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Philadelphia Schools Receive $8.3 Million From Foundation for Restructuring Effort

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In what is believed to be the largest grant ever made to a single school system, the Philadelphia Public Schools have been given $8.3 million by The Pew Charitable Trusts to implement a major restructuring plan for all of the city's neighborhood high schools.

The new gift also brings the foundation's total aid to the district to a record level of more than $13 million.

The new grant will allow each of the city's 21 comprehensive high schools to develop "schools within a school" and to encourage more interdisciplinary instruction through school-based restructuring plans.

By focusing the grant on the neighborhood high schools, both foundation and school officials say they hope to cut the city's dropout rate, which currently exceeds 30 percent cumulatively.

More than three-quarters of the city's public-school students, or approximately 40,000, attend neighborhood high schools. The rest attend magnet programs for the gifted or vocational high schools.

District officials said they would initially concentrate their efforts on easing the transition into high school s freshman class. Pilot programs in some schools have called on teachers to pay close attention to small groups of freshmen and to respond to their needs.

The grant by the Philadelphia-based foundation calls for the restructuring plans to be developed by a group of 10 administrators and faculty members in each school. Each group is charged with developing "schools within a school," to experiment with new instructional methods and interdisciplinary programs, and to bolster community involvement in the school.

Foundation officials say that the grant is significant, not only for its size but for its comprehensive approach to school improvement.

"Otherwise you just get into the same syndrome of helping a few kids because they are in a good program and everyone is in the same old program," said Helen Cunningham, a program officer in the foundation's education division.

Foundation officials say they are prepared to support the new program beyond the three-year term specified by the grant.

Since 1984, Pew has given a total of $4.85 million to the district in five different grants to support instruction in the humanities, mathematics, and science.--ef

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