– The Philadelphia School Partnership is scheduled to announce Tuesday that is awarding the DePaul Catholic School in Germantown $500,000 over three years to start a blended-learning program to improve students’ academic performance and help the elementary school expand. The grant will allow incorporation of individualized online instruction into its classes. 

DePaul-MuralDePaul is working with Seton Education Partners, a New York nonprofit organization that has developed a model called Phaedrus, which uses technology to make Catholic schools more financially viable.

(Mural painted by Br. Mark Elder CM and students.)

While the model has been used successfully at schools in San Francisco and Seattle, DePaul will be the first in the East to try it. “For them to choose us in the city of Philadelphia to be a Phaedrus school is enormous,” said Al Cavalli, president of the nonprofit Independence Mission Schools.

Under the program, core academic subjects are divided into two periods. While half the students work on computers using guided instruction, the teacher leads the others in small-group instruction. Groups switch for the second half of the period. Teachers use data from the students’ work on computers to identify areas that need to be stressed in class.

Cavalli said DePaul would begin the program with kindergarten and first and second grades in the fall. The school, which has 280 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, hopes the model will allow it to grow to 540 students in four years. Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said the approach enables a school to add students without having to hire more teachers. “We’re excited because if this model could work at one Catholic school, it could be rolled out across a number of Catholic schools and increase their financial sustainability,” he said. “This goes to the heart of what mission schools are all about,” Gleason said. “By removing them from the archdiocese and putting them into an independent structure, you allow them to be more nimble to take advantage of opportunities like this.”

Sister Cheryl Ann Hillig, principal of DePaul Catholic, said in a statement that the program would allow her school “to customize learning and provide a great education to more students.” DePaul is among 14 former parish schools in low-income neighborhoods named mission schools. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput last week turned the schools over to the nonprofit Independence Mission Schools. The schools enroll 4,200 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade. All but one – St. Cyril of Alexandria in East Lansdowne – are in Philadelphia. The mission concept is based on the successful model of St. Martin de Porres School in North Philadelphia, which has increased enrollment, stabilized finances, and added programs since it became independent nearly three years ago.