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Hornbeck To Push Ahead With Phila. Reforms

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Superintendent David W. Hornbeck of Philadelphia has announced that he is pushing ahead with a host of radical reform measures, even though some do not have the support of a state judge overseeing the district's desegregation efforts.

When it comes to urban school reform, "I think we're nearly to the end of the patience of a nation," Mr. Hornbeck said last week in releasing details of a reform plan designed to shake up the district. "Timid little steps won't do it," the superintendent said.

"Changes at the margin only delay a continuing decline," he said. "Each of us must do his part for bold, comprehensive reform."

Mr. Hornbeck refused to put a price tag on his proposals, arguing that they should be considered on their own merits before funding issues are raised.

District officials have been ordered to have such figures available when they appear this week before Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith to explain how they plan to comply with her demands to overhaul the district to better serve minorities. (See Education Week, Dec. 7, 1994.)

The district had filed an appeal asking that Judge Smith set aside some of her demands until the state could be brought into the case to assess its financial responsibility. In rejecting the appeal last month, Judge Smith told the district it must submit appropriate remedies and cost projections before she will consider whether to bring other parties into the case.

"It is incumbent upon the courts of this commonwealth to end the school district's 24 years of stonewalling and claims of fiscal inability to educate the racially isolated school students," she said.

Mr. Hornbeck continued, in his plans released last week, to call for the establishment of local school councils to oversee policies and resources. Judge Smith has said such a move "presents the potential for massive fiscal control and accountability issues, corruption, fraud, and patronage."

Mr. Hornbeck also proposed reorganizing the district's schools into 22 neighborhood clusters, each containing six to eight elementary schools, two to four middle schools, and one high school. The schools should be organized into "learning communities" of 200 to 500 students, he said.

School Clusters

Many of the superintendent's other proposals appeared to conform to Judge Smith's wishes or, at least, seemed unlikely to meet her opposition.

Among other reforms, Mr. Hornbeck said he intends to provide more resources and the equivalent of about 20 days each year for the professional development of staff members and to create an incentive system that rewards or penalizes them based on their students' achievement.

Mr. Hornbeck also said he would restore 27 nursing positions, eventually having full-time nurses at every school as part of an effort to link students with health and social-service agencies.

Although Mayor Edward G. Rendell has expressed support for the superintendent's reform efforts, he has ruled out raising taxes to pay for them.

Gail Tomlinson, the executive director of the Citizens Committee on Public Education in Philadelphia, a nonprofit advocacy group, said she had some concerns about the reform effort's funding.

But, she added, "I don't think anybody looking at this plan can help but be optimistic."

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