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Colorado joins turnaround effort

Colorado is among six states that will participate in a three-year “partnership zone” project in which small groups of low-performing schools would be organized under special management teams and allowed flexibility to improve achievement.

The first zone in Colorado could be created in time for the 2010-11 school year, said Rich Wenning, the state’s associate commissioner of education, on Tuesday. He noted, though, that much work needs to be done setting up the program.

The project is being organized by the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to improve achievement in struggling schools. The other participating states are Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York.

Mass Insight and the states hope to raise $30 million in private funding. The program also is designed to use $45 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from both School Improvement Grants and from Race to the Top.

The program is intended to run for three years with a two-year extension.

Here’s how the system is expected to work:

  • The states initially will create Partnership Zones in one or two participating districts. Each zone will contain three to five low-performing schools that would supervised by a “lead partner,” which could be an outside organization or a separate administrative unit within a district.
  • It’s intended that zones will have freedom to make their own staffing, curriculum and scheduling decisions in exchange for showing significant improvement in achievement over two years.
  • A significant part of each zone’s cost is expected to be driven by incentive pay for teachers and extra pay for extended learning time.

Wenning said the zones will be chosen by mutual agreement of districts and the Colorado Department of Education.

A recent state law, Senate Bill 10-163, creates a new system for accrediting districts and requires districts to prepare turnaround plans for their lowest-performing schools. Districts that propose a zone strategy for their weakest schools would be candidates for this program, Wenning said.

The Westminster and Pueblo City districts have expressed interest in the idea, according to CDE. A partnership zone could cost $750,000 to $1 million a year, Wenning said, but that could vary depending on the details of particular proposals.

Mass Insight study of school turnaround strategies

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