Ackerman excited about Promise Academies
by Dale Mezzacappa on Feb 05 2010
One of the options in the Renaissance Schools process is the so-called Promise Academy, which will be a "turnaround" school under the direct control of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, or a team of staff in her office.
While that might seem like a contradiction in terms - how can it be "turnaround" if the same people running the District are running this school - it isn't, according to the way officials describe it.
A little background first: The four models for "turnaround" are charter conversion, contract schools, innovation schools, and Promise Academies. The first two involve outside turnaround teams, the second two, turnaround teams made up of District educators.
Innovation teams can be anyone in the District - a principal, team of teachers - who can show a track record of success at increasing student achievement, develop a plan, and sell itself to a School Advisory Council. The councils, which are being organized starting this month at all 14 "Renaissance Eligible" schools, get to recommend to the District which turnaround team would be best for their school.
But there will be just one Promise team, and that will be run by Ackerman. And since she is the same person who will be making the final decision on matching turnaround teams with schools, how will that work? Will she and her team also have to sell themselves to the community?
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said, in essence, yes - while cautioning that the intricacies of this relationship are still being developed.
"The offer will be made to a School Advisory Council if you want to become a Promise Academy," he said, "[but] when you do that is after they go through the evaluation and the evaluation says this school is not ready for either contract, charter, or Innovation." School review teams are conducting those evaluations this month.
At the same time, he added, the superintendent "has made it very clear that this is not going to be something forced upon the community. The District is going to have to sell it to the council." If the community doesn't choose to become a Promise Academy, "then it will continue to be an Empowerment School."
Ackerman said in an interview last week that she is very excited about the Promise Academy idea - that she in fact would love to become a turnaround principal.
Promise Academies, those are the ones that are actually going to be superintendent-led," she said. "Like the Chancellor's schools in New York or the Boston Pilot schools. This is my dream....I'm so happy.
"I'm going to be very hands-on. I wish I could be a principal in one of these schools," she said.
The superintendent also made it clear that in her vision, these schools will be like Empowerment Schools in that she will require a set of interventions, curricula and programs, not give the schools autonomy to try different approaches.
"There will be prescriptive strategies in these schools because I believe it's important until a school gets to the point where they are making consistent gains and seeing consistent achievement - that's when I think you give real autonomy," she said.
Promise Academies will have an extended school day and year, enrichment activities including a second language, an "instructional technology improvements," according to the District's presentation to the School Reform Commission.
Where they will be different from Empowerment Schools is that when she takes control of the school, Ackerman will have the power to replace the principal and staff, just like the other turnaround teams.
"The way she puts it, everyone has gotten this flexibility - the contract folks, the charter folks, and us. We're able to compete on an equal field," Gallard said.
The Promise Academies and the innovation schools may or may not have community partners, Gallard said, while the charter and contract schools will be required to have them.