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Phila. Teachers To Take Lead in Revamping 6 Schools

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The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has agreed to take a leading role in restructuring some of the city's most troubled schools.

In pledging to establish "Philadelphia Quest," a professional-development unit, the union staved off a program that would have replaced 75 percent of the teaching staff in failing schools.

Instead, Philadelphia Quest will set up a Center for School Improvement and Renewal by the end of June.

Beginning in July, the center will work with six schools to be picked late this week by the school district.

Over the next school year, the center is expected to devise and put in place comprehensive plans for overhauling the schools and improving student achievement. District officials will work closely with Philadelphia Quest and will conduct a review of the program to insure that the six schools are on the right track.

The Quest initiative delays for a year the start of the Keystone schools program, part of the union's latest contract. The Keystone program spells out a method for reconstituting failing schools that would allow for three-quarters of the district's teachers to be reassigned.

Rhonda H. Lauer, the associate superintendent for the Philadelphia school system, said both district and union officials believed it would be more productive for teachers to take an active role in restructuring schools.

"You can't really think for a minute if you just walk into a school and take 75 percent of the staff out, that that in and of itself is going to change student achievement," Ms. Lauer said. "If schools are really going to show improvement and children really achieve, we need the active involvement and support of classroom teachers."

School Referrals

Because of the district's strong seniority rules, Ms. Lauer said, teachers removed from reconstituted schools could have bumped other teachers from their jobs under the Keystone plan.

Superintendent David W. Hornbeck has agreed, for the next year, to refer schools identified for the Keystone program to Philadelphia Quest. Whether more schools will be referred to the union depends on the progress made during the next year.

Ms. Lauer noted that the Keystone program is still part of the contract and could be activated if necessary.

Based on test data and extensive site visits, district officials have identified 18 schools for possible intervention. The six schools for the Quest program will be chosen from among them.

Philadelphia Quest will receive an undetermined amount of money from the district to create programs for teachers in Quest schools, Ms. Lauer said.

Union leaders were on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment.

The establishment of Philadelphia Quest marks a new direction for the union, observers said, which has been primarily concerned with traditional labor issues. The name Quest has become synonymous with professional-development efforts by the American Federation of Teachers and its local affiliates, which include the Philadelphia teachers' union. Every other year, the A.F.T. sponsors an educational-issues conference called Quest. And the Chicago Teachers Union, with money from foundations, has established a Quest Center that works with restructuring schools in that city.

Christine Davis, the executive director of the Parents Union for Public Schools, a parent-advocacy group in Philadelphia, said she hoped the Quest initiative would include a requirement--as the Keystone program does--that parents be involved in drawing up school-improvement plans.

"It shouldn't just be the teachers who have been at the school for that extended period of time where things were not improving who are in charge," she said.

$2 Million for Lab Schools

The Philadelphia district last week received a $2 million grant from the International Business Machines Corporation to create laboratory schools throughout the district. Teachers will be trained at these sites in new uses of technology in the classroom.

The program will emphasize using technology to develop new methods for teaching special-education students and children with limited proficiency in English.

The grant was the second under the company's Reinventing Education initiative. The first went to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., schools last September. (See Education Week, 9/21/94.)

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