Select Page

Our Approach

National in scope, locally driven

We are a nonprofit that partners with communities to develop sustainable solutions that improve student success at school and in life. We help partners organize structures and conditions that empower the educators, innovations, and improvements sought. Because each partnership is unique to the local context, our work includes:

Helping thriving district schools accelerate their success

Pioneering approaches to school improvement

Implementing new designs that push beyond traditional structures

We work at the boundaries of practice and policy helping our partners leverage state and local policies that enable their goals, as well as participating in the dialogues that shape productive policies. We always serve local leaders and we work to build on local assets while also enabling access to best-in-class regional and national partners and people. At times, we have even helped incubate new entities to fill local needs.

“Empower Schools offered a way of setting effective foundations to support high levels of school autonomy and accountability. We are able to maintain a dignified and appropriate environment for the adults in our schools while ultimately focusing on the impact we make on our students and their families. We owe our existence to Empower Schools.” 

Matt Brunell, Co-Executive Director for the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership

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 has 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

A new path to growing high-quality, innovative public schools

This report from Public Impact considers how U.S. school districts increasingly create autonomous district schools to give their schools the flexibility afforded to charter schools, in an effort to provide high-quality, innovative, and diverse public schools at scale. Like charter schools, autonomous district schools are exempt from some policies governing state-funded schools, and they have autonomy over some staffing, curriculum, budget, and operational decisions. They may be operated or supported by external school management organizations, but they remain part of the school district, which holds them accountable for their performance through contracts or alternative governance structures. This report, developed with the support of the Walton Family Foundation, examines autonomous district school models, how they differ from traditional district and charter schools, and design and implementation elements that districts should consider when creating autonomous district schools.

Read the full report here

Geographies

Click each state below to learn more.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

Serving over 29,000 students across the US

Empower Schools adds capacity, expertise, and strategy to empower communities to drive local solutions and realize the hopes they have for their kids. No two communities are the same, and each community deserves more than one-size-fits-all solutions. Our support is truly customized to the needs and desired outcomes of each of our partners. Take a look at the map above to learn more about our work in each state.

 

Massachusetts

Empower was founded in 2013 after serving as the design and launch partners for the Lawrence Public Schools Receivership, helping to craft their district-wide turnaround strategy. We collaborated with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Springfield Public Schools, and the Springfield Education Association to help design, launch, and initially implement the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, a groundbreaking partnership designed to accelerate student achievement in the City of Springfield’s most underperforming district schools. Since 2016, we have helped lead the Massachusetts Early College Initiative and support design and implementation of the Early College Promise initiative in several Massachusetts Early College High Schools.

Colorado

Empower began working in Colorado in 2015, when it partnered with educators, the Gates Family Foundation, and Denver Public Schools to design and launch the groundbreaking Luminary Learning Network (LLN). Since that time, Empower Schools has supported the design and launch of two additional Innovation Zones in Denver, the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone and Beacon Network Schools. Outside of Denver, Empower has supported the creation of multi-district, multi-sector collaboratives in Fremont County, Southwest Colorado, and the San Luis Valley. These pioneering approaches to rural innovation are showing what is possible when communities share resources in new ways to ensure students across the region are equipped for college and career success.

Texas

Since 2018, we have worked at the state, district, network, and campus level to transform outcomes for Texas students. As an Executive Advisor team through the Texas Education Agency’s System of Great Schools, we advise district leadership teams providing high-quality, best-fit options for every child in the district. In partnership with local leaders and educators, we have launched and/or supported nine autonomous SB1882 partnership networks leading 29 campuses across ten districts: Transformation Waco in Waco, TX; Rural Schools Innovation Zone in Premont, Freer, and Brooks County, TX; Lubbock Partnership Network in Lubbock, TX; the Leadership Academy Network (in partnership with Texas Wesleyan University) in Fort Worth, TX; East Texas Advanced Academies in Longview, TX; Third Future Schools in Ector County and Midland, TX; and School Innovation Collaborative and Public School Partners in Benavides, TX. These networks serve more than 14,000 students across the state.

California

Empower has been partnering with districts and communities in California since 2018, supporting educators, community members, and district partners to explore opportunities to empower their district schools with more decision-making power. In 2020, we helped launch the California Coalition for Empowered District Schools whose mission is to serve as a collaborative hub that convenes, connects, catalyzes, and communicates best practices, resources, and expertise to support the launch, growth, and success of empowered district school communities to improve outcomes for California’s historically and systemically underserved students.

Indiana

Empower has been working in Indiana since 2019. We partnered with the South Bend Community School Corporation and the Indiana State Board of Education to help design and launch the South Bend Empowerment Zone, which is an innovative district partnership charged with transforming five of South Bend Community School Corporation’s schools. In the Spring of 2021, Empower was selected by the Indiana Department of Education to help lead a consortium of Local Education Agencies to support strategic planning and maximize the impact of federal COVID relief funding.

Louisiana

Empower has been working in Louisiana since 2018, partnering with both districts and the Louisiana Department of Education. Empower Schools has supported the development of Transformation Zones in several districts across the state, directly supporting East Baton Rouge Parish as it developed its Innovation Network and helping other districts assess ongoing implementation of their Transformation Zones. Currently, Empower Schools is supporting two school systems in Louisiana as part of the state’s Strong School Systems pilot initiative. These partnerships are strengthening district capacity to effectively support successful schools.