Innovation School to be Considered for Somerville Public Schools

A proposed Innovation School has been under development with the support of Somerville Public Schools, which would be considered and voted on by the School Committee, at a final step in the Innovation School authorization process.  Referred to as Powderhouse Studios (formally as the STEAM Academy) this Innovation School design has been in the works for a few years. In March 2017, the plan was approved by the Innovation Committee, a major milestone in the process. Currently, the applicant is in discussions with both the City of Somerville and the STA to refine the elements of the plan. If final terms are agreed upon with the STA and the City, the updated plan would be submitted to the School Committee for consideration and a vote, a process which would include a public hearing. Although the updated plan to be submitted to the School Committee is not yet complete, the draft plan approved by the Innovation Committee in March can be viewed here. Watch for an announcement about a public hearing and posting of the final plan, or receive a notification from me by signing up for my SC updates via email or Facebook

What is an Innovation School? A Massachusetts Innovation School is an in-district school that can implement creative and inventive strategies with the goals of increasing student achievement and reducing achievement gaps while keeping school funding within districts. Innovation Schools are different from charter schools that they are hosted, funded and directly overseen by the public school district. Innovation Schools are different than other public schools as they have requested some deviations from the standard practices of the district, referred to as “autonomies and flexibilities”.  Innovation Schools encourage districts to explore new, innovative practices with the potential to be used district-wide. Creation of an Innovation School requires a community process culminating with deliberation and a vote by the School Committee.

Does SPS already have an Innovation School? SPS currently has one Innovation School, the Winter Hill Community Innovation School (WHCIS.) The WHCIS received approval from the School Committee to convert to an Innovation School model five years ago, after completing the innovation design process. A few ways the WHCIS differs from other K-8 schools in the district includes how they are organized and make decisions (uses a school governing body), greater autonomy in professional development, how they intentionally build and maintain the school climate and culture (using the Responsive Classroom evidence-based approach that focuses on the link between academic success and social-emotional learning, which has since been adopted by other schools), and implementing a school dress code which was voted on and adopted by the student body. The WHCIS was just awarded the 2017 Pozen Prize for Innovation Schools by the Boston Foundation as the first in-district Innovation School to receive this honor. 

What is the proposed NEW Innovation School? The current proposed Innovation School experience at Powderhouse Studios consists of student defined, real world longer-term projects coupled with direct instruction to support common core standards and the skills necessary to pursue and complete projects. The proposal is modeled after research or design laboratories, includes a full year schedule and longer days, and is targeted to serve students that don’t always thrive in a traditional middle school or high school model.

The plan for Powderhouse Studios has be awarded an XQ grant of $10M given to school designs that successfully “rethink high school.” Although the $10M would be used to develop the school, the City and the Somerville Public Schools would be responsible for all costs of running the school once the grant dollars are spent. 

Again, watch for announcements about the the final Innovation Plan and School Committee Pubic Hearing, sign up for my SC updates via email or Facebook, or reach out directly to any School Committee member to share your thoughts about the inclusion of this proposed Innovation School in the Somerville Public Schools. 


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Laura Pitone for Ward 5 School Committee
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