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Principals at some most improved schools share strategies

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Principals at schools that made big jumps in performance this year are sharing their strategies for success. 

When Shakeera Warthen took over as principal of Bregy Elementary in South Philadelphia five years ago, the school barely registered on the district’s 1-to-100 measure called the School Progress Report.

“I received the SPR score from the year prior and it was a seven. That was very shocking to me. I had conversations with the staff, ‘Do you understand what a seven means?’  So yes, we could only go up. But we could also go down. So we just really started looking at our practices, what we’re doing and how we can support children,” Warthen said.

She put staff in positions where they fit best, and the school’s teacher retention rate is near 100%.  Bregy now has an SPR of 52.

At Lankenau Environmental Science High School in Roxborough, where the SPR went up from 35 three years ago to 63 now, principal Josh Levinson encouraged students to take charge of their progress.

“Having students set goals for themselves, and we compare data from last year and if they were absent for six times, it may be setting a goal to only be absent three times this year.  And focusing in and really having students know and own their data,” Levinson explained.

Related: Philly schools mark another year of incremental improvement

And at Forrest Elementary in Mayfair, the SPR jumped to 51, up from 20 last year.  

“As a leadership team we did determine that everything we would do moving forward — every decision we made, every purchase we made, every hiring we made would be intentional and purposeful. There would be nothing done randomly,” said principal Paul Spina.

The school climate was never an issue at Hunter Elementary in Kensington, but principal Heather Mull-Miller says establishing a system of restorative justice with a youth court has made a big difference.

“It’s really important that we send a message to all of our students that when you make a mistake we’re not going to push you away and suspend you. We’re going to hold you closer. We’re going to hold onto you and we’re going to teach you about how to make a better choice the next time,” she said.

Hunter went from 28 to 45 in the report.

At Ben Franklin Elementary in Lawncrest, principal Roslynn Sample-Green says it’s about getting parents involved.

“We give them a book in their hand. We may show them a strategy to use for reading with the book. And they have a packet. So we know our parents are dropping children off and then moving on to work, they don’t have time to sit for 45 minutes. So we try to meet them where they are,” Sample-Green explained.

Franklin’s SPR was 53, up from 40 the year before.  

And at Lea Elementary in West Philadelphia, principal ShaVon Savage says the way her kids successfully lobbied for a middle school recess empowered them.

“Making sure that the students know and understand not just their academics but also their place in the citizenry of Lea has been, I guess, my biggest achievement,” Savage said. 

The SPR is the district’s annual measure of test scores, progress, school climate, and college and career readiness.

Overall, district and charter schools combined for a 44 SPR, up from 42 the year before.

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