Philadelphia's plan to close some schools and restructure many others has been covered in its excellent independent Philadelphia Public School Notebook publication (which is what Providence Schools and Beyond wants to be when it grows up). Depending on your views and values, there's a lot to not love in Philly's proposals. I myself think that the suggestion that small schools don't serve kids well and aren't cost-effective is dead wrong.
But there's a lot for us to learn from Philadelphia's more deliberate approach to school closings and restructurings, particular the fact that the proposal is to take 18-24 months to roll out the restructuring plan and its acknowledgment that closing schools needs to be done but not for quick financial gains. From last week's Notebook story on the plan to close and restructure schools:
The draft plan released on Thursday, which Nunery described as a “work in progress,” is a response to the District’s 70,000 empty seats, hodgepodge of grade configurations and program offerings, and widely varying building utilization rates.
Currently, the District enrolls roughly 155,000 students and uses about 67 percent of its building capacity, officials say. By 2014, enrollment is expected to drop to 145,000, but the District wants to reach 85 percent utilization, which would mean shedding over 40,000 seats.
Although the District is facing a projected budget shortfall of $629 million next year, officials said the primary goal of the “rightsizing plan” is not to narrow the gap, and cautioned against expecting major savings resulting from the plan.
"Even though the economic impact would help us, it would be better if the communities are stronger," said Nunery.
The full plan, which will detail all of the proposed closures and other changes, is now expected to be made public in October. That timeline will allow for three months of public comment before the SRC votes on the plan in January 2012.Philadelphia's timeline: discussion starts in April 2011 (actually, it's been ongoing prior to last week), plan announced in October 2011, SRC (their school board) vote in January 2012.
Providence's timeline: teacher firing and proposed school closings announced February 23 2011, schools proposed for closing named March 14, 2011, school board vote April 25, 2011.
Anyone who wishes could and should feel free to find fault with the Philly/Providence comparison. But it's hard to appreciate that the timeline of Philadelphia's plan to make more efficient use of its facilities operates at a scale that allows for community organization, education of folks in school communities who otherwise would have no meaningful opportunity to understand what's happening to their children and their neighborhood, time for decisionmakers and stakeholders to get up to speed--just more time for all of it, and more clarity about why changes need to happen and their significance (or financial lack thereof).