Educators are charged with the opportunity and the obligation to prepare young people for healthy and productive futures. They are expected to do this with skill, expertise, and finesse. In too many instances, schools lack adequately-equipped staff, access to enrichment, and enough time in the day to accomplish all that needs to be done. The result is that student achievement suffers and students’ prospects are limited. In some cases, more resources are necessary to address these issues, but in many instances, the wisest solution is for individual schools to be empowered to make decisions specific to their community’s needs. When schools are trusted to take responsibility for their students, creative solutions can emerge.
One path school leaders can take to increase their access to expertise, build a capable and effective team, and offer new and expanded opportunities for their students is through developing partnerships. Empower Schools believes that the open systems model, which allows school leaders to control key elements such as hiring, scheduling, budgeting, and curriculum, and provides them with the flexibility to develop constructive partnerships, can improve educational outcomes in struggling schools.
There are many examples of powerful collaborations that have greatly benefited students. But there is something more to the success than simply bringing together two organizations. When positive relationships are sought out by the parties involved, and pursued with a shared objective, the results can be dramatic. The Evansville, Indiana school district is having encouraging success in turning around a struggling school system. Unlike other districts which are forced by an outside authority to make changes as a result of perpetual poor performance, there are a more and more examples of administrators trying to get ahead of sanctioned turnarounds by seeking assistance on their own. The strategies adopted in Evansville are neither novel nor revolutionary, but they are unique in that they were carefully selected by a group of leaders within the community specifically considering their own needs and ways to best address them.
The School Committee in Springfield, Massachusetts made a decision similar to Evansville, by voting to create an Empowerment Zone. Schools within the zone will have flexibilities and autonomies to make decisions – such as partnering with non-district organizations – as a way to bolster student achievement. What is special about this? Aren’t districts making decisions every day on behalf of their students and to help them improve? Yes, but these partnerships are noteworthy because they generated within the district rather than being imposed from the outside. Resourceful arrangements between districts, school leaders, operators, and educational support organizations are showing extraordinary promise and we look forward to sharing this potential with more communities across the nation.