WHAT ARE PILOT SCHOOLS?
Pilot Schools are innovative K-12 public schools that are given the autonomy to create a culture that supports high expectations and achievement. While still a part of a school district, Pilot Schools have increased control over budget, design of instruction, daily and yearly schedules and calendars, and staffing decisions. Pilot Schools receive the same per pupil allocation as all Aurora Public Schools, but their greater autonomy allow the schools to be flexible in making decisions that best meet the needs of students and their families.
Each pilot school has a unifying vision with a clear mission that holds themselves accountable for success. Pilot Schools’ demographics are expected to reflect their neighborhoods and reflect the district’s demographics. Teachers and staff retain the same salary and benefits and seniority rights as any teacher in the district. Staff members choose to work in a Pilot School.
In 1995, Boston Public Schools opened its first Pilot Schools to serve as a reform strategy to increase student achievement. These schools became laboratories of innovation and research. Now Boston has more than 20 Pilot Schools, and the number continues to grow. Why? Because they work. Pilot Schools in Boston are outperforming the district averages across every indicator of student performance and engagement. Students at every grade level outperform their peers on statewide assessments, have higher attendance rates and increased college enrollment for graduates of Pilot high schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District has recently is a Pilot School district as well.
Pilot Schools can be any grade level: elementary, middle or high. The only requirement is that no Pilot can be larger than 500 students. For larger schools, this means creating separate schools within an existing facility. Each school must have its own staff and budget with a different programmatic focus.
Pilot Schools are a collaboration and partnership between the school district and the teachers association. Pilot Schools are exempt from many constraints of district policy as well as parts of the teachers’ negotiated agreement in order to be more innovative and empower teachers and engage the community. Teachers will still be entitled to the same salary and benefits as other teachers in the district and retain their seniority and transfer rights. Both parties relinquish part of their authority in order to allow school administrators and staff more school-based decision-making power. The willingness to do this is fueled by the desire to have successful school reform that results in increased academic performance and more student engagement in the school.
Pilot Schools will be given autonomy and maximum control over their resources in exchange for increased accountability. Pilot Schools will be expected to demonstrate significant increases in student achievement within three years. One measure would be that student performance on state tests such as CSAP and ACT must exceed the district averages when compared to schools within the district with similar demographics.
WHY DID AURORA PUBLIC SCHOOLS CHOOSE TO BECOME A PILOT SCHOOL DISTRICT?
Deputy Superintendent Tony Van Gytenbeek, Aurora Education Association President Brenna Isaacs and AEA UniServ Director Frank O’Hara introduced Pilot Schools as an innovative approach for increasing student achievement in Aurora Public Schools. Based on a model developed in the Boston Public School District and more recently in the Los Angeles Unified School District, AEA started a conversation about the feasibility of Pilot Schools as an effective vehicle for school reform in APS.
In 2006, the APS community, including members of AEA and the Classified Employee Council, parents, students, business leaders and elected officials provided feedback and support for VISTA 2010, the bold and courageous strategic plan unanimously adopted by the APS Board of Education on Nov. 21, 2006. Currently, thousands of APS teachers, classified staff members and administrators work hard to implement the transformational goals of VISTA 2015, the next phase of the district's strategic plan.
AEA leadership understood that the innovative Pilot School structure could, like VISTA 2010, become a positive tool for reform and transformation. In spring 2007, in the interest of continuing transformation and increasing student achievement, AEA and APS bargaining teams agreed to create a joint Pilot School Study Group to explore becoming a "Pilot School District." The study group met from June through August 2007 and was charged with clarifying impacts and recommending parameters for Aurora Public Schools to implement Pilot Schools. The study group developed a response to charge for the Board of Education and the AEA Board.
(View the Pilot School Study Group's complete Response to Charge)
In October 2007, both the Aurora Education Association and the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education approved the plan to create a Pilot School program in APS. By 2011, the plan became part of the Negotiated Agreement as Article 44.
Pilot Schools are not be subject to all parts of the teacher contract except in the basic areas of salary and benefits, district seniority rights, and normal rights of transfer. The bargaining teams negotiated teacher contract language relating to Pilot Schools. AEA and the Aurora Public Schools have partnered to provide support for fostering educational reform. By encouraging ownership by staff and families and by engaging the community, the educational learning environment of schools are optimized and a choice is offered to staff and parents.
Schools may apply and be accepted to become a Pilot School with the goal of eight Pilot Schools districtwide by August 2015.
HOW DO PILOT SCHOOLS OPERATE?
All Pilot Schools share four essential features, or SAGE:
Small Size, Accountability, Governing Autonomy, and Equity.
