Six more Delaware schools added to Partnership Zone

Delaware’s Secretary of Education announced six more schools to join the state’s Partnership Zone, joining the four schools initially named to the Partnership Zone (PZ) last year.

Schools in the Partnership Zone are among the state’s lowest-performing, selected to work collaboratively with the state to dramatically improve student academics and achieve school turnaround.

The six schools named are:

Dover High School, Capital School District
Bayard Middle School, Christina School District
Bancroft Elementary School, Christina School District
William C. Lewis Dual Language Elementary School, Red Clay Consolidated School District
Marbrook Elementary School, Red Clay Consolidated School District
Stanton Middle School, Red Clay Consolidated School District

“With this designation, they will receive significant financial and technical assistance,” said Education Secretary Lillian Lowery.

Delaware’s Department of Education (DDOE) says PZ schools were chosen based on state reading and math tests, as well as things that can’t be measured in numbers.

“A lot of input from a lot of stakeholder groups… we work with people across department, in many departments, curriculum instruction, accountability, of course, Noreen LaSorsa and her team from the state turnaround unit,” said Lowery. 

“Being a part of the Partnership Zone schools, these additional six schools will have the benefit from the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding to implement one of the four reform models,” said Noreen LaSorsa, Chief Officer of the School Turnaround Unit (STU), a task force created to monitor PZ schools. 

The reform models PZ schools may choose from to kickstart the turnaround process include:

Closure – District closes the school and enrolls the students who attended that school into other schools.
Restart – District converts a school into a public charter school pursuant to the requirements of Chapter 5 of Title 14 of the Delaware Code, or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, a charter management organization or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
Transformation – School makes significant changes in its governance and operation, including making changes to teacher evaluation consequences and modifying instructional time.
Turnaround – School makes significant changes in governance, staffing and operation including removing at least 50% of the current staff.

Over the next three months, DDOE says PZ schools in this second tier will engage parents, students, educators and the community to develop a plan to improve student achievement, which might include longer school days or embedded time for teachers and staff to collaborate.

“Like the educators already working hard in these buildings each day, the state is committed to seeing these schools and their students succeed,” Lowery said. “The Partnership Zone brings additional resources and tools that will allow us to make that happen together.”

School Districts must select a reform model by November 17th and submit their PZ plans to Dr. Lowery by December 23rd. Final approval of those plans is expected January 21, 2012.

Lessons learned from Christina

Earlier this year, a controversy boiled over between DDOE and the Christina School District resulting in the state freezing more than $11 million in Race to the Top funds dedicated to the district.

The state claimed Christina’s school board voted against the reform agreement it pledged to implement at Stubbs Elementary and Glasgow High, two of the four inaugural schools named to the Partnership Zone last year. Both sides eventually worked out their differences, but Dr. Lowery is confident what we saw with Christina in April was a hiccup that will not pose a problem this time around.

“We’re at different places now because we know more and we’ve been experienced to more and we were collaborating more across the state to share practices,” said Lowery. “So I think differently what will happen at the school level is they start ahead of the curve now because they’ve had a year to kind of think about this for all their schools.”

“We’ve learned that we need to, and this is no surprise, make sure that everyone is communicating better, the details are paid attention to, so that all the staff, and everyone involved, understands their part and what’s going on and can be successful,” said Pam Nichols, spokeswoman for Delaware State Education Association, a union representing public school employees.

New Castle County Vo-Tech School District’s Howard High School of Technology and Positive Outcomes Charter School round out the four PZ schools selected last year.

Superintendents react

Superintendents from the school districts whose schools received PZ designation say they weren’t surprised by the news and added, in some cases, the wheels towards academic reform were already in motion.

“We see it as an opportunity, hopefully, to address the critical areas in the school that put the school in this category,” said Dr. Mike Thomas, Capital’s Superintendent.

“While we got the official word, we were anticipating. We understand that these schools are not where we want them to be, where they need to be, where we know they can be,” said Dr. Marcia Lyles, Superintendent of Christina School District. “We are looking at this as an opportunity to put into place some of the plans we already had, as well as explore different opportunities.”

“Yesterday I had a chance to speak to all three of the schools that will be involved and our viewpoint is it’s an opportunity to embrace the resources that we’re going to be able to provide for our students, to provide additional assistance to our teachers,” Red Clay Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty said. “We’re gonna move full steam ahead in working with our students and providing the necessary assistance they need to meet proficiency or above in DCAS and academic needs.”

DDOE says progress data for the first four PZ schools won’t be out until the end of the 2011-2012 academic year; second tier results are expected in 2013.

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