Contract (MOU) between Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (new non-profit entity), local school board (Springfield Public Schools) and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (SEA) that outlines the authorities and responsibilities of the parties involved. The contract articulates a unique relationship between local school district, SEA, and the new Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (SEZP) that is responsible for oversight of schools. The Empowerment Zone model is not exclusive to restarts, but provides a viable governance structure to oversee restart schools.
Per the contract, the Empowerment Zone’s governance structure is independent from the traditional school district with representation from both the state and local community. Four members are appointed by the state’s Commissioner, with the Mayor, Superintendent, and Vice-Chair of the local School Board making up the community seats. The board is ultimately responsible for student growth and achievement outcomes in the Zone, including decision making on school leadership and the placement of proven independent non-profit operators.
In addition to articulating an independent governance structure, the contract delegates roles and responsibilities, with the traditional district allocating the vast majority of all student funding and educational decision making to the SEZP while also providing for key ongoing facility and operational supports from the district (e.g. facilities, transportation, food services).
Outcomes and Lessons Learned: Including a strong local voice in the governance structure has helped to ensure buy-in from the community. The local school board opted into the arrangement by a 6-1 vote and the Mayor and Superintendent have been vocal supporters of the effort.
The independent, but collaborative nature of the relationship with the traditional district has meant that it has been possible for the SEZP and district to work towards improving the arrangement as it became operational. For example, discretionary and non-discretionary services have evolved over time and it might be necessary to include buffers (both ways) in enrollment numbers in order to budget appropriately.
The SEZP staff has played an important role in helping school leaders leverage their new autonomies and in developing innovative opportunities addressing key areas of need, such as talent.
An independent board overseeing an entity like SEZP might require some training to clearly understand their role as authorizers, i.e. setting performance metrics and holding schools accountable for results, but not operating the schools.