Turnaround Spotlight: UP Education Network

In 2011, UP Education Network (UP), previously Unlocking Potential, opened its first turnaround school in Boston, and the first of its kind in the state of Massachusetts. A nonprofit turnaround organization, UP believes that the practices of the highest performing charter schools can be used to transform chronically underperforming schools in the district. UP currently operates five schools in Boston and Laurence and plans to continue its expansion.

So far, UP’s positive impact on student achievement can be seen in the first couple years of operation at a number of schools, including UP’s first school, restarted as UP Academy Boston in 2011. During each of the first two years, UP Academy Boston students demonstrated the highest median student growth in Massachusetts on math based on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). UP Academy Boston and UP Academy Leonard have shown considerable student achievement growth as well, demonstrating the first and second highest median student growth in the state on the math MCAS in 2013.

When UP restarts a school, the students and facility remain the same, but other aspects of the school change. Unlike district schools, UP schools have more freedom in hiring, programming curriculum, determining time use, budgeting, and evaluating teachers. Scott Given, the CEO of UP, believes these freedoms allow school-level staff to make decisions in the best interest of their students.

Flexibility in UP’s human resources strategy is an important element of their schools. UP has complete control over hiring and the staffing structure. One of the first things they do is put a new leadership team in place at the school, and UP generally changes most of the other school staff as well. UP also has freedom from collective bargaining agreements through a contract that allows for school-developed teacher evaluation processes and tools.

UP develops its own school curricula and code of conduct, which differs from that of the district. With autonomy over special education and ELL programming, UP also delivers education to special populations in a different and unique way.

UP’s contract also allows for control over how time is allocated throughout the year. This is reflected in a longer teacher school year, longer days, and additional time for staff development and collaboration. UP schools have the ability to design school-specific calendars and develop their own unique schedules.

Budget flexibility is another area in which UP schools differ from district schools. In some cases, UP schools receive money directly, in lieu of certain services from the school district. Entitlement funds also flow directly to the schools from the state instead of through the school district. With more flexibility on how to spend their money, UP schools can do things traditional district schools cannot.

UP says they have been able to successfully leverage these autonomies to drive achievement thanks to effective district collaboration: “Autonomy on paper is different than autonomy in practice. Getting from what is on paper to what happens in practice requires immense collaboration between the district’s central office and the school operator.”—Scott Given

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

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