Learn more about the impact of our work
Support for Rural Colorado Schools
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threw school districts across the country into a state of turmoil. In rural Colorado, district and charter schools faced a unique set of challenges, pivots, and adaptations to an ever-evolving set of public health guidelines and disruptions to in-person learning. This context required tailored responses from philanthropic organizations serving Colorado’s rural communities.
To understand the needs and opportunities for supporting rural schools, Bellwether Education Partners interviewed 30 educators, nonprofit leaders, and funders and surveyed more than 80 rural district and charter school leaders in Colorado.
Bellwether’s case study, Support for Rural Colorado Schools: How Philanthropy and Districts Came Together to Serve Students in 2020, and report, Support for Rural Colorado Schools Survey: Opportunities for Philanthropy to Address District Needs* identify promising practices from funders’ early responses to the pandemic and pinpoint the most urgent needs of rural districts today, nearly two years after schools first closed their doors.
The Third Way: A guide to implementing innovation schools
Across the country, urban school districts are moving beyond industrial-era systems by creating “innovation” or “partnership” schools that have the freedom to reinvent the way they educate students. The Progressive Policy Institute released a how-to guide for legislators, district leaders, and advocates who want to create more of these 21st century schools: The Third Way: A Guide to Implementing Innovation Schools.
From Texas to New Jersey, from Colorado to Indiana, about 20 urban public school districts—and a few rural ones—are giving schools real autonomy, so school leaders make the key decisions, such as hiring and firing and controlling the budget. They are promising to hold these schools accountable for their performance and replace them if they fail their students, encouraging them to diversify their learning models, and letting families choose the schools that best fit their children.
The results so far have been impressive. In Indianapolis, “innovation network schools” are the fastest improving group of schools in the district. In Camden, N.J., reading proficiency in the district’s 11 “Renaissance schools” doubled and math proficiency quadrupled in their first four years.
The guide draws lessons from the experience of these and other districts, discusses key “success factors,” lays out implementation steps, and includes model state legislation to allow and encourage districts to create such schools.
READ THE FULL REPORT HERE
Autonomous schools: A new path to growing high-quality, innovative public schools
The Springfield empowerment zone partnership
This article is part of a Bridgespan Group research project that focuses on exploring the design features of “Innovation Zones” around the country, including efforts in Springfield and in Denver where Empower served as a design and launch partner.
Denver’s luminary learning network
From innovation schools to an innovation zone
SEZP, “city of firsts” profiled in new installment of CRPE series
The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership and the people involved in its design and initial implementation take center stage in a new paper by Ashley Jochim of The Center on Reinventing Public Education.
The new installment in CRPE’s Linking State and Local School Improvement series is titled The “City of Firsts” Charts a New Path on Turnaround and provides an in-depth look at the efforts underway in Springfield, MA. Jochim looks at SEZP as a turnaround strategy and a governance model, and discusses the Third Way (referred to in the paper as the “middle way”), highlighting the promise and innovation of the Empowerment Zone approach. Jochim says, “the arrangement offers a new angle on what it means for districts to ‘steer not row.’”
The case study follows the Nov 2016 release of Measures of Last Resort: Assessing Strategies for State-Initiated Turnarounds, a paper on the various approaches that states are using to improve underperforming schools. One of the takeaways from this paper was that in order for states to get the best results in their turnaround efforts, multiple approaches should be tried in a coordinated, strategic way.
Springfield Public Schools is one such example of a district using a ‘portfolio’ of turnaround approaches. The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership operates alongside other Springfield turnaround efforts and is narrowly tailored to a specific challenge facing the district. We continue to learn from the work taking place in Springfield and are excited to see what the future holds.