District, union and charter advocates agree on teacher-led schools

When people who sometimes strongly disagree find something significant they like, it’s worth noting.
One of those ideas drew more than 200 educators from 23 states to Minnesota Nov. 6-7. Educators praised Lakeville, Henderson and St. Paul, Minnesota, “teacher-led” or “teacher-powered” schools, along with others across the nation, from California to Maine.
A national coalition for teacher-powered schools explains on its website (http://www.teacherpowered.org) that these schools share at least two features:
–They are “collaboratively designed and implemented by teachers.”
–Teachers have “collective autonomy to make decisions influencing the success of a school, project or professional endeavor.”
District, charter and teacher union leaders in education sometimes disagree. But in the recent conference workshops, these folks focused on what they agree about: Teacher-powered schools can provide opportunities for teachers to use their best ideas to help students and families. Some have principals, some don’t.
Conference organizers gave awards to several teacher-powered schools. They included:
–Reiche Community School, a Portland, Maine, district K-5 school. After the school lost several principals, teachers visited Boston (district) Pilot Schools and decided to propose that a small team of teachers run the school. The superintendent and school board agreed. Reiche has several teachers who share leadership responsibilities, and continue to work directly with students.
Jeanne Crocker, Portland’s interim superintendent, told me that the school has impressed her because of its improved student achievement, while serving as a model for others. She strongly supports their efforts, she said. (More information is at https://reiche.portlandschools.org.)
–Avalon, a grades 6-12 project-based charter school in St. Paul. The school began in 2001-2002 and has received visitors from throughout the United States and other countries. A committee, the majority of whose members are teachers who work in the school, runs it. Avalon was founded by a group of parents and educators. While following Minnesota’s high school graduation requirements, the school “features student-initiated independent projects, seminar classes, public student presentations, and partnerships with parents and community.” (More information is at http://bit.ly/1WMyPsl.)
–Social Justice Humanitas Academy, one of four district schools sharing space on a Los Angeles public school campus. Jose Luis Navarro IV, a National Board certified teacher, serves as the school’s principal, working closely with teachers to make key decisions. He told me he felt a “moral imperative” to work with other educators and students at the school. The school opened in 2011. It seeks to “achieve social justice through the development of the complete individual.” (More information is available here: http://www.sjhumanitas.org.)
Minnesota and Maine have passed laws allowing educators and parents to create teacher-led public schools. Because federal funds are available to help start charter public schools, union, district and charter advocates are encouraging Minnesota’s state Legislature to provide start-up funds for district teacher-led schools. Educators from Impact Academy, a Lakeville elementary teacher-led district option, and Avalon, along with Megan Hall, Minnesota’s 2014 teacher of the year, presidents of several local teacher unions, the Minnesota Business Partnership and others, including me, support this idea.
National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union, has praised teacher-led schools. The union is providing technical assistance to help teachers in these schools, as well as those who want to create one. The NEA wrote about its efforts here: http://bit.ly/1M6huCr.
Part of the interest in teacher-led district schools may be coming from increased enrollment in charter schools. A report released on Nov. 10 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (http://bit.ly/1Mm5ue7) points out charter enrollment has increased more than 60 percent in the past five years to more than 2.9 million students. I’ll write more about this soon.
But part of the push for teacher-powered or teacher-led schools comes from a deep belief in and respect for many educators. These schools ought to be options for students, families and teachers. It’s great to see growing national interest in this idea.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]

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