Transformation Waco Approves Management of Five Struggling Schools

On Tuesday, a newly formed nonprofit approved overseeing six schools in Waco for the next two years.

Five of those schools were at risk of closing earlier this year are part of the schools that will now be managed by Transformation Waco.

“It really sets the stage for the play that comes next. What can we do together: Transformation Waco, Waco ISD, Prosper Waco and other community partners, to help students at these campuses be successful,” Waco ISD Communications Director Kyle DeBeer said.

Denver Expands Its Experiment With More Autonomous ‘Innovation Zones’

Five more Denver schools will have additional freedom this fall from school district rules.

The school board voted unanimously Thursday to allow one school to join an existing “innovation zone” and another four to create a new one. Innovation zones represent a different way of managing schools that is somewhere between the traditional approach and that of charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run.

What We’ve Learned From Leading Schools in Denver’s Luminary Network — And How We’ve Used Our Financial Freedom

Three years ago, we were among a group of Denver principals who began meeting to tackle an important question: How could we use Colorado’s innovation schools law to take our schools to the next level?

As leaders of innovation schools, we already had the ability to make our own choices around the curriculum, length of school day, and staffing at our campuses. But some of us concluded that by joining forces as an independent network, we could do even more. From those early meetings, the Luminary Learning Network, Denver’s first school innovation zone, was born.

Denver’s Luminary Learning Network Shows How Innovation Zones Can Work for Teachers, Students, and Families

When we helped four school leaders launch an “innovation zone” in Denver two years ago, we weren’t sure where the journey would take us.

The guiding vision was for radical empowerment of the educators closest to the students. So we began simply by asking fundamental questions about who gets to make key decisions about new hires, schedule, curriculum, culture, and budget.

Springfield Teachers, Empowerment Zone Schools Praised by Gov. Charlie Baker

Two teachers who represented the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership during Gov. Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth speech said it is a testament to the work being done by administrators, teachers, parents and students.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Tammy Grimes, chairwoman of the special education department at the High School of Commerce, which was the first high school in the district to join the empowerment zone.

Denver’s First Innovation Zone: How It Got Built & Early Lessons

Education leaders, advocates, and policymakers interested in pushing more decision-making, budget flexibility, and ownership to the school level can hear lessons from Colorado’s first independently run innovation zone of public schools – thanks to a new case study and webcast discussion from Gates Family Foundation.

Innovation Partnership Zones, an educational Third Way

Back in late May, 2016, Empower Schools hosted an event called The Emerging Third Way featuring on-the-ground voices from Lawrence, Springfield, and Denver, as well as MA Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, MA Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester, and US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

Another featured voice was Representative Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education. In her reaction to the morning’s discussions Rep. Peisch said, “we constantly hear in the legislature from districts about their need to have more access to the kinds of flexibilities and autonomies that they get at the level 4 stage much earlier.” Today, Rep Peisch is leading a third way effort of her own by proposing legislation that would enable districts to access real autonomy and flexibility before schools fall into the underperforming category.

According to Scot Lehigh’s article in the Boston Globe, Innovation Partnership Zones, as they are called in Rep. Peisch’s proposal, share the same general structure as the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership: an independent, interlocking board of directors, a performance contract with the local district, and a pathway to a new, negotiated collective bargaining agreement that allows more teacher voice at the school level. The proposal allows Innovation Partnership Zones to be initiated by a district or by the commissioner in partnership with a district in an effort to improve schools before the require state intervention.

Empower’s CEO, Chris Gabrieli, concluded his comments at the Third Way event with the following statement:

“The Third Way is a broad river with several tributary streams that together can and should see themselves, ourselves, as one movement working to create new ways ahead fusing the best of districts and charters.”

We are excited to follow this third way effort to unlock autonomy for more districts and schools across Massachusetts, to give teachers and leaders more decision making power and resources, to build on promising practices, and to continue Massachusetts’ national educational leadership.

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