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Somerville Educators Will Consider Innovation Schools

An unusually large audience attended a meeting about innovation schools, which some see as an alternative to a proposed charter school in Somerville.

, some educators have put forth an alternative for parents, teachers and staff who want to practice experimental teaching and management methods. 

The Somerville School Committee passed a motion last week requesting that the superintendent and assistant superintendent meet with the Somerville Teachers Association to discuss innovation schools.  

About 20 parents and teachers, including figures for and against the proposed Somerville Progressive Charter School, packed a small conference room in the school district's administrative office building Jan. 18 to hear from two experts on innovation schools.

Innovation schools, introduced by Gov. Deval Patrick's administration in 2010, resemble charter schools in that they allow principals and teachers more control over what they teach, whom they hire, when school is in session and how they spend their money and train their staff, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. They differ from charter schools for not drawing funding away from the district. 

School Committee, Teachers Association, intrigued by idea

The guests, attending a meeting convened by the subcommittee for long-range planning, were Dan French, executive director of the Center for Collaborative Education and consultant for the Healey School, and Paul Dakin, the superintendent of Revere’s public schools, home to one of the first innovation schools in the state. 

French spoke about the necessity of convincing school staff that converting to an innovation school would benefit them and their students, given that two-thirds of teachers must vote in favor of a conversion. Dakin said that in his case, it wasn’t difficult to do.

For him, introducing an innovation school to a district where the majority of students were minorities and from poor families turned on one question: 

“Do we want to save public education,” Dakin said, “or do we want it privatized by charter schools?”

Jacquelyn Lawrence, president of the Somerville Teachers Association, said that many of the 460 members had told her they liked the idea of having a greater part in initiating policies and actions within their school, a system of management that would be one aspect of an innovation school. 

School Committee members discussed which elementary schools they thought would be suitable to turn into an innovation school. Mark Niedergang said he believed the Healey school was already “well on the way,” but the Winter Hill School might be a candidate.

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