A Fresh Approach to School Design

Through the School Redesign Initiative, the School District of Philadelphia seeks to identify and support teams to plan and implement research-based redesigns of their lowest performing schools to improve student academic performance.

“The School Redesign Initiative is a way to provide opportunity for many people on the local level to help engage in the work of improving the school system.”

Paul Kihn, Deputy Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia


Imagine this: a school in which pupils are taught in small groups in dynamic combined classrooms; where they go on expeditions in the city; where they can take a stock market or guitar class and go dragon boating after classes; where they continue to learn during summer breaks.

That’s the education plan developed by J.S. Jenks Elementary School in Chestnut Hill, one of four schools selected to take part in the School District of Philadelphia’s (District) School Redesign Initiative (SRI). The SRI seeks to implement innovative grassroots teaching and management models suitable for the 21st Century.

While straining financially to provide the basic educational necessities to its students, the District has harnessed a commodity as potent as money–the passion, hopes and visions of its teachers, parents and community–to create unique approaches to education based on the schools’ individual needs.

“This is a chance to actually be a key part of the plan and integral to the way things are done,” said a parent involved in the process. “This is the most excited I’ve been in seven years.”

In addition to Jenks, the schools participating in the pilot of the SRI are:  Chester A. Arthur Elementary School in South Philadelphia, which will partner with the Science Leadership Academy and use its inquiry-based approach; Laura H. Carnell Elementary School in Oxford Circle, which will employ project-based learning; and Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia, which will implement a technology-rich, blended learning approach to instruction.

The schools will be provided technical assistance as they develop their redesign, as well as consultations with scholars and innovators.  Their teams also will visit schools that have implemented similar instructional models. SRI will advance the District’s goal of researching, identifying and implementing more effective methods of reaching the needs of all students.

“We really think that providing this kind of space and opportunity is something that’s incredibly energizing and empowering to our teachers, principals and community members and gives us a way to leverage their strengths and energy,” said Ryan Stewart,  Executive Director of the Office of School Improvement and Innovation, who is overseeing SRI.

“Hopefully we’re going to attract and retain a lot of people who see this as an opportunity to do something that’s really in line with the reason they got into education and educational leadership in the first place,” Stewart said. Money may be tight but vision and vitality may well save the day.

Catalyst Fund Investment

September 2014
$300,000/24 months

Funding supports The School District of Philadelphia’s School Redesign Initiative which provides school stakeholders with the time, resources and support needed to develop and implement research-based school redesigns that will accelerate student learning.

Why We Funded

  • Fresh approach to school redesign
  • Potential to spur change
  • Readiness to implement new ideas
  • Supports the District’s Action Plans 2.0 & 3.0

Learn More


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