Phila. Embraces Whole-School Approach Wholeheartedly

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PHILADELPHIA--For backers of Chapter 1 schoolwide projects, this district is an example of what a whole-school approach to compensatory education can achieve.

Of a total of 155 Chapter 1 schools in the district, 117--all that are eligible to operate schoolwide projects under existing rules--are using their federal aid to help all their students.

The district's commitment to the whole-school approach has coincided with an effort to pump more Chapter 1 resources into the neediest schools, as well as with a push for site-based management.

The changes brought about by the district's campaign are evident at Gillespie Middle School, which has restructured its entire program into "families'' of teachers who work as teams, in some cases retaining the same students throughout their middle school careers. In addition, about half the students are enrolled in "modules,'' in which the instructional program is tied to themes such as creative and performing arts.

"We're trying to go from a subject-oriented faculty to a student-oriented faculty and to think in terms of interdisciplinary teaching,'' said Principal Thomas G. Lynch 3rd.

The school is also using Chapter 1 funds to experiment with a portfolio-assessment system.

"It would not be possible to maintain all this without the schoolwide project,'' Mr. Lynch said.

Strategies Based on Children

Teachers and administrators at several schools here were enthusiastic about the approach, which they said allowed them to try out more innovative methods and tailor their programs to the particular problems they face.

"We can design a strategy around the children we have this year,'' said Sharon McIntosh, a Chapter 1 program-support teacher at William Dick Elementary School. "We can see that we have a large group of really troubled kids in 2nd grade and put them in a smaller class.''

Dick Elementary's program features an extended school day and year.

At William Cramp Elementary School, some teachers work in permanent team-teaching arrangements, while two Chapter 1-funded instructors spend time in several different classrooms. The school places a heavy emphasis on literature and gives awards to children who read the most books.

In fact, student recognition is virtually the school's theme. Principal Gaeton Zorzi begins each day making announcements through a bullhorn on the playground, wearing a vest festooned with colorful buttons. He reads the names of students who have achieved distinctions in reading, attendance, or other areas, and hands them a button as they walk in. The halls are filled with lists of student achievements, and one display case is devoted to the "family of the month.''

"When we get these kids, they're already five years behind,'' Mr. Zorzi said. "They have to be convinced they can succeed.''

'Teachers Are Lining Up'

Teachers in schoolwide projects said they appreciate such things as being able to bring all their students to the Chapter 1 computer lab without having to account for which specific students receive instructional time. But they are even more pleased, they said, by the collegial atmosphere fostered by collaborative decisionmaking.

"Teachers are lining up to get in here,'' said Anita Moore, a program-support teacher at Cramp Elementary.

"The thing we've seen in the schools that most impressed us was the beginning of a real problem-solving capability, with staff working collegially, focusing on questions of teaching, and taking corrective action when kids are not making progress,'' said Richard McCann, who has studied Philadelphia's program as director of the state assistance project at Research for Better Schools.

Only one of 62 schoolwide projects that have reached the three-year evaluation point did not meet the federal requirements to continue. In addition, the proportion of students scoring below the cutoff score for inclusion in a regular Chapter 1 program went down.

"That means they are moving a substantial number of low performers into the middle range,'' Mr. McCann said. "That kind of number has some real meaning.''

But not all the news is good. When the district shifted to a new standardized test last year, all the schoolwide projects scored poorly enough to be required to enter a program-improvement process.

The district's overall gains remain modest, and achievement in schoolwide projects is about the same as in other Chapter 1 schools.

Vol. 12, Issue 40

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