Nearly six years ago, the Tower Foundation began working with Reimagine Learning, a sprawling network of social entrepreneurs, funders, policymakers, and researchers working to transform the way learning happens in America. The goal was clear: create learning environments for all students, particularly those with learning disabilities. In addition to the overall aim, it was a priority to bring these efforts to a Tower region. Today, two districts in Massachusetts—the Lawrence School District and the Salem School District—are supported by Reimagine Learning and experiencing significant transformations.
In Lawrence, the first school district to be taken over by the Commonwealth for poor performance, the introduction of Acceleration Academy has made a dramatic impact on student achievement and teacher buy-in. During an Acceleration Academy session, students in grades 3–12 are paired with exceptional teachers in intensive, hands-on learning environments, and results from the program have been impressive. Test scores and graduation rates are up while dropout rates are down. Before leaving his post to become the State’s Commissioner of Education, Lawrence Superintendent Jeff Riley said,“We did not set curriculum, instead, we trusted our teachers to do what they do best and they have been able to accelerate a month of learning into one week. This has made a huge difference for our kids.” Plus, with the Foundation’s support, Reimagine Learning created a multimedia case study called The Golden Ticket, codifying the model so it can be shared and implemented in other districts.
Not far away, the Salem School District was struggling with achievement gaps, declining enrollment, high teacher turnover, and low morale. This incredible challenge was no match for Salem’s new Superintendent Margarita Ruiz. She and her team were ready to develop and implement a bold vision for change.
In partnership with the local mayor, the district engaged in a community-wide strategic planning process that gave ownership to all involved. The process, facilitated by Reimagine Learning, pushed teachers, parents, administrators, and city officials to think boldly and to get out of their comfort zones. The Salem School Committee approved the plan in May of 2017 and the District has now moved into the implementation phase. As with the Lawrence District, Reimagine Learning codified all the tools and processes so others may benefit from this successful work.
“Connecting at the local level, especially in a smaller region, was new for Reimagine Learning,” says Tracy Sawicki, Tower Foundation Executive Director. “We pushed for this and it has proven to be beneficial to making change that will improve learning outcomes for students, especially those with learning disabilities, that can be shared with similar communities.”