Many a promising initiative is prevented or curtailed by the inflexibility of the school system. Bureaucratic responses often prove inadequate to deal with the complex and very site-specific challenges of school improvement.
Innovators in education are now thinking Îoutside the boxâ of centralized district policies and contracts which stifle creative solutions. Decentralization gives community partners the power and flexibility to develop high performance schools.
Flexibility means building-level decisions to improve student achievement. It means collaboration to combine community services in new ways. Flexibility means rules in central contracts can be waived by the professionals in the school to achieve learning goals for their students. It means school boards may commission unique school models to meet emerging needs. Flexibility means new choices in learning environments for students, parents and teachers.
Here are some examples of this new flexibility at work:
Boston Pilot Schools
The Boston Public School District has ten pilot schools operating outside the master collective agreement. A product of negotiations between the Boston Teachersâ Union and the School Board, they were formed as an alternative to charter school legislation. The project gave innovative teachers and the district the mechanism to provide school services in a new way not permitted by the master collective agreement. Staffing, for example, is based on school vision and needs, rather than on the contractual posting and filling process. The initiative began in 1994 with an RFP (request for proposal) issued by the school board. Pilot schools may be brand new schools, schools-within-schools or an existing school reconstituted. All are public, have open-catchment attendance and are exempt from many union and school board regulations. For more information call Boston Public School Board: (617) 635-9331.
Baltimore New Schools Initiative
Maryland school districts are breaking new ground by granting charter school contracts even though Maryland is not one of thirty states with charter laws. Marylandâs Department of Education affirms that school boards as local education authorities already have the Îauthority to accept applications, evaluate them, negotiate and to charter schools that benefit students within their jurisdictions.â In its first round of proposals in 1996, Baltimore City Public Schools approved seven new charter schools serving disadvantaged students. In 1997, BCPS issued a call for proposals to take over five identified low-performing district schools. The request for proposals mechanism ensures that schools will meet specific criteria required by the district and be held accountable through a contract for results. The required flexibility from the union contract and district policies which allows these schools to deliver their program is spelled out in the proposals approved by the Baltimore New Schools Initiative Advisory Board. For further information call Director Joanne Casson, (410) 396-8723.
Full Service Schools
Schools serving communities of highly disadvantaged students are pioneering new ways of integrating needed support systems into the school through contracts with other agencies. Attending to the needs of such children and families has previously required outside authority to ensure such changes take place. When schools are given budget control and authority they can contract for needed services such as pre-school and after-school services, parenting classes, meal programs, medical and other social services to be delivered through the school. Vaughn Charter School in Los Angeles has piloted this service model to create healthier learners with dramatic achievement gains over four years. For further information, call principal Yvonne Chan (818) 896-9036.
The Prince George School District (B.C.) has launched an initiative to increase public school choice. The policy was developed after a review indicating independent school enrollment within the district rose 31% over the past five years, while public school enrollment remained flat at 3.3%. To counter this trend, the district has published Different, not Better- Increasing Choice in our Schools, prepared by a district panel. The report underlines the importance of providing more educational options for parents, students and educators. The initiative includes an application kit for alternative school proposals from the community and a Choice Management Committee to assist in implementing approved proposals.