Operation Education: Assessing the Empowerment Zone after its first year

The South Bend Empowerment Zone’s first year has come to a close. Zone leaders are now evaluating what was accomplished, and what’s left to be done. 

The Empowerment Zone consists of five chronically underperforming schools — Navarre Middle School, and its four feeder elementary schools.

This is the first of five years for the Empowerment Zone.

One teacher who came from Fort Wayne says she had heard about low test scores, a transient student and teacher population, and inconsistent leadership. But after this year, she’s decided to stay because she sees the right ingredients for change.

Reporter Tolly Taylor asked Zone Chief Cheryl Camacho what letter grade she’d give the Zone after Year 1.

“I’m going to give us an A-plus for boldness and for remaining student and family-centered,” said Camacho.

Cheryl Camacho is finishing up her first year as the South Bend Empowerment Zone chief. But when she talks about changing the zone’s schools, it seems like she’s been there much longer.

Some students might soon get what they’ve long needed: More classroom time

Nearly everyone is wondering how to start what will be the most uncertain new school year of our lifetimes. I sense both fear and hope. It is going to be a mess, but that may inspire worthy innovations.


Here is my suggestion: For decades, the average American neighborhood school has ignored what appears to be one of the best tools for raising achievement — increased learning time. Why not do something about that? Many celebrated teachers have shown the power of stealing a few hours from lunch or after school. But policymakers remain uninterested.


We have been stuck for decades with just 6½ hours of school a day, five days a week, 180 school days a year. “It is a failure of imagination,” said Chris Gabrieli, one of the nation’s leading advocates for more time. “People are so inured to the system we have had that they cannot imagine just changing the parameters.”


Gabrieli, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has learned to live with his frustrations. He said the lack of sufficient time is wired into our schools in two ways: We have known no other system our whole lives, and teacher contracts in strong union states require that any schedule changes be negotiated.

Blog: To Our Community

To our community, 


We are heartbroken and angry. 


The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others before them are a manifestation of systemic racism. We stand with protesters across the country in their expressions of pain and outrage, and we vocally condemn police brutality and the systems that perpetuate it. These murders and widespread police aggression are not isolated incidents, but a horrific pattern that must stop now.


As an organization, Empower Schools was founded to transform the way schools and school systems operate to improve outcomes for students least well-served by the status quo. We are hopeful because through our work, we believe it is possible to dismantle systems of institutionalized inequality. Across the school partnerships we support, 80% of students are students of color, and at its core, our work aims to empower educators, and communities of color so that they can exercise the power that is rightfully theirs and has often been denied them by discriminatory systems.


This work is more important now than ever. We stand with the local leaders and boards of empowerment zones and partnerships around the country who fight for justice in their communities every day. We echo their unapologetic statements: black lives matter. We are proud of our teammates, who are reflecting on the ways that we can make a greater impact and embody our anti-racist values in all the work we do. 


And yet, we know we still have a long way to go. We will push every day to better live out our commitment to racial equity, and we will listen to internal and external black voices as we constantly strive to be more effective. As we continually learn and grow, we are determined to continue to fight for justice every day so that students and families, particularly in black and brown communities, have the excellent, equitable education they deserve. 


Beliefs are nothing without action and outcomes. We will continue to do the work, and we’re more committed now than ever. We hope that you will continue to stand with us.


In solidarity, 

Empower Schools

Of Houses and Hope: A Promising Fort Worth School Turnaround and the Closely Watched Policy Push Making It Happen

Fort Worth

As kids pass in the halls at Como Elementary, the undercurrent of joy about the school’s Harry Potter-style house system is palpable. Banners and other color-coded emblems on display at the Fort Worth, Texas, school identify the societies into which students and educators alike are organized.

Small faces light up when they see the coaches and administrators who are their adult housemates. Fists are bumped and, after a meeting where especially big accomplishments are celebrated, house logo T-shirts are shown off.

The multi-grade houses — philotimo, tolmao, ignosi and pistos, or honor, courage, knowledge and trust — get together once a week and celebrate wins. At the start of the year, the victories are typically small things that are important to building the school’s culture, like passing quietly from class to class. As the school year goes on, the effort needed to gain recognition rises.

John King Talks Teacher Diversity, Student Engagement, Budgeting, School Autonomy — and ‘Fauxtonomy’ — at Texas Education Reform Summit

John King may be the first U.S. secretary of education who was kicked out of high school. But he hopes he’s not the last.

King’s parents died before he finished sixth grade. By the time he was in high school, he was a hurting, angry kid who needed a lot of patience. He found it, he says, from teachers.

“Part of my story is about second chances and the willingness of adults to have more hope for me than I had for myself and to see me as more than the sum of my mistakes,” King said in a recent interview with Jeremy Smith, president of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, at a Fort Worth, Texas, summit co-hosted by the foundation and education reform nonprofit Empower Schools.

Transformation Waco schools show significant progress on STAAR exams

Students in Transformation Waco schools have made significant strides in their performance on state standardized exams in the past two years, even surpassing state average scores on some tests this year, CEO Robin McDurham said at a board meeting Tuesday night.

Three of the five Transformation Waco schools that are part of an in-district charter system designed to improve student achievement showed gains in reading and math scores over last year’s state standardized test scores, according to preliminary data released by the Texas Education Agency.

“We’ve come a long way since two years ago, when all five zone schools were at the bottom 5% in the state,” McDurham said. “The idea that we’re beating state averages in some areas right now — that’s a celebration.”

Alexander named executive principal of Lubbock Partnership Network

Cicely Alexander, current principal of Alderson Elementary, has been named the executive principal of the Lubbock Partnership Network.

According to a news release, the Lubbock Partnership Network is an innovative partnership with Lubbock ISD designed to continue improving learning outcomes at a group of schools in the Estacado feeder pattern by increasing their access to resources and providing the means to work together. Dunbar College Preparatory Academy and Alderson, Ervin, and Hodges elementary schools are under the LPN umbrella.

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