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CITY SPOTLIGHT: COLLABORATION AND RESOURCE SHARING IN SPRING BRANCH, TEXAS
In Spring Branch, Texas, co-location of charter and district school programs is an intentional strategy designed to support sharing best practices across sectors; it evolved from a history of school choice within the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD). Co-located programs are at the heart of the SKY Partnership, a formal collaboration between SBISD, KIPP Houston Public Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools. SKY supports the district’s goal to double the number of students completing a technical certificate, military training, two-year degree, or four-year degree (T-2-4) by 2017. SKY stands for Spring Branch, KIPP, YES Prep.
To kick off this week’s Portfolio School District Meeting in Spring Branch, attendees had the opportunity to visit SKY schools that have taken a different approach to facilities. Starting with the success of all Spring Branch students in mind, these schools are not only collaborating on practical issues like sharing electives but are leveraging proximity for improved practice. Superintendents, principals, and teachers from all the SKY partners interact regularly through formal meetings and training programs, as well as through informal reflective instructional practice and resource sharing.
SBISD superintendent Duncan Klussmann has driven the urgency for improvement and clarity of direction needed for the SKY Partnership while maintaining strong support from the SBISD school board and community. Klussmann strives to maintain district and school character while spurring organizational innovation and college-going culture for all SBISD students. The SKY Steering Committee provides the formal mechanism for fostering collaboration and sustaining the partnership through targeted working groups on key topics.
The SKY Partnership has also sparked conversations beyond KIPP and YES Prep about school autonomy across all school types. District leaders and SBISD principals are working together to identify elements of school operation that principals could manage themselves, for their own schools. And, the district is now piloting a program to increase autonomy while providing executive coaching for a select group of principals.
To further support the integration of charter schools with traditional district schools, SBISD recently developed an internal district accountability system to help teachers and leaders drive results in the classroom that lead to higher education completion. The system incorporates indicators of academic performance and growth including state tests, access for all students, post-secondary outcomes, discipline and attendance, and student engagement. The district plans to develop this system in the coming years into a publicly available report with specific performance targets for each school. SBISD, KIPP, and YES Prep schools are also administering the same student surveys across all three systems as part of a teacher feedback and development system.
Spring Branch has also developed a common application and timeline for district choice schools, but families still must apply to charter lotteries individually. Through choice fairs, common one-page descriptions for all schools, and parental engagement, the district is spreading awareness of choice options and the district’s open transfer policies.
Spring Branch has demonstrated some impressive collaboration wins over the first few years of their Compact and SBISD hopes to spread its collaborative ideas through the SKY Partnership website. Download the SKY Partnership Timeline on their homepage to see their progress.