Then they tried the Legislature, and so far, that's stalling (Fingers crossed, of course).
So what do they have left? Private influence.
I speak here of the general notion that it's okay to not have local democratic oversight of one's schools. That was, we know, one of the main two reasons--the other being funding--that Question 2 lost last year.
I've previously on the blog referred to this whole notion as the "zombie" bill, because it will not die, no matter how often it appears to be beaten back.
And now it's coming to Worcester as a "possibility" being presented by the Worcester Education Collaborative "[a]s we head into the next phase our strategic plan work."
You won't find it on their website or their Facebook page, because unless you are among the "leaders of our city’s key sectors," you probably didn't get the email inviting you to a series of lunches now that the strategic plan is out, discussing "novel aspects of the plan or the external factors that may impact bringing it fully to fruition."*
Unless Chris Gabrieli himself is coming to present on how the Empowerment Zone "may impact bringing [the strategic plan] fully to fruition," I'm going go with this being a "novel aspect of the plan" (on which more this week, I promise) even though it is not mentioned anywhere in the plan, unless it's being presented as a "demonstrated best practice regionally" on page 11.
My understanding is that one idea that had been floated during the strategic plan process--but failed--is that of an appointed school committee. As that is the first "novel aspect" that one notes of the Empowerment Zone in Springfield--they do not answer to Springfield's elected school committee--the zombie continues onward.
The Springfield Empowerment Zone currently runs all of Springfield's middle schools and one high school. They have been presented as the Massachusetts poster child of "Third Way Education," the notion that public schools and charter schools can coordinate (which gets some nice debunking here). It's a little odd, though, because the bill that's actually being considered isn't even how Springfield's zone runs, and thus expansion is vehemently opposed (with reason) by the teachers' unions.
The one thing that the Empowerment Zone has had going for it right along, of course, is a stratospheric level of support from Governor Baker and Secretary Peyser, and an unparallel amount of press coverage (no, I'm not going to link. Go Google it if you like.). While one assumes this will not garner local press coverage (as it isn't public) unless carefully selected, meeting with carefully selected "leaders" is of course precisely how one goes about circumventing the democratic--and public--process.
The one thing it hasn't had is any results worth pointing to. Yeah, still.
My fear, of course, is given the Worcester bubble (we don't do a great job of keeping up with things happening elsewhere), this will just sound like a novel idea to Worcester's leaders and they'll be on board.
It's up to us to make sure they know better.
I should perhaps also point out that this goes back to the very concerning opening of the Worcester Education Collaborative, which eight years ago launched by having Paul Grogan come out from the Boston Foundation, who not surprisingly used his time to laud charter schools.
I'll close the same way I closed a blog post on this from last year:
Calling such institutions "empowerment zones" is rather like calling subdivisions "Forest Way," in that it represents what isn't there. The first thing that happens with an empowerment zone, after all, is the school committee votes to surrender its authority to a board elected by, and representing, no one.
Consider this a warning. As always, you aren't going to see this happen in the suburbs.
*yeah, me, either. Good sources.