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


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.
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.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 ACLU Texas Files OCR Complaint Over a District's Anti-Trans Book Ban
The group claims the Keller school district's new policy to remove books about gender fluidity from library shelves violates federal law.
4 min read
Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. The books are banned in several public schools and libraries in the U.S., but young people can read digital versions from anywhere through the library. The Brooklyn Public Library offers free membership to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions.
Banned books are on diplay at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. Some of these books are among those banned by school districts in Texas.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
School & District Management Political Tensions in Schools Are 'Pervasive,' Principals Say
High school principals reported high levels of student conflict due to political beliefs and parent efforts to limit curriculum about race.
6 min read
Image of political tension surrounding school leaders.
Collage by Laura Baker/Education Week via iStock/Getty
School & District Management Litter Boxes in Schools: How a Disruptive and Demeaning Hoax Frustrated School Leaders
A hoax claiming that schools were providing litter boxes to students wasted school leaders' time as they worked to debunk it.
6 min read
Smartphone with blue and red colored hoax bubbles floating up off of the screen onto a dark black background with illegible lines of text also in the background.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management A New Federal Grant Will Fund Schools' Energy Upgrades. Here's What to Know
The Department of Energy released new funding to help schools redo HVAC systems, add renewable energy, and upgrade facilities.
3 min read
A small white space heater directs air under a teacher's desk. On the front of the desk is a sign that says "Welcome to our classroom."
Personal space heaters are a common item found in the classrooms at Greene County High School in Snow Hill, N.C., where they're used to heat rooms when the HVAC units fail. New federal grants will help schools upgrade climate systems and add energy efficiency measures.
Alex Boerner for Education Week