COUNCIL State of the University: The New Public School Collaboration
At the University Council on October 14, President Judith Rodin's State of the University message contained a presentation on the agreement announced in July to build a demonstration school in University City and bring an existing science magnet high school to West Philadelphia. The report below is edited from a transcription of the presentation by Dean Susan Fuhrman of the Graduate School of Education and Stephen Schutt, Vice President and Chief of Staff in the Office of the President. It is followed by the organizational chart and membership of the planning process, which involves over 50 members of the University, the neighborhood, the School District and the Federation of Teachers, with more to be named to work teams. --Ed.
Planning a PreK-8 School for the Year 2001
Vice President Stephen Schutt: As Dr. Rodin went through the initiatives on West Philadelphia [see Supplement to this issue], there is none more important to the residents of University City, and ultimately to the future of the area, than the public schools. We've heard that over time from a number of people who live in the area: when asked what they care about most or what they think about as they look at the future, when we've talked to faculty and staff of the University who are considering moving to University City, one of the predominant concerns is the present quality and the future of the school options in the community.
As a result of that concern, many of you in the room today and others at Penn have been involved for many years in wonderful efforts in the public schools in West Philadelphia--through the Graduate School of Education, through our Center for Community Partnerships, and in other ways.
But a year or 18 months ago, Dr. Rodin asked several of us whether, with all of that said, we might not still do more. Susan Fuhrman, I and others took that question very seriously, and that led us to a series of meetings and conversations with the School District of Philadelphia and with the Federation of Teachers, the local teachers' union, about whether we might not work collaboratively-these three institutions and the community itself-on the establishment of a new, University-assisted, very different kind of PreK-through-8 school in our community, on a site that Penn was willing to make available for this, a site that many of you know as the Divinity School site at 42nd and Locust Streets.
To move fast forward, we reached an agreement on a plan to have such a school, with its doors open to enroll students from the community by the fall of 2001--three years from now. What I'd like to do is just highlight a few characteristics of the school as we envision it, and then ask Dean Fuhrman to talk about its academic importance.
This school is going to be different from schools that exist in the city today, and in many other places, in a number of important ways.
First of all, it will be locally governed. There will be a governing board, a legal entity set up for this school-comprised of the School's principal, who will be jointly selected by the School District and Penn; community representatives (that is, parents of kids who are in the school); teachers in the school; and Penn representatives-who will come together to make all the central decisions that are important to the school: decisions about its curriculum, the criteria by which teachers will be selected, budget decisions on an annual basis, decisions about scheduling, rostering, many others of those kinds.
It will be a neighborhood school, as opposed to a magnet school; it will be a school for children who live in the neighborhood in University City.
It will be a school that will be built with capital provided by the School District. Present estimation of that capital is a minimum of $14 million for the construction of this PreK-8 school.
It will be an excellent public school that will meet or exceed the academic standards in place in the School District today; and Susan Fuhrman will speak more to that point.
It will be notably a demonstration school with a particular focus on professional development for teachers, not only in the school itself but in other schools in West Philadelphia, and ultimately we believe even across the city. It will, through that and in many other ways, provide important value and service to schools that already exist in West Philadelphia, and will work cooperatively and collaboratively with them.
The University as part of this agreement will provide an operating subsidy to this school, when it is built, of $1000 per student per year. The significance of that money is this: In the City of Philadelphia, per-pupil spending is about $6800 each year. That compares to something like $9000, or a little better than $2000 more per student, in districts in the five-county area around Philadelphia. The operating subsidy that Penn will provide will, then, take that per-pupil spending in this school to about $7800-still not at the level of suburban schools but something closer to it. And I think predominant use of that money will be to ensure that class sizes will be smaller in the new school, something that is critically important for its academic success.
The school will enjoy regular, constant continuing support by the Graduate School of Education, and we hope in many ways other schools here at the University.
We now have three planning committees, involving Penn faculty, staff, district representatives and notably community representatives-parents, teachers from the community-that are working on the programming for the school; on the facility and site questions that will go along with its development at 42nd and Locust Street; and, very important to understand here, on community programming at the site before/after school hours, on weekends and the evenings-a range of community programming to be led by the community, asked for by the community, and we hope responding to community needs.
