In the News
Within a district, each school has very different students — and very different needs.
Whether serving second language learners, students with limited formal education, or teenagers focused on careers in technology, each school is unique. And the one-size-fits-all model of school design doesn’t always work.
That’s why our educator-empowered school teams and the empowered families we serve design SEZP schools to meet the specific needs of our students. The process is equal parts quantitative — demographics, student academic performance, and employment trends — and qualitative — formal and informal input from teachers, administrators, students, and families. And the result is schools customized to our students and targeted to their success.
Trusted Institutional Partnerships
Faster innovation and promising outcomes for students and families in the Springfield Public Schools district? Yes.
More voice at each school for teachers in the Springfield Education Association teachers’ union? Yes.
A surge in representation of people of color teaching and leading at Springfield schools, a priority of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education? Yes.
One word has driven all of these SEZP successes: partnership.
SEZP schools are district, unionized schools that are built differently, based on the Zone’s clearly defined partnerships with the Springfield Public Schools district, the Springfield Education Association teachers’ union, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. These unique, trusted partnerships allow SEZP schools to respond to what their school community needs, while staying in sync with the district, union, and state.
SEZP schools operate seamlessly within the neighborhood and high school choice systems of the district and are part of the district’s overarching plan for student success. But functioning under different arrangements, SEZP schools not only receive from the district a set of key supports — from buildings and maintenance to transportation and information technology — they can also select optional services from a wide variety of district offerings that fit their specific needs. This allows SEZP schools to use the district’s unique and efficient services when needed — and to opt out when their priorities point them in a different direction.
SEZP’s relationship with the teachers’ union allows us to collaborate creatively and ambitiously toward our common goal of improving academic achievement and social emotional development among Springfield students. With the last contract ratified by 95% of members, our teachers have embraced teacher voice as a powerful engine for driving change within our schools.
SEZP schools operate in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which provides organizational, tactical, and supplemental financial support to the outcomes-driven nature of SEZP. This partnership has directly led to a dramatic increase in leaders and educators of color in SEZP schools.
SEZP believes that educators are the experts and that schools are the unit of change. So when it comes to how individual schools operate, we leave many crucial decisions to our teachers — at the individual school level.
Through school-based groups of elected teacher representatives, known as Teacher Leadership Teams (TLTs), who work in partnership with principals, each SEZP school has the freedom to assess its strengths and weaknesses from within and take appropriate action to innovate and improve. TLTs are cultivated by Empowerment Coaches, who are motivated SEZP educators trained to support their fellow teachers and share best practices Zone-wide.
From choosing their own high quality curriculum, to setting their own calendars, to personalizing after-school programming, to deciding their own professional learning experiences, SEZP educators — in collaboration with the Springfield Education Association teachers’ union — have the flexibility to set their own working conditions, using school-specific data to realize their school’s unique vision.
Holistic Measurement & Continual Improvement
Unlike most schools, SEZP schools do not measure success based solely on conventional measures.
We also have our own performance framework by which we assess impact: The Roadmap for Equitable Student Success employs multiple measures of quantitative and qualitative data and evaluates not only student academic progress, but also attendance and disciplinary rates, family and teacher satisfaction as well as educator diversity and retention. Our robust Roadmap enables us to determine if we’re serving all students equitably — including emerging bilinguals and those with disabilities — and if we’re preparing them well for life beyond high school.
Based on data gleaned from the Roadmap, SEZP schools are in a constant loop of self-reflection and self-improvement. Our principals and teachers are continually analyzing school-specific data, and if an intervention shows progress toward closing performance gaps, then it is fully implemented, and best practices are shared across the Zone. If the data does not support improvement, then schools have the autonomy to make corrections in real time — and the cycle continues.
All data is shared among SEZP community members and stakeholders, including the board of directors, so that schools are held accountable for their results.
Strong Leaders & Diverse Educators
A principal at an SEZP school is unlike a principal anywhere else.
Here, principals implement their own decisions — and are held accountable for their school-level results. They are in charge of their school’s budget, staffing plan, data, and outcomes. And they are responsible for listening to and meeting the needs of their school communities, comprised primarily of students of color.
In order to develop leaders who can succeed in our schools — and who reflect our community — SEZP offers its administrators and emerging leaders the Equitable Pathways to Leadership Program. Designed from within to fit our unique context, this program expands opportunities for underrepresented educators to develop into highly effective SEZP school leaders, through individual leadership coaching and a team-based problem-solving approach to development.
Beyond the principal’s office, we also seek to diversify educators in our classrooms, because the research is clear: Students benefit from teachers who reflect their own culture. Teachers of color set high expectations for and support the academic growth of students of color — and they are less likely to discipline or expel these students. To that end, we solicit grants and develop community pipelines to support the recruitment and retention of teachers of color.
Expanded Time for a Well-Rounded Education
For SEZP, the traditional school day, school week, and school year just isn’t enough.
That’s why we give our students more — and better — time through our extended day and year programs.
Our longer school days provide not only more time for students to take part in academic interventions, to engage with our early college partners, and to receive social emotional support, but also more time for fun and hands-on enrichment— all while teachers receive precious time to collaborate and refine their practice.
Our extended school year allows us to meet individual student needs with programs like our Saturday Emerging Bilingual Academy and our February and April Vacation Empowerment Academies. It gives us more time in the summer to ease transitions for students entering new schools in the fall. And it enables our students to attend no-cost summer camps within our network of high-quality, youth-serving community organizations. This access to enriching summer learning opportunities assists SEZP families, prevents “summer slide,” and productively engages students beyond the typical school year.
Customized School Support
Does a school designed to serve newcomers and refugees to our country need the same support as a school designed to steward interest in historically underrepresented careers?
SEZP doesn’t think so.
Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership empowers each school to choose and design its own supports, differentiated to its specialized environment. Customized supports are aligned to the annual school improvement plan goals to ensure that schools have the support they need to make progress.
When data from some of our schools showed that students needed to strengthen their English language skills, we worked with teams from those schools to develop a zone-wide Emerging Bilinguals Academy.
This customized support program eases the burden on individual schools while meeting a common need within the Zone.
At SEZP schools, families don’t just drop their kids off at the door — they have a seat at the table.
In fact, each SEZP school not only solicits and integrates family feedback in the development of its continuous improvement plan, but each school is also accountable for its families’ satisfaction.
Based on assessment data, SEZP leadership can verify — and then act on — whether or not the voice of families is prominent in our model of school-based decision-making.
SEZP schools offer both responsive and proactive opportunities for families to be involved in key operations at the school – from participating in school-based family empowerment councils to helping create welcoming environments for all families.
Family engagement not only enhances the educational experience of SEZP students, it also builds a stronger Springfield for all residents.