iZone growth

Griffin hiring more top leaders for expanding iZone

Sharon Griffin is the regional superintendent of Shelby County Schools' Innovation Zone in Memphis.

As Shelby County Schools prepares to grow its Innovation Zone for the fifth consecutive year, Regional Superintendent Sharon Griffin is expanding her leadership team that provides coaching for principals driving school turnaround work.

The charismatic chief of one of the school system’s most successful initiatives, Griffin will have three lieutenants next school year to help her oversee 22 schools, up from 18 this year.

Lionel Cable, a principal at one of the first iZone schools, is leaving Douglass K-8 to join the iZone leadership team as an instructional leadership director.

He joins Tonye Smith-McBride, a former principal at Treadwell Middle School, who came on board last May and has been coaching iZone principals with Griffin. A third director is expected to be hired for next school year. One will oversee elementary schools, another middle schools, and the third for high schools.

The new structure is necessary to support the steady growth of the iZone, which began in 2012 with seven schools and is in the process of adding four more.

“We want to grow leadership in the building,” said Smith-McBride. “We support principals just like our coaches support teachers.”

The iZone absorbs Memphis schools that are in the state’s bottom 5 percent and implements intensive turnaround strategies to improve student academic scores. Last year, most Memphis iZone schools saw gains in math and science on state TCAP exams, while more than a third bucked state and district trends and improved their scores in reading and language arts.

The district has been aggressively moving Memphis’ low-performing “priority” schools into the iZone, both to jumpstart improvement and to keep at bay the state-run Achievement School District. The ASD has authority under state law to remove priority schools from local control and implement school turnaround strategies, usually assigning them to established charter networks and providing support and flexibilities designed to foster improvement.

As the Innovation Zone enters its fifth year of operation next school year, leaders are rebranding the initiative from a “fix-it” zone to a long-term education improvement model, according to Griffin.

“We’re no longer just taking under-performing schools. We’ve taken them, but we’re also making sure that all of our students are reading on grade level and above. We’re going to be the new optional schools,” she said of the district’s higher-performing theme-based schools focusing on academic achievement.

Next school year, the district is moving Douglass, Mitchell and Westwood high schools and Westhaven Elementary School into the iZone. Westhaven, a newly constructed elementary school, will replace Fairley and Raineshaven elementary schools, which are closing this year.

The additions will complete several feeder patterns within iZone schools — a strategic move to create a consistent achievement pipeline for students, Griffin said.

Griffin also is in the process of hiring three content coaches for reading, math and science teachers for the upcoming iZone cohort.

Cable’s new job was effective March 1. The assistant principal will serve as the interim principal and Cable will continue to support the school.

Principal Lionel Cable (right) speaks last fall with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit last fall to Douglass K-8 school.
PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Principal Lionel Cable (right) speaks last fall with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit last fall to Douglass K-8 school.

“We’re not going to rush this decision. We want the iZone to continue to shine,” Cable told Chalkbeat. “Teachers have the most influence. Principals are a close second as far as who have the most influence on student achievement.”

Cable is completing his fifth year as principal at Douglass K-8 after four years at White Station Middle School as an assistant principal and five years as a band teacher at Ridgeway Middle School. Under Cable’s leadership in the turnaround model, Douglass K-8 saw testing score gains, moving from about 18 percent of students proficient or advanced in math in 2011 to more than 49 percent last year. In reading and language arts over the same period, the school went from 15 to almost 28 percent.

At Douglass, Cable hosted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last October during a visit to Memphis to discuss school turnaround work, among other things.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Cable would remain Douglass’s principal while working at the iZone until a replacement is found. District officials said the school’s assistant principal will become the interim principal, and Cable will support the school going forward.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”