- Small Size
Small size is a key feature of Pilot Schools. Pilot Schools make the commitment not to exceed 500 students or the program capacity of the school in order to foster a nurturing environment where staff can meet the learning needs of every student. The schools must have a unifying vision with a clear mission and hold themselves accountable for success. There should be a personalized learning environment for students. The goal is to ensure low student-to-classroom teacher ratios that take into account the actual teacher load. There should be staff collaboration in planning and a collaborative culture that includes staff, families, community and students (when age appropriate).
In exchange for increased autonomy, Pilot Schools are held to higher levels of accountability. In addition to ongoing assessments, after three years of operations, each Pilot School undertakes a School Quality Review process based on a set of common benchmarks for a high-performing school. The accountability requires both internal and external reviews. As compared to schools with similar demographics, Pilot Schools are expected to exceed district averages in achievement and show growth toward higher levels of student engagement in areas of attendance, reduction in mobility, fewer discipline concerns, and (for high school) an increase in graduation rates.
A Joint Steering Committee (JSC) oversees and supports Pilot Schools. JSC membership includes: the Aurora Education Association president, an AEA designee, the superintendent (or designee), a district-level representative from the Division of Instruction, three teachers selected by AEA, three administrators selected by School Executives of Aurora, one classified representative selected by the Classified Employee Council and one parent. Liaisons may be requested to join on an as-needed basis to provide relevant expertise.
The JSC is responsible for monitoring the application process, reviewing requests and making recommendations to the Board of Education for final approval for a school to become a pilot site.
The JSC monitors budget agreements and provides support and serves as a liaison between Pilot Schools and the district. The JSC ensures Pilot Schools are meeting the yearly benchmarks each school has set for increased student performance and will be involved in the accountability as part of the School Quality Review after three years of implementation as a Pilot School.
- Governing Autonomy
Pilot Schools have maximum control over these areas so they can create innovative education programs. Although they must follow state and federal laws, Pilot Schools will have the ability to be flexible about how staff is employed and the daily and yearly calendar and schedule for students and staff. Through shared decision making, Pilot Schools are given the freedom to best meet the needs of their students with a structure that realizes the agreed upon vision and mission of the school.
- Governance of Pilot Schools
Each school must have a Governing Board as a representative body that has responsibility for hiring and evaluating the principal (with final approval by the superintendent). The Governing Board approves the annual budget and oversees the educational and operational policies at the school. Using a shared decision making model and guided by the school’s vision and mission, the Governing Board makes decisions relating to class size, schedule, length of school day and school year and the amount and type of required professional development for teachers at the school.
The Governing Board ensures adherence to agreed upon working conditions (within an Annual Election-to-Work Agreement) that include time worked, and rights and responsibilities of staff. This document is known as the election to work agreement because staff must “elect” or choose to work at any Pilot School. Assignments are on a year-to-year basis. The Annual Election-to-Work Agreement must be collaboratively developed and must be approved by two-thirds of licensed staff. Non-probationary teachers at an existing school that converts to a Pilot School may choose to transfer out of the school. Others could be asked to transfer if their jobs are eliminated or converted or if they do not support the vision and mission of the school. In all cases, non-probationary staff members maintain at least the same transfer rights as any other staff in the district. Staff receives the same pay and benefits and accrues seniority as would any district employee.
Pilot Schools have the freedom to hire and release their staff (including the principal) annually in order to ensure a unified school community that supports the vision and mission of the school. Staff members at a Pilot School who are not a match to the vision and mission can be required to transfer. The staffing plan is based on student needs and staff are hired and retained accordingly. Assignment of staff at Pilot Schools will be on a year-to-year basis. There is no job security at the site, but staff retains seniority and transfer rights within the district. The Annual Election-to-Work Agreement will outline working conditions at the school and will be collaboratively developed and approved by two-thirds of licensed staff. (View a sample Annual Election-to-Work Agreement)
Pilot Schools receive the same funding as other comparable schools within the district but have access to identified discretionary income for district services which the Pilot Schools may or may not decide to access. Pilot Schools receive their funding as a lump sum based on the per pupil budget in accordance with equivalent budgets as other district schools with similar enrollment and grade span. This budget includes salaries and all other specified discretionary funds. The lump sum is used as dictated by the school’s vision and mission.
Pilot Schools determine how to allocate funds for staffing and scheduling decisions to realize their vision and mission of improved student learning. Discretionary funds might include district allocations to schools for such things as substitutes, textbooks, athletics, instructional coaches, and professional development. Outside sources of funding from grants, partnerships and foundations will be aggressively pursued to supplement the budget.
- Curriculum and Assessment
Pilot Schools have flexibility to determine the school’s curriculum and assessment practices. They are held accountable for all federal and state mandated tests (e.g. CSAP, CELA and ACT). Pilot Schools are expected to prepare students to take these mandated assessments.
