School & District Management

Transformation Grant Fuels Overhaul of School’s Instruction

By Benjamin Herold — June 10, 2014 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Gianeen C. Powell gets goosebumps talking about the opportunity before her.

Last August, James G. Blaine Elementary, a small district-managed school in a blighted section of North Philadelphia, received a $1.5 million grant to reimagine its instructional model. Ms. Powell, a 16-year district veteran and the school’s principal since 2008, also won considerable freedom to reshape her staff, overhaul Blaine’s school day, and more.

“It feels like everything I want to happen, can happen,” she said.

Among the first places Ms. Powell turned for guidance was Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy.

Faces of Change

Philadelphia educators experience hope, disappointment when pursuing hands-on, technology-rich school models. Hear what five of these educators had to say about their efforts.

Gianeen C. Powell
Principal, James G. Blaine Elementary School

Daniel E. Ueda
Teacher, Central High School

Lisa J. Nutter & Dana A. Jenkins
President, Philadelphia Academies Inc. & Principal, Roxborough High School

Grace J. Cannon
Executive director, Office of New School Models

Andrew A. Biros & Joshua D. Kleiman
Teachers, Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts

Christopher D. Lehmann, SLA’s founder, advised her on hiring teachers who share a common vision and want to work collaboratively. SLA educators shared insights on maintaining technology and structuring professional development. Most importantly, Ms. Powell said, she was able to see for herself what project-based, inquiry-driven, technology-rich instruction looks like in the classroom—and then imagine how she might bring it to her school.

It’s a big change from Blaine’s days as an “empowerment school.” Under then-Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, Ms. Powell said, she was required to make her teachers use highly scripted curricula and whole-class direct instruction focused on remediation of basic skills. Science and social studies were squeezed out of the school day, she recalled, and teachers and students alike were miserable.

The new plan calls for hands-on science projects, independent student work on software programs, and collaborative planning time for the staff. Grant money is paying for consultants, computers, facilities and technology upgrades, and professional development.

About This Series

“The Innovation Gamble” follows a city district resting its hopes on a tech-themed approach. This is the third of three parts.

Part One: Philadelphia Seeks Salvation in Lessons From Model School

Part Two: Innovative Ed. Model Challenges Teachers to Adjust

Part Three: Phila. Funding Crisis Threatens Spread of Innovation

Video: Watch Christopher Lehmann discuss the motivation for Science Leadership Academy’s switch from Mac laptops to Chromebooks.

Video: Watch Karthik Subburam, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, work to change how he teaches.

Multimedia: Replicating a Model School: The People Behind the Effort

All of Blaine’s teachers were forced to reapply for their jobs, and only half could be rehired. Some teachers are unhappy, but Ms. Powell said the move has allowed her to tap into a deep well of pent-up energy among Philadelphia educators who are eager to help build new types of schools.

For Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., the hopeful energy at Blaine is validation that his controversial gamble on district-led innovation is yielding dividends.

“We have to get away from this belief that change can only occur if we give schools to charter management organizations,” he said. “We would love for this to happen at every school.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 11, 2014 edition of Education Week as Transformation Grant Fuels Overhaul of School’s Instruction


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Leveraging Student Voice for Teacher Retention & Development
Join our webinar on using student feedback to improve teacher performance, retention & student achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How Central Offices Can Lay the Groundwork for Tutoring in Schools
From data mining to making master schedules, principals need central offices’ help to implement tutoring.
5 min read
Teamwork and leadership.
DigitalVision Vectors
School & District Management What the Research Says Most Schools Have Early-Warning Systems. Some Kids Are Still Getting Lost
A study finds that one such system prevented absenteeism among some students but not others.
4 min read
Illustration of a warning symbol.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Restorative Practices Don’t Just Belong in the Classroom. Leaders Should Use Them, Too
Respectful conflict resolution, starting meetings with a talking circle, and other ways this administrator is walking the walk.
Sonja Gedde
5 min read
A team of colleagues comes to a resolution in a conceptual illustration about building bridges
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management Electric Buses Hit Some Road Bumps, But They're Still Catching On
The number of electric school buses is rising—and there’s no shortage of growing pains involving funding, legal mandates, and operations.
8 min read
Yellow electric school bus plugged in at a charging station.
Thomas W Farlow/iStock/Getty