How can districts create the flexibility and culture of innovation and continuous improvement often associated with charters with the commitment to serving all students and engaging democratic voice of traditional districts to increase student achievement at scale? This question is at the core of the work happening at four Innovation Schools proposing the formation of an Innovation Zone in Denver, CO, a district at the forefront of portfolio work nationally.

At Empower, we have been working to address this question in Massachusetts. In Springfield we worked with the district, civic and community leaders, and the state to create an autonomous zone of schools overseen by an independent governing body with the goal to improve student achievement rapidly. These nine middle schools have flexibility to choose their own curricula, define staffing patterns and own the recruitment and hiring process, design a daily schedule and yearly calendar, and to budget at the school level to make all of these things happen. All of these flexibilities are made possible by a new, cutting edge collective bargaining agreement and in exchange for additional accountability for academic and operational outcomes.

What makes the Denver effort so extraordinary is the zone is being initiated by school leaders with a proven track record of using autonomies well and is supported by a Board of Education that is picking excellence over control. In other places where this kind of work is happening, it is either the district or the state promoting it. While the district and Board of Education is leading the way to grant educators flexibility, we are most encouraged by this group of school leaders taking the initiative to make this bold change in order to improve, not just react or comply with existing policy.

Read more about the effort to create an Innovation Zone in Denver in Chalkbeat Colorado, here.