Paving a New Path: The Growth of Illinois Charter Schools Outside of Chicago

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

During the past three years, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) has dramatically expanded its work to educate Illinois residents about the charter school model, and to support charter school “design teams”— made up of teachers, former educators, and community organizations, for example — that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their respective communities. With support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement, INCS has grown its Charter Starter Consulting program to deliver consistent content and counsel to design teams while maintaining a strong focus on customized services. As a result, INCS has planted the seeds for additional charter schools to thrive, especially outside of Chicago, Illinois’ largest city, and to raise student achievement for increasing numbers of Illinois students.

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Success in Arizona: A Focus on Increasing Quality Schools in Phoenix’s Urban Core

Vista Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Vista College Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Phoenix charter school leaders Jenna Leahy and Tacey Clayton believe that something has to change for students in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The majority of the 215 public schools in the Phoenix urban core serve low-income, minority students, and of those schools, only 8 percent received an “A” — the highest academic performance label — in 2014.

After two years of leadership and school development, Jenna and Tacey are poised to help change the life paths of Phoenix students, as CASA Academy opened its doors to 149 students in kindergarten through second grade this August.

CASA and six other schools are part of a new initiative, New Schools For Phoenix, that grew out of a three-year, $1,179,855 National Leadership Activities grant from OII’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) to the Arizona Charter Schools Association in 2010.

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Illinois Principal Quality Efforts Nationally Recognized

Jeremy Anderson, President of Education Commission of the States; Dr. James Applegate, Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education; Dr. Harry Berman, former Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education; Dr. Erika Hunt,  Director of SLP funded IL-PART grant, Center for the Study of Education Policy; and Dr. Chris Koch, State Superintendent. of the State of Illinois receiving the Frank Newman Award for Innovation at the ECS Award Ceremony (Photo courtesy of the Education Commission of the State)."

From left to right: Jeremy Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States; James Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; Harry Berman, former executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education; Erika Hunt, director of SLP-funded IL-PART grant, Center for the Study of Education Policy; and Christopher Koch, Illinois State Superintendent receiving the 2014 Frank Newman Award for Innovation. (Photo courtesy of the Education Commission of the States)

Since 2005, Illinois has pursued improving the quality of school principals as a top priority to reform K-12 education. A Commission on School Leader Preparation, followed by an Illinois School Leader Task Force, paved the way for groundbreaking state legislation in 2011, requiring alignment with new criteria for principal preparation programs and certification standards.

Behind this progress is a strong collaboration between the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the State Board of Education, and the Center for Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. On July 1, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) presented the 2014 Frank Newman Award for State Innovations to the three entities for their work. “In improving our schools, there is little that matters more than the quality of our principals,” said ECS President Jeremy Anderson, in a press release. “Illinois’ work exemplifies what can happen when stakeholders collaborate in such a critical area.”

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Slammin’ on Education

Slammin' on Education cross-post

(Left to right) Malachi Byrd, Devyn Jefferson, Juwan Middleton, and Cynthia Johnson performed original spoken-word pieces as part of the School Leadership Program conference. These students represent CONTRA VERSE, a spoken-word team from Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy, which is led by their teacher and coach, Michael Bolds. Throughout the two-day convening, these students and others shared insightful perspectives on education and the impact of current reforms on educators and students.

What happens when you invite students to a project directors’ conference on school leadership? They infuse the atmosphere with energy and enthusiasm, push the envelope in thoughtful ways, inspire with their creativity, and remind the adults why our work is critical.

OII’s School Leadership Program office recently hosted a convening for 45 of its grantees currently implementing projects that prepare and develop principals to serve in high-need schools and districts. The conference provided an opportunity for districts, universities, partner organizations, Principal Ambassador Fellows, and federal policymakers to learn from each other and other experts in the field about how to improve and promote school leadership. Throughout the two-day conference, student performers graced the stage to intermittently bring our work back in focus while also challenging us all with provocative questions, such as “At what point does patience give way to urgency in our reforms?”

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Philadelphia Schools Leader Helps Arts Stay Strong for All Students

A tireless champion for the arts in education, Philadelphia Assistant Superintendent Dennis W. Creedon draws on nearly 30 years of working in or partnering with schools in Philadelphia to make the arts part of a well-rounded education for all of the city’s 131,000 students.

As a senior administrative leader in the district’s central office, Creedon, who began his education career as a theatre teacher in 1987, combines his understanding of research into the nature and value of arts learning with creative approaches to tapping Philadelphia’s rich array of cultural institutions to weather the latest budget reductions. Since 2008, Philadelphia schools are required to have art or music offerings and a commitment to every student having at least one arts lesson weekly. The policy, which Creedon was instrumental in developing, appeared to be in jeopardy last year as the district faced a $304 million budget deficit.

