PPSD Introduces Trailblazer Cluster to Parents and Community

As part of revised Innovation Zone, this group of schools will pilot innovative strategies, representing a move toward greater autonomy

Joseph DiPina, chief of staff, explains the rationale behind the launch of the Trailblazer Cluster schools.

Joseph DiPina, chief of staff, explains the rationale behind the launch of the Trailblazer Cluster schools.

Parents and members of the Providence Schools community learned more about the reorganization of the Innovation Zone, specifically the aims of the three schools in the new Trailblazer Cluster, at a Launch Event held on November 13 at Juanita Sanchez High School.

The Trailblazer Cluster was created within the Innovation Zone as an innovative strategy to dramatically improve student achievement and to promote college and career readiness. It was first announced to teachers and staff at the Opening Convocation in August and the launch was designed to explain the rationale and goals behind its development.

Each of the three small clusters of schools within the Innovation Zone – New Schools, United Providence and Trailblazer –  has a distinct identity and approach to improving student outcomes while working toward increased school-based decision making.

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

Rachel Mellion, executive director of the Innovation Zone, reviews the Trailblazer Cluster initiative at a community launch event.

Rachel Mellion, executive director of the Innovation Zone, reviews the Trailblazer Cluster initiative at a community launch event.

Robert Bailey Elementary School and Esek Hopkins and Roger Williams Middle Schools comprise the Trailblazer Cluster within the Innovation Zone. The other clusters are United Providence! with Carl Lauro Elementary School, Gilbert Stuart Middle School and Jorge Alvarez High School. The New Schools Cluster is comprised of the newly reopened West Broadway Middle School and the two new Carnegie Opportunity by Design High Schools scheduled to open in the fall of 2015.

“It is our district-held belief that in order for our students to be contributing members of our city, state and nation, it is our collective and moral imperative that our children are highly educated. We are committed to do whatever it takes to create the conditions in our district for our students to be ready to succeed in their college and career choices,” said Rachel Mellion, executive director of the Innovation Zone.

Noting that the income gap between those with and without college degrees is rising, Mellion added, “We still have a lot of work to do to be sure all of our students graduate college and career-ready.”

The zone’s differentiated approach provides different permissions and flexibility to pilot new strategies. Functioning as an incubator or laboratory, the Innovation Zone is where new approaches and ideas are allowed to develop and be implemented. The Office of Transformation and Innovation will support the Trailblazer Schools’ strategies while monitoring their progress. Successful initiatives could be replicated in other schools or district-wide.

New innovative changes are already underway in the Trailblazer Schools, Mellion announced. Blended learning, combining traditional classroom instruction with technology, is underway at Bailey, while the school is also piloting the Engage N.Y. math curriculum, which focuses on fewer topics in greater depth. At Hopkins Middle School, a new uniform plan is being implemented while the school is developing a grading policy. At Roger Williams, new English and math enrichment courses are being offered to challenge students at grade level and the school is in the process of designing new career and technical education electives to implement during the next school year.

Keith Oliveira, president of the Providence School Board and a graduate of Hope High School, told parents that greater school autonomy is a whole different philosophy of doing business.

“What we are about to embark upon is necessary,” Oliveira said. “This is a way of making decisions closer to where the students are.  The people who know the most about kids and their needs and strengths are our teachers and principals. We want to give schools some measure of authority to serve the kids they know best and that includes the authority to make decisions.”

Oliveira encouraged parents to stay informed and get involved. “Everyone involved is going to have a voice in how those decisions are made, but it’s going to be done gradually. It’s important to understand where we are going as a district and your role in it. You are going to hear more as we move forward,” he said.

Chief of Staff Joseph DiPina, who attended four Providence Schools and graduated from Classical High School, spoke on behalf of Supt. Dr. Susan Lusi, who was unable to attend.

“In our district, under the direction of Supt. Lusi, we are constantly developing and willing to try sound, data-driven new approaches to improve student achievement. Improving outcomes for our students is the main driver of our work in Providence Schools. The Trailblazer Cluster of schools is an important step in that direction.

“We cannot continue to do things in the same way and expect better results. We would just be running in place with that approach,” DiPina added.

According to DiPina, the new reorganization is already promoting increased collaboration, strategic planning and conversations among school leaders and within each school environment. Successful initiatives in the Trailblazer Schools open the possibility that new programs developed and tried in these schools can have an impact on many students in our district.

At the conclusions of the program, winners of the Trailblazer Schools poster contest were announced. Students were asked to prepare a poster that illustrates how their school is preparing them to achieve their dreams. The winners from Esek Hopkins are Kimberlea Ortoleva (1st place), Ranuya Bryant (2nd place), Emory Holmes (3rd place); from Robert Bailey are Aaliyah Stravato (1st place), Meleny Dumelles (2nd place), Jeremiah Bobdilla (3rd place); and from Roger Williams are Madeline Leonardo (1st place), Valentina Barrios (2nd Place) and Stacy Paulino (3rd place).