Replicating a Model School: The People Behind the Effort
In Philadelphia, key players are shaping the fate of a high-stakes effort to replicate the acclaimed Science Leadership Academy. The expansion will rest on administrators, philanthropists, teachers, and students.Meet the Players →
The Key Players
Principal Chris Lehmann is taking the plunge: This school year, he is attempting to replicate the acclaimed Philadelphia Science Leadership Academy, an inquiry-based, technology-infused, district-managed magnet school that he founded in 2006.
"If we're really going to affect education deeply in Philadelphia and our country, we have to figure out how to innovate within. It's not just about starting a bunch of charter schools."The Science Leadership Academy's Vision
Leading a school system on the brink of collapse, Superintendent William Hite is making a risky bet: While scores of neighborhood schools must make do with bare-bones budgets, Mr. Hite is investing scarce resources in expanding outside-the-box school models that he believes can draw families back to the district.
"I came to Philadelphia because it's a place where innovation can really thrive if we don't have all the distractions around things like revenue and funding."Making the Investment
Mark Gleason, head of the Philadelphia School Partnership, put up $1.9 million to support the SLA expansion. But his underlying philosophy—shift resources out of bad schools and into good schools—is highly controversial.
"If you keep holding off investing in new ways of operating schools, holding out for that day when you have a strategy to make things better for every student at the same time, you'll never get there, because that day is never going to happen."The Reasons Behind Replication
Veteran Philadelphia administrator Christopher Johnson is leading the new campus of SLA, but can he put his own stamp on the school while also replicating the original's runaway success?
"If there's ever an in-house suspension room in this building, every last student here can come up and smack me in the back of the head. That will never happen here."An 'Ah-Ha' Moment
School board member Joseph Dworetzky agrees: SLA is a great school. But he voted against expansion because he believes doing so will take money away from other students and threaten the struggling district's long-term financial viability.
"It has to survive an analysis of whether it's worth they money. [The] $5,000 per student [cost of expansion] is not just coming out of the air."'How Do You Justify the Money?'
Karthik Subburam is teaching engineering and math at the new SLA, but turning the school's vision for academic and technological innovation into a reality will be a big challenge after spending the past four years employing a far more traditional instructional style.
"I'm not going to be lecturing or doing the [prescribed] seven-step lesson. I have to get away from the mindset of being the know-it-all."A Teacher's Dream Come True
Caleb Hughes is part of Science Leadership Academy at Beeber's inaugural 9th grade class. Nobody will be a tougher, more informed judge of how well the new school does than his mother, Renee Hughes, who saw her oldest son graduate from the original SLA.
"My older son had his struggles. But he had a principal who totally backed him up. [Mr. Lehmann] understood my son, and he worked with him, and to this day, they have that friendship."There Is No Do-over
Photos by Jessica Kourkounis for Education Week; Joseph Dworetzky's photo provided by Harvey Finkle/Philadelphia Public School Network
Reporting & Analysis: Benjamin Herold | Design & Production: Chienyi Cheri Hung, Megan Garner