Pilot Schools do not have to follow all district curriculum requirements so that they may choose what content to cover and how to cover it. Pilot Schools are encouraged to create more personalized environments, including small class sizes, small teacher loads, and small learning communities. Each Pilot School determines the professional development to reflect the vision and mission of the school.
Pilot Schools must demonstrate sustained growth through years one and two and are required to exceed district averages after year three when compared to schools in the district with similar demographics.
In order to support school reform and increase student achievement, Pilot Schools have the right to implement flexible schedules, including different student days than those identified by the district and different calendar constructs for both staff and students. Pilot Schools organize the schedule to maximize learning time for students and ensure time for staff planning and professional development. They are in control of their time in order to restructure the day to meet the vision and mission of the school.
- Governance of Pilot Schools
Neighborhood Pilot Schools will reflect similar demographics as the neighborhoods they serve. In district-wide Pilot Schools, efforts will be made to enroll students who are representative of the district as a whole. This would include race/ethnicity, free or reduced lunch eligibility, mainstream special education and English language proficiency. Pilot Schools will ensure success for all students with a vision and mission that expresses a focus on equity. Pilot Schools may not screen based on student achievement.
HOW DOES A SCHOOL BECOME A PILOT SCHOOL?
There will be three types of Pilot Schools:
- Conversion schools: These will be existing APS schools, including existing charter schools, that choose to become Pilot Schools. APS schools will become Pilot Schools through a two-thirds majority vote of licensed staff. All licensed staff members who work more than 50 percent of their week at the school will be eligible to vote. The school will seek support for conversion from both the school’s accountability committee and classified staff. The conversion school will not exceed 500 students. The proposal will be submitted to the Joint Steering Committee for review which would then issue a recommendation to the Board of Education for approval. There will be no extra operating funds provided to conversion schools from the district.
- New, start-up schools: New schools will form a design team of APS staff and parents to submit a proposal to the Joint Steering Committee. Start-up schools developed through the pilot process will receive the same allocation for furniture, computers, supplies as any new school within the district and the first year will also receive a district start-up budget based on a per pupil formula.
- Conversion of a separate school within the same facility: If a large school has a significant number of staff who are interested in becoming a Pilot School, they will be able to convert part of an existing facility to a Pilot School. This will allow existing schools that do not fit within the small size guidelines of 500 students to create a Pilot School at the site as long as they have the support of two-thirds of licensed staff who work more than 50 percent of their week at the school. This will create another school within the same facility. Each school will have its own faculty and budget with different programmatic focus. There would be two or more distinct schools sharing a facility.
The general process is:
- A letter of intent will be submitted to confirm interest to pursue Pilot School status. Each interested school will form a core design team that includes the principal and staff as well as interested parents and community members to begin developing a vision and mission focusing on student success.
- The Joint Steering Committee will receive the letters of intent and will assign a liaison to work with the interested school to provide technical assistance and support to the design team.
- The Joint Steering Committee will offer training and support for all schools who have submitted a letter of intent to ensure a clear understanding of autonomy, a clear awareness of what must be in place instructionally and the opportunity to draft a proposal to become a Pilot School.
- Once the proposal is drafted, the design team and its liaison will work with the entire staff and the school accountability committee to move toward the approval process. During this time, the draft proposal would be finalized.
- To move forward, the proposal must be voted on and will require approval from two-thirds of the licensed staff who work more than 50 percent of their week at the school. Classified staff and the school accountability committee will be asked for their support.
- The final proposal will be submitted to the Joint Steering Committee. The Joint Steering Committee will review the final proposal and will: (a) forward to the Board of Education for approval, (b) return to the design team with feedback and recommendations for re-submitting at another date or (c) deny the proposal. The JSC must approve an application by a two-thirds majority.
- The Board of Education will make the final decision on allowing the school to become a Pilot School.
Note: This process could take from three months to a year depending upon the readiness of the school to envision and consider different instruction, the time needed to develop a vision and mission and the extent of change from the existing program.
The district will provide training to design teams that will work together to develop a vision and mission for the school and develop its structure. Submissions will be made to the Joint Steering Committee following a timeline identified in the Request for Proposal (RFP). The JSC makes a recommendation to the Board of Education for final approval with announcement of selections.
The overall goal would be to have a minimum of eight Pilot Schools operating by 2015.
- View a printable version of this overview.
- View the full Response to Charge.
- View the Annual Election-to-Work Agreement Sample Template.
- View the Pilot Study Group Members.
- View the APS Pilot Schools Manual.
- View the APS Pilot Schools Request for Proposal.