The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Progress Report on Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
December 8, 2017

This memo provides an update about our work with the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership.

The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP) is an innovative, voluntary partnership of the SEZP Board, Springfield Public Schools (SPS) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department), in close collaboration with the Springfield Education Association (SEA), aimed at rapidly improving outcomes for Springfield's middle and high school students. The Empowerment Zone was created in 2014 to manage nine underperforming SPS middle schools serving roughly 80 percent of the Springfield district's students in grades six through eight. This fall, the High School of Commerce - a Level 4 high school serving approximately 1,150 students - also joined the Empowerment Zone.

The Empowerment Zone is pioneering an approach that utilizes school-level autonomy, a diverse set of management approaches for the individual schools, and joint state/local governance. School leaders and educators at each school are empowered to make key decisions on resource allocation, staffing, scheduling, curriculum, and professional development. SEZP leadership believes that communities thrive when great educators are empowered to run schools and are simultaneously supported and held accountable for their students' results, and that this strategy will increase student achievement in a collaborative and sustainable way.

Since 2014, SEZP has supported leaders and educators to make bold changes in school programming with new autonomies. SEZP has also made several organizational changes in schools - bringing in a non-profit school manager (UP Education Network) and school leaders with a track record of success. At the High School of Commerce, SEZP launched an Honors Academy this fall and is supporting a local team of parents, students, educators and community partners through an intensive school redesign planning year. The current list of schools managed by SEZP includes:

  1. Forest Park Middle School
  2. UP Academy Kennedy
  3. Kiley Middle School
  4. Duggan Academy
  5. Chestnut Academy
  6. Chestnut Impact Prep
  7. Chestnut Talented and Gifted Middle School
  8. Van Sickle Academy
  9. Van Sickle Rise Academy
  10. High School of Commerce (including a new Honors Academy launched this fall)

Background about the formation of SEZP

The SEZP Board, which includes three city and district representatives and four representatives appointed by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, oversees the Springfield Empowerment Zone. The SEZP Board members include: Mayor Dominic Sarno, School Superintendent Daniel Warwick, School Committee Member Chris Collins, as well John Davis, James Morton, Beverly Holmes and Chris Gabrieli, who chairs the SEZP board.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 69, §1J(i) permits a superintendent to select a non-profit entity to operate a school designated as Level 4 (underperforming). The non-profit entity has full managerial and operational control of the school. This is the initial pathway by which the Springfield superintendent appointed SEZP to govern the schools. The Springfield School Committee ratified the superintendent's selection of SEZP through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SEZP and Department.

The SEZP was launched by Empower Schools in 2014. In February 2017, Zone management transitioned to Co-Executive Directors Colleen Beaudoin and Julie Swerdlow Albino, who report to the SEZP Board and, along with a small team, support the Empowerment Zone schools.

Through the MOU, SPS has delegated full operational and managerial control of the schools, and direct control of about 85 percent of all per-student funding, to the SEZP Board. SPS provides facilities and key operational supports in areas such as human resources, student enrollment, transportation, and facilities maintenance, and delegates educational and programmatic decision-making to the SEZP Board and its schools.

Similarly, the SEZP Board has negotiated a separate collective bargaining agreement with the Springfield Education Association that supports its school empowerment framework and is substantially similar to the collective bargaining agreement adopted in Lawrence. This agreement - which was ratified by 92 percent of Empowerment Zone educators - provides for working conditions to be set at the school level by the principal and a Teacher Leadership Team working collaboratively; establishes an extended school day with a stipend for teachers that is affordable for the district; and creates a new career ladder that includes teacher leadership positions.

Summary of Key Ongoing Initiatives

SEZP's work is focused on three key priorities:

  1. Support to Schools: SEZP believes the cultural shift to school empowerment requires providing schools with high-quality, opt-in supports and networking opportunities to share best practices across schools:
    1. SEZP has orchestrated opt-in partnerships with local, state, and national experts that school teams can leverage for support. Core support partners include UnboundED, Student Achievement Partners, Achievement Network, Teaching & Learning Alliance, TNTP, and Teach Western Mass.
    2. SEZP has developed a best practice guide to school turnaround - a shared language across the Empowerment Zone about the practices of high-quality schools - and has created a learning network of principals focused on implementation of these practices. SEZP also provides targeted school coaching on these practices.
    3. SEZP has doubled its Empowerment Academies program - which showed successful results in a Harvard research study - to serve more than 20 percent of Zone students this year during February vacation. In addition, SEZP launched a winter Saturday English Learner Academy designed to support additional targeted learning for English learner students through a combination of blended learning and live instruction.
  2. Configure for Success: SEZP believes in establishing high standards for school success and making bold changes to address persistently low-performing schools:
    1. In consultation with Empowerment Zone principals and the SEA, the SEZP Board approved the "Roadmap to Student Success," a multi-measure performance framework that provides a holistic snapshot of school performance including observable school practices, multiple stakeholder perspectives, school health indicators, and state test scores.
    2. EZP continues to support UP Education Network and new school leaders recruited as "Founders' Fellows." These leaders have developed new programs that are expanding one grade per year as a replacement for an existing low-performing school.
    3. A full-time Project Director, Matt Brunell, is serving as a the SEZP facilitator for the Commerce Design Team, a school-based team composed of parents, students, educators and community partners. This team has been engaged to learn about high-performing school models and develop a redesign plan for Commerce based on the unique needs of Commerce students. The Design Team has developed a blueprint for a personalized pathways program which will launch in Fall 2018 for all incoming 9th graders and grow one grade at a time.
  3. Effective Foundations: SEZP is intentionally focused on enhancing its partnerships with all stakeholders and establishing systems to support the sustainability of school and Zone progress
    1. SEZP and SEA have partnered on a year-long professional learning sequence for building administrators, building representatives, and Teacher Leadership Team members to ensure collaborative decision-making structures take root in SEZP schools.
    2. SEZP continues a close partnership with SPS departments to refine district processes for Empowerment Zone schools and implementation of the MOU.
    3. SEZP has invested in school-level coaching to engage families as core partners in student success in SEZP schools.

Results after Years 1-2

The SEZP Board initially set a goal for all Zone schools to reach a median Student Growth Percentile (SGP) of 50 or above in both English Language Arts and math. This represents a significant increase compared to prior years. In SY 14-15, for the Empowerment Zone as a whole, median SGPs were 37 in ELA and 37 in math.

For SY 2016-2017, SEZP's results for its nine middle schools were as follows:

The Board will have an opportunity to discuss SEZP with Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, SEZP Board Chairman and co-founder of Empower Schools Chris Gabrieli, and the SEZP Co-Executive Directors on December 19, 2017.