Illinois targets struggling schools with new ‘Partnership Zones’

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Illinois partners with Mass Insight and five other states in public-private initiative to improve lowest-performing schools


SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced it will participate in a three-year, $75-million public-private partnership with five other states to develop long-term reform strategies for their lowest-performing schools. Illinois was selected to join the initiative, along with Colorado , Delaware , Louisiana , Massachusetts and New York by Mass Insight Education and Research Institute, a Boston-based non-profit education organization focused on closing achievement gaps.

“We’re excited to work with these states and Mass Insight to identify and implement new strategies to turn around struggling schools,’’ said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “This initiative, funded by an unprecedented amount of federal dollars and private donations, calls for dramatic broad-scale interventions.’’

 The Partnership Zone Initiative will be funded by a variety of private and public sources, including increased federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Additional money for these six states could also be awarded through the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program.

The states will initially establish Partnership Zones in a limited amount of districts with clusters of low-performing schools that will serve to demonstrate the success of a more strategic approach to turnaround. Each cluster of schools will be teamed with a lead partner, an organization that directly supports principals in turning around schools. Lead partners are experienced turnaround leaders selected by districts that have been pre-qualified by the State Board of Education.  The Illinois Partnership Zone will also include assistance from “Supporting Partners” who will help the district and lead partners improve the effectiveness of teachers and principals in Partnership Zone schools.

Illinois will likely select the initial Partnership Zone participants from the 12 districts or Local Education Authorities (LEAs) that have signed on to accelerate improvement efforts as “Super LEAs’’ in the state’s Race to the Top Application. Schools chosen for the Partnership Zone will be given a higher degree of priority to receive funding through Illinois ‘ share of federal school improvement grants, and may receive as much as $750,000 per school year for three years.  

Much of the additional funding will go toward increased teacher compensation to support extended learning time, intensive professional development and incentive pay in Partnership Zone schools.

Illinois’ Super LEAs, as identified in the state’s Race to the Top Application, are:

  • Community Unit School District 300
  • De Pue Unit School District 103
  • Decatur School District 61
  • Kankakee School District 111
  • Meridian Community Unit School District 101
  • Peoria School District 150
  • Plano Community Unit School District 88
  • Rich Township High School District 227
  • Rockford Public Schools District 205
  • Elgin Unit School District 46
  • Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215
  • Zion-Benton Township High School District 126

The Partnership Zone is a hybrid model that combines the benefits of a district with the operating flexibilities most frequently associated with charter schools. Zone schools remain inside the district and may continue to tap into the efficiencies of many districtwide services. However, Zone schools also give school level leaders the freedom to make staffing, scheduling, curriculum and salary decisions, in return for being held accountable for dramatic student achievement gains within two years.

The six states were selected for this group based on:

  • A commitment to the Partnership Zone framework set forth in Mass Insight’s 2007 report, The Turnaround Challenge;
  • A commitment to investing the resources necessary for successful turnaround; and,
  • Alignment and support of state leadership.

States plan to launch Partnership Zones on a flexible but aggressive timeline; with some states, including Illinois , implementing zones as early as the 2010-11 school year.

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