In 2008, Scott Given left his position as Principal at Excel Academy Charter School in East Boston, Massachusetts. Like many other entrepreneurs, Given left his job to pursue a big idea – to bring the best practices of high-performing charter schools like Excel Academy into district schools. Given’s vision was striking because of the significantly different contexts in which school districts and the charter sector operate. According to conventional wisdom, the district would never be able to adopt certain practices from charters, because of the structural barriers put in place by district bureaucracy and union contracts.
Given developed a creative solution to implement his idea. Working as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at NewSchools, Given started UP Education Network. UP is a nonprofit school management organization that focuses on turning around underperforming district schools. UP works closely with the district on school re-openings – UP schools are district schools – but UP enjoys freedoms unavailable to traditional district schools, such as greater control over hiring and budget. By bridging the gap between the district and the charter sector, UP eases the incorporation of charter best practices into district schools.
The results from UP’s turnarounds are striking. By bringing quality instruction, high expectations, and classroom management into failing schools, UP transforms student performance. In just a few years, UP has been able to increase student math scores by more than fifty percent. Before restarting as UP Academy Boston, Patrick F. Gavin Middle School had a 23% proficiency score in math. In 2013, 8th graders at the restart school were 74% proficient.
“Sitting in the back of a classroom in our network for half an hour, I see twenty-five students on the edge of their seats engaged, learning, thinking, excited. Seeing that in a year one turnaround and contrasting that with what was happening in the same classroom one year ago is powerful,” says Given. As UP continues to perform and grow, Given’s wild idea – bringing charter methods to district schools – is fast becoming the new conventional wisdom for school performance.