Creedon quote 1In a recent Education Week profile of Creedon, the conductor of the All-City High School Orchestra, Don S. Liuzzi, draws on the meteorological metaphor to explain the school leader’s importance. “The ship was sinking,” he said, describing the district’s most recent round of budget reductions that threatened the jobs of nearly 4,000 teachers. And while some arts specialist positions were lost, the arts education ship is still afloat, according to Liuzzi, because the district’s top arts education advocate is “a very persuasive and avid supporter of the arts.”

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New ED Blog Spotlights Current Education Transformations

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new online resource, PROGRESS, to highlight state and local innovative ideas, promising practices, lessons learned, and resources informed by the implementation of K-12 education reforms.

These stories will showcase the exciting transformations taking place in classrooms, schools, and systems across the country through the leadership of teachers, school, district and state leaders and their partners.

The Department launched PROGRESS to emphasize the voices and perspectives of educators, students, and administrators to better understand how policy changes are spurring education improvement and to draw out what can be learned from areas of progress occurring at the state and local levels.

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The End’s the Beginning for TQP Director Peggi Zelinko

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Peggi Zelinko (center, in red) is joined by current and former staff of the Teacher Quality and i3 Fund Programs and other ED colleagues to celebrate her retirement. (Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

Last month, OII said a fond farewell to Director of Teacher Quality Programs Peggi Zelinko. Peggi retired at the end of November after 19 years of service at the Department of Education.

Peggi was named the Director of the Teacher Quality Programs (TQP) in OII in 2005. In that role, she oversaw a number of discretionary grant programs focusing on teacher quality and school leadership. These programs have included Transition to Teaching, Troops to Teachers, Teaching American History, the National Writing Project, the School Leadership Program, Supporting Effective Educator Development, and Teacher Quality Partnerships. She also served for a year as acting director of the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, while maintaining her leadership role of TQP. Before her leadership role with TQP, Peggi served as a program officer for the Transition to Teaching program and team leader for the School Leadership Program in OII, and as the program officer for the Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s teacher quality initiatives.

Peggi was a practitioner as well as a policy maker. Formerly a staff member with the U.S. Department of Labor and the West Virginia State Department of Education, she also worked as a teacher educator at the collegiate level and as a high school marketing teacher. Her work at ED was defined by this background in education. One of her chief goals as a program director was to ensure that programs show results. “To what end?” was one of her signature comments when assessing grant program activities.

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National Nonpublic School Leaders Attend Annual Conference

The Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) hosted the 9th-Annual Private School Leadership Conference on September 23 at the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Each year, the invitation-only event brings together 100 of the nation’s top private and home school educational leaders from across the country. Also attending were representatives from state and local education agencies who are responsible for administering federal education programs on behalf of private school students.

The annual conference provides a forum to address Department of Education programs and initiatives, listen to the concerns of the nonpublic school community, highlight innovative practices, and facilitate discourse between the Department and national nonpublic school leaders.

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New OII Grants to Increase Access to High-Quality Schools, Effectiveness of School Leadership, and Role of Arts Education Nationwide

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week announced nearly $105 million in Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) grants that will help to ensure high-quality leadership in high-need schools, develop model arts education efforts nationwide, and increase public school choices for parents.

In announcing $13.3 million to 20 projects under the School Leadership Program (SLP), Secretary Duncan said, “High-quality examples of leadership can help shape a school’s culture and create an environment where students are excited to learn.”  The five-year grants will help prepare individuals to meet state certification requirements to become principals or assistant principals as well as provide professional development to current principals and assistant principals. More than 1,500 aspiring or current school leaders in almost 100 high-need school districts across 15 states will be served by the grantees’ programs and services. Full information about the new SLP awards can be found here.

Acknowledging the role the arts play in helping students gain the skills needed to succeed in college and careers, the $2 million awarded under the Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination program (AEMDD), according to Secretary Duncan, “… will help organizations establish and implement sound practices that can be used in classrooms across the nation.” The eight grantees vary from nonprofit arts education organizations to a higher education institution to both charter and traditional public schools, all of which have strong partnerships to develop and implement their projects. Click here for the ED press release on the AEMDD awards.

Magnet schools can increase public school options for parents and students, and the $89.8 million in Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) grants will “help students gain access to challenging curricula that will help prepare them for college and 21st century careers,” said Secretary Duncan in announcing the grants to 27 school districts in 12 states. The districts will use the up-to-three-year grants to establish new magnet schools or expand existing magnet programs. Click here for complete information on the MSAP grants.

Department Awards $30 Million in Grants to Support Teacher and Principal Development

(Sept. 18, 2013) U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan today announced nearly $30 million for six grant awards to improve student achievement by increasing the effectiveness of teachers and principals.

The national non-profits funded under the Supporting Effective Educators Development (SEED) program, will enhance preparation of pre-service teachers, provide professional development to in-service teachers and leaders, and disseminate best practices, ultimately serving approximately 27,000 teachers and principals, reaching a significant number of students across all 50 states.

“Effective teachers and principals play a central role in improving student achievement and producing better outcomes for children,” Secretary Duncan said. “These grants provide resources to support teachers and school leaders and develop the next generation of world-class educators.”

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