Grant funds multi-year effort by union, school district, community to close achievement gaps
February 5, 2010 – A Springfield partnership bringing together an education union, the school district, and community leaders has been selected to participate in a $1.25 million, five-year effort to transform a set of the area’s most challenged schools into local and national models for teaching and learning. The NEA Foundation, an independent, public charity that supports educators' efforts to close student achievement gaps, announced the award today.
“Good schools, schools that provide real educational opportunity, have a clear focus on teaching and learning. In good schools, skilled teachers and effective administrators agree on strategies, structures, practices, schedules, and resource sharing plans,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Real opportunities for kids grow when the whole educational system keeps its eye on the prize.”
The NEA Foundation selected Springfield and two other districts from among more than 14,000 school districts nationwide to participate in the first major expansion of its signature Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative. This six-year-old initiative supports union-district partnerships to develop and implement comprehensive, sustainable approaches to closing the achievement gaps and advancing academic achievement.
“During the past six months of NEA Foundation-supported planning, Springfield has undertaken bold improvement efforts,” Sanford said. “They have developed new, powerful community partnerships, focused on principals and teachers as key leaders for the development of their plans, and experienced a dramatic increase in district/community collaboration.”
Co-created by the Springfield Education Association (SEA) and Springfield Public Schools, the plan seeks to deepen collaboration at the district and school levels by expanding joint decision-making, especially around professional development, data acquisition and analysis, and instructional practice and curriculum delivery. The project will be strengthened by support from additional partners drawn from the business, community and higher education sectors, whose resources can be tapped to support and sustain the program over the five year grant period and after.
In the first year of funding from the NEA Foundation, the partnership will focus on six schools to be selected competitively based on need and readiness to undertake improvement measures. The initiative’s strategies will focus on professional development, parent and community engagement, and collaboration.
“This process has been a collaborative effort by the SEA, the Springfield Public Schools, and some of our valued community partners. We came together with a common belief that if we work together to empower the people closest to the actual work – teachers, administrators, and parents in our schools – we can make life better for the children in our charge, said Tim Collins, President of the Springfield Education Association. “The work we did on the NEA Foundation grant reaffirms that when we have open and honest discussions about educating the children in our charge we find there is more we agree on than disagree on. When, at the school level, we listen to educators’ voices and put our efforts into the things we agree on, we can accomplish great things!”
“This grant opens the door to great things for the students of Springfield,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Anne Wass said. “It creates a structure for teachers and administrators and everyone with a stake in the Springfield Public Schools to work together to make a difference for the children of this city. Incredible things can happen when teachers are given a voice, a seat at the table, and an opportunity to share their years of classroom experience and expertise.”
“This school district has been very transparent and honest about the urgent need to close the achievement gap so that the proficiency level of all our students – not just some of them – is raised,” said Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools Dr. Alan J. Ingram. “This multi-faceted, collaborative approach is well grounded and clear in its focus. I know it will help us make great inroads in this important work and we can’t wait to get started.”
“There is great need but also great opportunity,” Sanford said. “In addition to financial support, the Foundation offers research, expertise, and best practices, gleaned from our Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative and evidence based research. We have access to a national network of educators who are eager to consult. And we expect to discover new techniques that we will share with the field as part of our ongoing effort to elevate the profession.”
Throughout the life of the grant, an independent, third party evaluation will measure the progress of the project.