School Spotlight: James G. Blaine Academics Plus Elementary School

The process of transformation began almost one year ago for Blaine Academics Plus School, when Principal Gianeen Powell applied for and secured a $1.5 million turnaround grant. Blaine, a District neighborhood school located in North Philadelphia, is a traditionally under-performing school with about 40% of students scoring proficient on the PSSAs. Principal Powell, with the support of staff and the surrounding community, knew something drastic needed to change in order to put the students of Blaine on a different trajectory.

Building a strong school-wide community was one of Blaine’s top goals. During the planning year, Principal Powell gathered parent and family input through monthly community meetings and surveys to strengthen their mission and vision. Over the summer, collaborative school-based teacher teams developed curriculum in conjunction with the Philadelphia Writing Project. Blaine has implemented a re-vamped positive behavior system created in partnership with Devereux, scheduled additional grade group teacher planning time throughout the week, and attracted over 25 community partners to support enrichment and extra-curricular activities.

In order to raise the expectation for students, Blaine teachers have worked to raise their own standards for excellence. With the help of the extra funds, teachers were able to begin the school year early, attend professional development, and build relationships with new and returning colleagues. Grade group leader Maureen Brower, notes, “I feel much happier coming here. I have a team that wants to make a difference [and] wants to work together.”

Technology, although not new at the school, is also more abundant this year. Blaine boasts a 2:1 student-to-laptop ratio and interactive whiteboards in almost every classroom, giving students access to motivational and personalized learning. This movement coincides with Blaine’s overall shift in leveraging student data to improve performance and increase professional development for leadership. This summer, Principal Powell was accepted into the Relay GSE Master National Principals Academy Fellowship and attended a summer intensive institute on instructional leadership. Blaine’s site-based teacher leader, Jamal Dennis, was accepted into the rigorous PhillyPLUS program. With these additional supports and a re-designed leadership team, the school will use data-driven instruction to drive professional development and monitor increases in student achievement.

The staff also gave the school an interior makeover to set a new tone. College pennants, brightly colored bulletin boards, and cherry red pillars can be found throughout the hallways. Blaine alumnus, Serena Smith, whose aunt, grandmother, and now own children have also attended Blaine, remarked, “I go to my daughter’s classroom, and there’s all the flags in the hallways. In the morning they call classes by college names and not numbers. They are instilling the idea of college in the kids at such young age.” Creating a college-going culture is a part of Blaine’s new ambitious mission statement.

With higher expectations for students and staff, more supports for student learning and personal development, and increased opportunities for teacher leadership, Blaine is poised to become an example of excellence in the School District of Philadelphia.

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