District’s Strategic Plan Must Reflect Its Core Beliefs

by Christopher Paslay


Currently, the Philadelphia School District has five Core Beliefs:


          1.  Children come first.


          2.  Parents are our partners.


          3.  Victory is in the classroom and facilitated by a strong instructional leader.


          4.  Leadership and accountability are the keys to success.


          5.  It takes the engagement of the entire community to ensure the success of its public schools.


To make these beliefs a reality, the District has initiated a strategic plan called Excellence, Equity & Accountability 2014.  The purpose of this plan is to achieve the following three goals: 


          1.  Educational excellence for every child and eliminating differences in achievement between students based on race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, area of residence, home language, or program placement.


          2.  An equitable allocation of resources based on the needs of individual schools and students.


          3.  Accountability for all adults within the District.


These three goals are both admirable and ambitious.  All children deserve a quality education, and there should be equitable resources allocated to schools and students based on individual needs. 


However, there is one issue that needs to be addressed: Goal #3 (Accountability for all adults within the District) is not consistent with two of the District’s Core Beliefs.  In other words, the third goal does not make “parents our partners” (Core Belief #2) nor does it require “the engagement of the entire community” (Core Belief #5).


To keep goal #3 consistent with the District’s Core Beliefs, it should read, Accountability for all adults within the District and the community.  This way, the District won’t limit its focus on only one part of a very complex education equation, and it can both encourage and develop the resources of parents and community leaders.               


Although the District has done an excellent job initiating conversation with parents and the community through roundtables, the District must take that final step and hold them accountable for stepping-up and genuinely becoming our partners.     


I know the District’s Core Belief’s are more than just spoken words (I know I take them to heart every single day in the classroom), and I have faith that eventually, when the community is formally made a part of the District’s strategic plan, the Core Beliefs of our school system will truly become a reality.          

Parent Roundtables are a Step in the Right Direction

by Christopher Paslay


I must give the Philadelphia School District credit: They have publicly acknowledged that parental and community involvement is an important part of improving education in the city of Philadelphia.  Last Thursday night (11/6), Dr. Arlene Ackerman hosted the first in a series of monthly parent roundtables at district headquarters at 440 North Broad Street.  The roundtables are a forum for parents to share ideas with Dr. Ackerman and to ask questions about the district and its inner workings. 


“One of the things we have to do is to help you know what questions to ask,” Dr. Ackerman told the 200 parents who attended the meeting.  “There should be no surprises.”


Although there are over 167,000 students in the Philadelphia school District, 200 parents getting actively involved in the schooling of their children is a good start. 


The parent roundtables are part of Dr. Ackerman’s strategic plan to achieve excellence in the Philadelphia School District.  Dr. Ackerman detailed this plan in a message she posted on the district website entitled Excellence, Equity and Accountability 2014: A Strategic Plan for the School District of Philadelphia.  In this message Dr. Ackerman hopes “to achieve excellence, equity and accountability for everyone within the District with the ultimate goal of providing every District student with a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


To her credit, Dr. Ackerman also acknowledges that “this effort of creating an agenda for excellence, equity, and accountability by 2014 cannot be done without the support of the entire District as well as the Philadelphia community.”


Dr. Ackerman’s plan has three stages.


“The first stage of this endeavor will be a series of community meetings conducted in multiple languages throughout Philadelphia. The goal of these community meetings is to not only to share what the District has learned from its previous work but also to gather the experiences and recommendations from parents, students, and community leaders concerned about the future of our students.


The second stage of creating this plan will be to host a series of working groups with specific focus areas. These working groups will be charged with the task of determining a set of strategies and priorities to support the District in achieving its goals of excellence, equity, and accountability. Each of these working groups will include District leaders at all levels (central office, regional offices, principals, teachers, and support staff), parents, students, and community partners. As a District, we serve a diverse student population; it is equally critical that our working groups represent this diversity.


The third stage of creating this plan will be to return the suggested strategies to the community to ensure that we have created an agenda to achieve excellence, equity, and accountability that will ensure that every student receives a high-quality, 21st century-ready, education.”


I’d personally like to get involved with the working groups at stage two.  I have a strategy I’d like to discuss with district leaders that involves improving the district from the inside-out, or in other words, that starts with the community and neighborhoods and works its way up to the schools.  My idea is very similar to what Geoffrey Canada is doing with his Harlem Children’s Zone.  And because Barack Obama is the president elect, NOW is the time to take that model and expand it to Philadelphia; Obama has already stated that he’d like to turn HCZ into a national model, and Philadelphia should lobby to be first on the list for funding.  Maybe this could be the job of  Lori Shorr and Sharen Tucker, Mayor Nutter’s “dynamic duo” of education.   


And I’m sure Dr. Ackerman is plenty familiar with HCZ.  She taught at Columbia University before coming to Philadelphia, and I’d have to believe she studied its success first hand. 


But I’ll blog about the reasons why Shorr and Tucker (and the SRC and Mayor Nutter and Ed Rendell and Dr. Ackerman) should start lobbying to get federal funding to bring the HCZ model to Philadelphia at a later date. 


For now, kudos to Dr. Ackerman and the SRC for getting parents more involved in their children’s educations.  If we can rally the neighborhoods of Philadelphia to support the district and its teachers, I’m sure we can bring excellence and equity to all public schools.