Early learnings, successes, and inspiration from Denver’s LLN

During our most recent visit to Denver we met with school leaders in Denver’s Luminary Learning Network (LLN), Denver’s first Innovation Zone, to catch up on what they were learning, where they were enjoying success, and what challenges they were trying to overcome. We also heard from school leaders not currently in the zone who were excited about the potential of having more autonomy, a change that they believe will enable them to drive student improvement at their schools. We left feeling more inspired by the people we work with and more confident in the promise of Zones and the ‘schools as the unit of change’ philosophy.

It has also been exciting to see Denver Public Schools leadership so enthusiastic about the promise of the Innovation Zone model that they are considering launching their own call for Zones and re-fashioning the district’s theory of action to reflect a ‘schools as the unit of change’ approach – a central tenet of Zone, and Empower Schools theory.

This article in Chalkbeat Colorado highlights some early successes, as well as how the LLN and DPS staff are learning together as this bold experiment plays out for the first time. It reaffirms for us that the role of the LLN is not to compete with the district, but to complement the district and to push the boundaries of what is commonly expected of school leaders and teachers. The LLN is about believing in the expertise and ability of school leaders and teachers and trusting that they know what is best for their schools and communities. This responsibility includes self-identifying the supports the schools, the leaders, and the teachers need to be successful and working collaboratively to get that support.

In this article, DPS and LLN Board member Mike Johnson might have summed it up best, “From my perspective, what’s really important isn’t whether I think or the (DPS) board thinks there have been successes,” he added. “It’s what the school leaders think. … Everything I’ve heard is it’s very positive. … That’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing is empowering school leaders and people in the building to really focus on their kids.”

Two issues to keep an eye on this year include 1) whether or not additional schools will be given a chance to demonstrate their readiness for the more autonomous environment afforded by the Zone, and 2) if additional budgetary flexibility will be granted to Zone schools in order to help them fully realize their existing autonomy.

Read the article in Chalkbeat Colorado:

Denver Public Schools wants to give more autonomy to more schools through expanding “innovation zone” experiment