More On Schools: Your Questions Answered (Part II)

16 Jun 2010 | Jennifer Kennedy, Consultant

As promised, I am posting more of your questions on the involvement of schools in the application processand my answers – please feel free to comment or ask additional clarifying questions using the comment function below. You can also continue to send your questions to

In addition, please see my June 11th blog post for Question # and also some basic information as written by the Department of Education in the NIA to clarify some further details. For a broader context on Race to the Top and other federal education policy element, please check out the Promise Neighborhoods Institute website’s Education Primer.

Question #2:  We have six LEAs with which we are already working in multiple capacities.  We will likely name either one or two of those LEAs as our partner(s) for the planning year, and include the rest in our scalability plan.  Our question concerns which and how many LEAs to name as partners for this planning process.

While technically, according to the guidelines, you could work with just one school, you probably want to choose at least two schools in order to reach more of the children in your target geographic area and show that your project has schools solidly at the center of its design.  In choosing the schools, you want to keep in mind that the Federal government has deliberately integrated its school reform agenda into the requirements for the project in order to reach its mission to reform the nation’s worst schools.  For this reason, you want to show that your project is going to partner with and help transform/turnaround some of the lowest-performing schools in your target area.  You need to contact your local school district and find out at what point they are in the process of implementing intervention strategies at these schools, as mandated by the state and the Federal government, and align your project with these efforts.

Because school reform can be complicated, however, you also want to choose your school partner(s) carefully.  You cannot mandate that a school adopt a particular school reform model—that is the jurisdiction of the school district. Despite the fact that you have no control over the choice of the model and little influence on implementing it, you will, however, be responsible for reporting on improved academic indicators for children at these schools, as part of your PNI project. You want to pick, therefore, the school or set of schools that are most likely to “deliver” concrete results and improvements over the next few years.

You may also want to take into consideration which schools already have strong partnerships with one another or serve as “feeder” schools for other schools in the neighborhood (i.e., in order to strengthen a particular pipeline), then work outwards to other schools as you “scale up” the project.  Whichever schools you choose, you will not be able to serve all the kids of all ages in your target neighborhood through those schools, so you must show that you have the people and organizations at the table that can develop solutions that reach the rest of the children not served by that school or set of schools.

Question #3: The guidelines state that applicants must “Partner with at least one school.” Does that mean we need the school to sign the MOU or only the school’s LEA or both?

Technically, the school district is the governing authority for the school.  As this may entail major restructuring, I would advise getting the district to sign off on the MOU (they do not have to commit to a particular intervention model at the time of signing the MOU, just to “exploring” the implementation of one of these models at the “persistently lowest-achieving school” in the district.