Guest Post: First 'Innovation School' opens in Massachusetts—like a charter, but inside the district

This blog post originally appeared on the Education Innovating blog run by Education Evolving from 2010 to 2011. It has now been merged into our main blog.

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Paul Dakin is Superintendent of Paul Revere Public Schools, in Massachusetts. The Paul Revere School is the first of two new Innovation Schools in that state, which are schools inside school districts with autonomy reflective of the chartering sector. Mass. Secretary of Education Paul Reville wrote a guest post recently for Education Innovating describing the new law.

Revere Massachusetts is located adjacent to and north of Boston. The urban community serves a population made up of 71 percent children of poverty and 55 percent non-white. Revere Public Schools is made up of 6,200 students in eleven schools.

Like urban communities throughout the state and country, the Revere Public Schools (RPS) strives to close achievement gaps between the sub-group populations. As a result, the Revere Teachers Association (RTA) and the Central Office have formed a collaborative progressive relationship that has resulted in Memorandum of Understandings for two Expanded Learning Time Schools (there are 22 in the state) and an Innovation School, the first in the state that opened in August 2010.

It is the vision of the Paul Revere Innovation School that these in-district public schools authorized by the School Committee and lead by a Board of Directors can operate like charter schools with increased autonomy with regard to curriculum, staffing, professional development, school schedule, budget, and district policies. It is our belief that successful in-district innovation schools will reduce the need for additional charter schools.

In 2009, after both the School Committee and RTA agreed to increase the autonomies at the Paul Revere School, the starting point was for the staff to hire a new principal. That decision rested solely in the power of what was a developing innovation implementation team, the RTA, and consultation by the Superintendent as requested. That alone was the first signal to the community that the Paul Revere was operating differently than our other schools. From that point on, the principal and staff worked on the school mission and philosophy for the entire 2009-2010 school year. As next steps, the team developed a program that resulted in:

  • Structured Advisory for all students to improve social-emotional engagement;
  • New assessments including progress report and exhibitions;
  • A contract with ANET data systems to organize student progress data to inform instruction;
  • Development and implementation plan for Project-based Learning in science and social studies to prepare students with 21st skills and knowledge;
  • Implementation of an Inclusion model to increase achievement for students with special needs;
  • A new schedule and program for English Language Learners to increase achievement;
  • Changes in the school calendar and weekly schedule to increase student learning time;
  • Creation of a Governing Board with increased responsibilities to ensure implementation of the vision and mission including parents, staff, administration, community members, and partners; and
  • Presentation to the larger community a Professional Development model and plan aligned to our school-wide goals.

With only the first month of school in session, it is evident that the teachers and staff have a renewed focus from the empowerment granted by the School Committee and Superintendent. It is my belief that time will tell that Massachusetts in-district Innovation Schools will offer more opportunities, at a lower cost, to close the traditional sub-group achievement gaps than we have seen from Charter Schools.

We believe in public school education and realize that we must change the way we do business in order to survive. It is this type of collaboration between urban educator teacher unions, the Superintendent’s Office and School Committee that will truly lead to higher levels of student achievement.

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