hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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April 18, 2012

Editorial: Tilton School deserves chance to try something different

The Tilton Elementary School's struggle could wind up being its salvation.

Tilton has a high population of minority students — about 53 percent, compared to 31 percent for the district as a whole. Many have difficulty with the English language. Sixty-four percent of its students are from low-income families, compared to 40 percent districtwide.

Scores on standardized tests are poor and the school has failed to meet state goals for improvement. Ironically, failure has created an opportunity.

City officials hope that the answer for Tilton will be to make it the city's first, and one of the state's first, "innovation schools." (See story on page 1 by Mike LaBella.)

The Innovation School Initiative was a key component of education reform legislation signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in January 2010, designed to close the stubborn achievement gap between poor, urban schools and other schools.

The idea behind the initiative is simple: Since what those schools are doing now isn't working, it's time to try something different.

Innovation schools operate under the umbrella of the local school district and receive the same per-pupil spending allocation as other schools. But like charter schools, innovation school are given greater autonomy and can set their own curriculum, schedule and school calendar and make staffing decisions and seek waivers from some school policies and union contract provisions.

In return, the schools must develop innovation plans and meet annual benchmarks showing progress in improving school and student performance.

Twenty innovation schools have already been approved by the state; 18 are already in operation.

In February, Patrick announced planning grants to for 29 more innovation schools that could open this fall. One was Tilton.

Tilton was chosen by Haverhill school officials because of its demographics, test score difficulties and the willingness of its principal to embrace change.

Before any change can happen, however, the school's innovation plan must win the approval of two-thirds of the school's teachers and a majority of School Committee members.

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