It's one small step for Tilton Elementary School and potentially a giant leap for the future of the Haverhill Public Schools.
Tilton has qualified for a $10,000 state grant to help develop a plan to convert to a so-called "innovation school." The plan will be submitted to the state Department of Education by the end of June and, if approved by two thirds of the Tilton staff, would convert Tilton into an innovation school for the 2012-13 school year.
The district had announced in January that it hoped to convert Tilton to an innovation school.
Innovation schools are part of a push by Gov. Deval Patrick and state education officials to give public schools, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, more flexibility and the opportunity to find new ways to teach children, much as successful charter schools do.
As an innovation school, Tilton would be able to set its own curriculum, schedule and staffing policies rather than following district guidelines, although it would remain part of the Haverhill school district.
Mary Malone, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said Tilton was chosen to pilot the innovation program in Haverhill because of the school's low-income population, poor MCAS scores and Tilton Principal Mary Beth Maranto's desire to try the program.
Schools classified as Level 3 by the state due to poor MCAS scores are given priority for the innovation school program. Despite Tilton's improvements in MCAS scores last year, the school is still classified as a Level 3 school.
The school hosted a planning meeting for Tilton teachers earlier this week to discuss ways to implement the program and inform students and their families about pending changes.
Parents with children currently attending Tilton can opt out of the school once the innovation plan goes into effect.
"This is a pivotal point in our innovation," Maranto said, calling the meeting a "springboard" for the plan.
Data from the meeting will be used in a forthcoming application for a larger competitive grant to implement the innovation plan, according to Malone.
Ideas under consideration by both the administration and teachers include more hands-on lessons, along with before- and after-school learning programs. Other innovation schools, both in and out of state, have also expanded the school day and shortened summer vacations.
"Basically, we can support struggling learners," said Malone. "We're looking for different strategies."
One reason for the push for innovation schools is financial. Charter schools draw tuition money from the public school budget; innovation schools would operate within the budget. In addition, innovation schools still report to the district's school committee and allow their teachers to remain within the union.