In any struggling school system, there are positives – schools where students are doing better than expected despite significant challenges.
That’s the idea behind millions of dollars in new grant announced this week by the association Raising 215who has raised funds and donated more than $100 million to Philadelphia schools over the past decade.
The goal is to “accelerate student outcomes” at successful schools and, in doing so, learn what makes them successful in the first place, said Stacy Holland, executive director of Elevate 215.
“What did you do to achieve these gains and what do you need to keep moving on a positive trajectory?” said Holland. “The end goal is to figure out how to name the practices of these schools so that you can replicate and scale them.”
Elevate 215 worked with a team of researchers to identify 35 Philly K-8 public schools, including charters, that serve the majority of low-income and black and Latino students and have achieved “greater growth” than their local peers. and national over the past 10 years, says Holland.
It selected five schools for the first round of funding: Alliance For Progress Charter School, Juniata Park Academy, Middle Year Alternative School, Morton McMichael School, Pan American Academy Charter School. Together, they serve nearly 3,000 students, 90% of whom are black or Latino and 85% low-income.
Each school will receive $50,000 to support a six-month planning process to identify science-based strategies they can adopt to further improve student progress. After that, schools can apply for implementation grants of up to $825,000 each.
For Dollette Johns-Smith, principal of Morton McMichael, a small pre-K-8 school in the Mantua neighborhood, just being eligible for the grant felt like a “big win.”
“It was nice to bring that back to the staff and say, ‘Hey, that’s your job. Look where we started and where we are now,” she said.
With the grant, Johns-Smith said McMichael, who serves 300 students, will be able to do things he otherwise couldn’t. She envisions a multimedia lab so students can explore podcasting and video production.
Johns-Smith thinks she can make the case for a media lab because it should better prepare students for success in high school and to participate in related career and technical training programs, she said.
As for what made McMichael stand out in the first place, Johns-Smith said it was probably a lot of things.
McMichael offers extensive mental and behavioral health services to students, including a full-time case manager and family liaison. The school also provides food, housing and clothing resources and holds monthly town hall meetings for families.
Johns-Smith said this additional support McMichael provides to students and families would not be possible without funding from outside initiatives and partners, including the Civic Association of Mantua and nearby Drexel University.
“Most schools don’t have what we have right now because we’ve been able to work through the funding through our partners to make sure we keep the coaches and the intervention teachers,” he said. she declared.
Holland, with Elevate 215, said the move to focus funding on schools that are good and could be great seems novel.
“Sometimes what we tend to do is we go all the way up or all the way down and we really don’t pay attention to the middle schools who, with just a little bit of support, could actually improve their performance and that’s where you have a good majority of kids,” she said.
Elevate 215 was formerly known as the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), and it was criticized for its focus on increasing the number of “high-quality seats”, which some viewed as favoring charter and private schools.
It changed its name in June, and leaders said it would change its mission to focus on creating more modern learning environments and creating conditions for “academic success” across the city.
Elevate 215 will invite other eligible schools to participate in subsequent cohorts that will likely consist of five to seven schools, with at least one new cohort available each year for the next five years, Holland said.
The cohort model means that schools will have the opportunity to work with each other – as well as experts in the field – when developing their spending plans.
Johns-Smith welcomes the support and recognition.
“To let our school community know that everything we have done over the years has not been in vain, that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
This article first appeared on WHY.org.