Partnership Zone: Not Just the Same Old School Improvement

January 5th, 2011

Category: News

Despite the challenges that Partnership Zone schools and their communities have faced over the last three months, their initial plans demonstrate the will to do something different. Whether they will be different enough is the question.

Feedback on plans submitted by Glasgow and Howard High, Stubbs Elementary, and Positive Outcomes Charter Schools is expected tomorrow.  These plans—all transformation— have the potential to be different from previous school improvement efforts, as they involve significant engagement, negotiations with the local unions, and exploration of best practices around the country. They also bring together in a more thoughtful way various funding streams, including Race to the Top (RTTT) Partnership Zone Funds, School Improvement Grant (SIG) Funds, Title I, Title II, and State and Local Funds. These schools have tackled critical success areas with new energy, which leaves me optimistic about the possibilities for change:

  • No Excuses Attitude: Schools are using more and more aggressive measures, including multiple measures of student achievement throughout the year and measures of the school climate as benchmarks of success.
  • Top Talent:  Staff in some schools must re-interview for their positions to ensure that they are committed to the new direction of the school, and schools have developed compensation plans to recruit the best and the brightest. 
  • Freedom to Act: Schools will gain greater flexibility on hiring from memoranda of agreement with local unions.  For example, some schools proposed that new teachers be hired based on merit, rather than seniority, which may have been one of the late-stage challenges in the Christina school district.
  • More Time:  The Department of Education set a target of 15% more time for students, and schools have proposed longer school days, longer school years, online opportunities, dual enrollment opportunities, volunteering, internships, and summer programs. 
  • Meaningful Community Engagement:  Several schools have proposed a family liaison position, which has been a welcome support at Bayard Middle and other Delaware schools.   

Once the plans are approved by DOE, the big question is: will these plans and resources yield dramatically different results? They can…if the changes mentioned above are more than token efforts… if the right people in the building and in the district are committed to the new vision and energized…and if they have clarity about who is accountable and responsible. The challenges of too many moving parts without a “lead partner,” who can manage partners and direct a new vision for a school, remain. And the conditions in the schools are not as flexible as election-to-work agreements, which are recommended by national experts, would provide.

Even if some of the funds (up to $2M per school) go to laptops, fitness equipment, pizza nights, and slews of contractors as proposed, the leverage the Partnership Zone provides might just push us all to do something different this time—we hope far enough that significant achievement gains can be made by 2013.

Madeleine Bayard



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