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Gates to Fund More Charter-District Collaborations

By guest blogger Stephen Sawchuk

Boston, Central Falls, R.I., and Sacramento, Calif. will join a handful of other of other school systems to receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to set up collaborative relationships with charter schools within their borders, the Seattle-based philanthropy announced today.

The basic idea behind the initiative is to better integrate charters and traditional public schools to create an exchange of best practices, and to ease tensions about such issues as facilities and supports. The districts still have to formally apply for the Gates funding, but they can win up to $100,000 once they do. (Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit that publishes Education Week, also receives Gates Foundation support.)

The new districts join ten others that received Gates Foundation funding last December for similar compacts. Those districts are Baltimore; Denver; Hartford, Conn.; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; New York City; and Rochester, N.Y.

Under the new funding, Sacramento officials will work together to create a "blended" school that integrates online and face-to-face learning. They'll also deal with school facilities access, among other issues.

Leaders in Central Falls, R.I., will work with five charter schools to develop a common admission lottery; common assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and a shared teacher evaluation and support system.

The district has been in the news due to a rough relationship between school superintendent Frances Gallo and the city teachers' union. The city of Central Falls recently declared bankruptcy, and its finances, including those of the school district, are currently in receivership; the receiver, Robert Flanders Jr., removed Gallo and others from teacher contract negotiations after the talks reached an impasse.

In a conference call with reporters, Gallo said those developments would not affect the compact with the charter schools.

Finally, the Boston compact will include giving charter schools access to its special education professional development and school-leadership training with Harvard University. The partners will also develop an initiative to increase writing skills at the middle-school level.

The Gates Foundation's criteria for the compacts did not include winning approval from teachers' unions.

The Boston participants noted that they're committed to working through the rough spots in the new partnership.

"This is like a plane taking off, you're in flight, you can't now turn around," said Kevin Andrews, the chair of the Boston Alliance of Charter Schools. "We hope to have a nice long ride with one another. It may get a little rough in places, but we'll smooth out because we have very good captains flying the plane."

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