.
  • Pilot a program for a year-round and extended-day calendar at up to 10 schools.
  • Pay “parent ambassadors” to improve communication and build relationships between parents and community.

Other goals:

  • Relaunch the “Parent University” program to provide resources and support to families.
  • Recruit more Black and Latino male teachers and principals.
  • Pilot a program for high impact tutoring in up to eight schools.
  • Launch a financial literacy program for high school students.

What they’re saying: Watlington tells Axios there’s much at stake for the district and the city.

  • “It’s very important that this plan work so that Philadelphia will not be forever the nation’s largest poor city,” he says. “It also has huge implications for public safety, gun violence and the like in our city.”

Mallory Fix-Lopez, the school board's vice president, tells Axios she backs the plan, believing it will improve student achievement and help move the district beyond the setbacks incurred under state control.

  • Yes, but: She's concerned the plan doesn’t invest enough in students who are English-language learners.
  • “This plan is really focused on rebuilding rather than reacting,” she says.

Background: The state took over the district from 2001 until 2018 due to fiscal problems.

  • Watlington is the first superintendent with no ties to the state-controlled board to outline his vision for city schools.

What’s next: Pending the school board’s approval, Watlington expects to issue more detailed information and timelines by July 1.

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