I should say, as a final point, in addition to this [PreK-8 project] we have reached an agreement with the School District that the University will provide a site for the relocation of the Carver High School for En-gineering and Science, which is a magnet science high school presently located in North Philadelphia but is in search of a new location. It's on a very dilapidated site in a very bad building and it has been looking for a new location for probably five or six years at this point. We're looking to provide a new site for that school-probably at the corner of 38th and Market Streets, on a site that is presently owned by the University City Science Center. We're negotiating at present. If that site ultimately turns out to be unavailable then we will look for a comparable site in the same general area for the relocation of that high school-a school I think will provide some interesting resources and great potential synergy for Penn, Drexel, the Science Center itself, in the burgeoning science and technology corridor along Market Street.
Dean Susan Fuhrman: Thank you for this opportunity to talk about the school-and the school as part of the system of schools in West Philadelphia, and part of the overall improvement plan that we are anticipating. Clearly the improvement of provision of services and quality of life in urban areas is squarely within the University's strategic mission. It reflects the urban agenda goal as part of the Agenda for Excellence, and it's also a key aspect of our School's strategic mission.
We see this school as the hub of a system of improvement of West Philadelphia Schools more generally, through extensive professional development, through joint curricular planning, through interaction of teachers across the schools, and through enhancement of services to the other schools in West Philadelphia.
We hope and expect that the new school will reflect the best research about instruction and organization, and that it will be a continuing site for research. We certainly see the PreK-8 school as a field site for teacher education, and the new high school as well.
You may have been reading about changes in teacher education, such as state certification emphasizing induction periods. This school will be a place where we can develop new models of induction in those first few years when teachers need to be mentored and supported. We look forward to doing that. It is a locus for professional development, for all West Philadelphia schools, and more broadly for the city as a whole-state-of-the-art professional development, utilizing technology to the best extent possible. We see this school as an opportunity to improve our own instructional activities at GSE because we look forward to increasing the interaction between public school faculty and University faculty as they together work to develop professionals and talk about the interaction between research and practice.
Fortunately we have found receptivity on the part of foundations to this effort, so for us this is a way to support practice professors on our faculty- excellent practitioners, for whom we are now searching, who will come and spend some leave time with us, come and help us develop this school, and in the future eventually work in this and other West Philadelphia schools. Graduate student support will also be increased, to move us forward on our goal of fully funding all Ph.D. students. And,we have actually made a start raising money for teacher fellowships in other West Philadelphia schools, for teachers to come spend some time studying at the University but also engage in greater professional development activities.
I can tell from faculty recruitment efforts that this is a very exciting, unique, and very attractive endeavor. Unlike the University of Chicago, which has a lab school, or UCLA, which has a private school, or USC, which is starting its own charter school, this is a school that's located in a system of public schools. It's not a charter, it's not removed from the urban public school effort, but it is part of, and leading, that effort of improvement-and this is enormously attractive to all of us who care deeply about urban education and about improving educational services in the next century.
I see similar benefits for other schools, certainly: Social Work is already involved in after-school and community programming. The health schools will be similarly involved. One can imagine engineering students and faculty interested in innovative learning environments through technology, which this school will feature, and the Graduate School of Fine Arts interested in the design and urban design issues surrounding a community school. So I see this as an effort that not only is squarely within the strategic mission of the University but one that has benefits for many of the individual schools.
[In response to query about the feasibility of keeping class size down for a research experience, without restricting service to a few blocks' radius, Dean Fuhrman added: "It's not going to be a very small school. It's going to be a 700-person school, because one of the goals is to relieve overcrowding in some of the other area elementary schools. But that doesn't preclude organizational strategies such as houses or communities that personalize the experience and create smaller settings for research."
[Mr. Schutt added that the School District, which will set the catchment area, is considering exactly the right geographical territory in University City to relieve overcrowding while maintaining the concept of a neighborhood school.--Ed.]
Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 9, October 27, 1998