Revolutionary charter school network splits due to speed of expansion plans

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Breakthrough Charter Schools Strengthens Partnership with Cleveland Schools

Intergenerational schools have been an integral part of the Breakthrough charter school network for several years. Here, in 2012, Nancy Szilagyi, a teacher at the Near West Intergenerational School, talks with a student about the story he wrote.

(Lynn Ischay Lynn Ischay)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Revolutionary Charter School Network is falling apart, in large part because of the speed at which schools are expected to grow.

Widely regarded as the best group of charter schools in the state, the Breakthrough Partnership formed in 2010 when three distinct charter school operators, each with their own distinct approaches, came together to make their goals of more efficient fundraising, operation and expansion.

Seven years later, the three “Intergenerational” schools in the network decided to become independent again, while the 10 “Prep” and “Citizens Academy” schools remain partners under the Breakthrough brand.

It’s a friendly split in which the leaders of the Intergenerational School and Breakthrough stress that they will continue to work together, but in a less formal way.

“It’s a good experience,” said Mark Saffran, president of the board of intergenerational schools, of the partnership. He credits him for helping his schools go from one to three.

“I would never call it a failure,” he said.

He, Intergenerational Schools Executive Director Brooke King, and Breakthrough leaders Alan Rosskamm and John Zitzner have all said they share the same goal – to provide quality school choices for students.

“We are still partners in this work,” King said.

The split will become official in June, at the end of the five-year partnership agreement between the three operators. Intergenerational school officials said that in considering whether to enroll for more years, the differences in expansion goals became very clear.

Breakthrough has an aggressive plan to replicate its models of schools across town, providing choices for families in many neighborhoods. Even when the partnership only had a handful of schools, it aimed to expand to 20 schools by 2020 and added new schools each year.

It comes at a cost, however. The rapid expansion spreads the resources of leadership and teachers familiar with the model.

Flagship schools in two of the three models in the Breakthrough charter school network have seen test scores drop below state averages over the past five years. Bars to the right of the center line show scores above the state average, while bars to the left show scores below the state average.

Two of the original three schools in the partnership – Citizens Academy and Intergenerational School – went from a score above the state average on state tests to a score below. Founded in 2000, long before joining Breakthrough, the intergenerational school had been rated Excellent or Excellent with State Distinction eight times, before scores began to drop.

“There is no doubt that when you develop and take talent from a successful school, you dilute the talent,” Rosskamm said, although he noted that people grow and improve, as do schools. .

And he said that while schools may fall short of Breakthrough’s high expectations, he believes schools generally outperform district schools and other charters in those neighborhoods. The Citizens Academy and Prep models will continue their plans to add new schools in the fall, adding colleges to existing elementary schools.

Intergenerational schools, which get their name from the presence of older people in schools to mentor and mentor students, began with a school on the East Side. He later addition of a Near West intergenerational school in Ohio City when parents in that neighborhood lobbied for it.

These two schools have had to move in recent years from their original buildings.

A third school, Lakeshore Intergenerational School in Collinwood, was added in 2014.

The two newer schools also continue to add grades each year. As students grow and advance, schools add new grades.

And it is not a simple school model to manage. The school does not have normal grades like other schools – both in terms of advancement per year and in terms of student grading. Students are grouped into groups spanning a few years of learning, so ages are mixed, and students only progress when they have learned the material for that group well.

Rather than continuing to develop, intergenerational leaders want to “slow down, fall back and refocus”. The school board had discussions on how to tackle ‘declining student achievement’ and whether to use the reserve money on it, which would make expansion more difficult. .

“When you move your best educators from one building to another, on top of that you have a natural bearing, until you can stabilize any building you’re going to have ups and downs,” Saffran said. . “We really want to step back and really go back to intergenerational programming.”

King said the separation would allow intergenerational schools to focus on their core mission while its existing schools expand before worrying about adding new sites.

Prior to the spill, the Breakthrough Partnership was a strong voice for quality charter schools in Ohio. He was heavily involved in the creation of the 2012 Cleveland School District Improvement Plan and was a member of Mayor Frank Jackson’s School Quality Panel, the Transformation Alliance.

Its schools share a portion of the school tax that voters passed in 2012 and extended again in the last election.

It has also been held up in statewide debates as proving charter schools can operate and cited as one of the most successful charter school operators in the country by Stanford University. Center for Research on Educational Results (CREDO).

Christine Fowler-Mack, head of school choice efforts at the Cleveland School District, said she didn’t expect much change between the district and the schools.

“We have a very strong relationship with these schools,” she said. “We will continue to have very strong relationships with these schools. “

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