Innovative Schools Inc., the nonprofit public school resource center that is managing the Delaware Leadership Project certification program for aspiring principals, was founded in 2002 with a much narrower purpose: to help new charter schools obtain financing to acquire buildings needed to house their programs.
The organization raised $5 million from local foundations to establish a loan guaranty fund that subsequently helped seven charter schools purchase or construct adequate facilities.
Innovative Schools subsequently broadened its work with charter schools, providing back-office services in financial management, human resources, information technology, and technical assistance with completing the application and renewal paperwork required by the state Department of Education. It has already provided some form of support to 16 of Delaware’s charter schools and is assisting three groups with applications for new charter schools that will be filed with the state later this year.
By 2008, Executive Director Deborah Doordan said, Innovative Schools recognized that its work in support of charter schools could have applications throughout the public school system.
Innovative Schools began working more than a year ago with the NYC Leadership Academy to modify NYCLA’s successful principal training model to make it appropriate for prospective Delaware principals, Doordan said. In March, the State Board of Education approved the Delaware Leadership Project model for a two-year alternate route to certification program. In April, the State Board of Education approved the contract with Innovative Schools to run the program.
Innovative Schools also helped bring a similar alternative certification program for teachers, the Delaware Teaching Fellows, to the state, partnering with The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national nonprofit, to train 24 new teachers for high-risk schools in a summer program that ended last week.
Training isn’t the only new service in the Innovative Schools’ toolkit.
Its staff also researches successful school models throughout the nation and looks for ways to apply them to Delaware, Doordan said.
One project now under way, she said, involves working with the Seaford School District to create a “New Tech High School Model” as a school-within-a-school at Seaford High School. The new program is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.
“We’re taking a look at how to modernize public schools in Delaware, how to create high-performing schools that approach learning in an innovative way,” said Katherine Gallup, the group’s director of marketing and development.
Nonprofits like Innovative Schools have the ability to work well with school districts because they are not an overseer or an authorizing body like the state Department of Education, Gallup said. Districts “can talk honestly to us about problems in their schools, and we can help them find solutions in a very nonthreatening way,” she said.
Innovative Schools has also built a strong relationship with the state Department of Education, Doordan said, because “we have the ability to do a lot of research on behalf of the state, to help bring best practices in.”
When the organization finds a model program that it thinks might work successfully in Delaware, like the new tech program in Seaford, it arranges to take stakeholders, including administrators, teachers and school board members, for on-site visits so they can see for themselves, Doordan said.