Revised Innovation Zone Creates New Clusters of Schools that Move Toward Increased Autonomy

In an additional strategy designed to dramatically increase student achievement, the Innovation Zone has been revised to include three small clusters of schools, each with a distinct identity and unique approach to improving student outcomes while working toward increased school-based decision making.

Rachel Mellion

“The Innovation Zone is a place for schools to innovate, be creative and work differently to dramatically improve student achievement,” said Rachel Mellion, executive zone director.

Greater school-based autonomy has been an important part of Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi’s strategic plan to dramatically improve student achievement.

“We are on our way to reaching our new vision,” said Supt. Lusi. “The reconfiguration of the Innovation Zone is the first step, but we cannot continue this important work in isolation. We look forward to increasing close collaboration between the Office of Transformation and Innovation (OTI) and our district departments to make this work a success.”

The zone’s differentiated approach provides different permissions and flexibility to pilot new strategies. Functioning like an incubator or laboratory, the Innovation Zone is where new approaches and ideas are allowed to develop and be implemented under the guidance of Mellion and her staff.


The new clusters in the Innovation Zone are:

Microsoft Word - Innovation Zone Launch Messaging- Central Offic

United Providence Schools; Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, Gilbert Stuart Middle School and Carl Lauro Elementary School. These schools are under the management of external lead partner United Providence! and will operate under the leadership of Managing Director Denise Jenkins.

Microsoft Word - Innovation Zone Launch Messaging- Central Offic

New Schools: West Broadway Middle School and the two new innovative high schools funded by the Carnegie grant that are being planned and designed for launch in the  2015 school year. This cluster includes the district’s newest schools, which are designed to rethink the way in which student needs are met and prepare them for their chosen colleges and careers. These schools will hire new staff and build a climate and culture unique to their schoolsTrailblazer Cluster; Robert Bailey Elementary School, Esek Hopkins Middle School and Roger Williams Middle School. The Trailblazer Cluster is our incubator and operates under the motto “paving the way to student success.”

The Trailblazer and New Schools clusters are managed by the Office of Transformation and Innovation while United Providence schools will be managed by UP!

Remaining Providence Schools are grouped into two additional zones, the Elementary Zone, led by Executive Director Dorothy Smith and includes all elementary schools except Lauro and Bailey, and the Secondary Zone, led by Executive Director Marc Catone and comprised of all middle and high schools except for Alvarez, Stuart, Williams, Hopkins and West Broadway.

According to Mellion, the Trailblazer schools were selected by Supt. Lusi as a result of positive indicators gathered through their school readiness assessment, including school improvement growth, strong building leadership, strong labor-management relationships, a shifting culture to make data-driven school improvement decisions, creative thinking to improve student achievement and a strong team cohesion and shared accountability.

“The Trailblazer Schools, our incubator schools, have increased flexibility and support to propose and pilot innovative reform strategies that increase options for high quality education for Providence students,” said Mellion. “We look forward to supporting each of the Trailblazer schools as they identify and test these pioneering initiatives.”

While ideas are developed at each school, the OTI will assist in supporting and executing those plans by implementing pilot initiatives, funding and  resource development including grants, strategic school improvement planning, a comprehensive academic strategy, leadership and faculty professional development, using data to drive decision-making and planning and  increasing parent and community engagement efforts.

So far, each of the schools has undertaken new initiatives that reflect more autonomous decision-making. Bailey. is implementing blended learning for grades K-2. Roger Williams Middle School has added a stipended data specialist position to track, monitor and analyze student data to inform continuous improvement efforts; and at Hopkins, a new school uniform plan is being implemented to strengthen school culture and climate.

Other initiatives could include, but are not limited to, new intervention programs for reading and math, new course development,  and creative venues for job-embedded professional development programs teachers.

The new reorganization is promoting increased collaboration, strategic planning and conversations among school leaders and within each school environment.

Trailblazer cluster collaboration meetings will be held throughout the school year to share best practices and ideas, identify common concerns and develop strategies and solutions to support each of the schools. The cluster’s data teams and principals will also meet in separate groups to monitor performance to build on principals’ skills and knowledge, to strategically lead school improvement efforts, foster collaboration and sharing of best practices, problem solve, provide technical assistance and promote principals’ ability to implement innovative approaches.

It is hoped that successes in the Trailblazer schools can be shared with other schools in the district. A Toolkit will be created that contains new initiatives and how well they worked.

“I am delighted about what this means to our schools and the district as a whole,” Mellion said. “Our goal is to pilot and identify innovative, scalable and sustainable best practices to share with schools across all zones and ultimately increase the quality of education for all students in Providence.”