In Spring 2015, One Day reported on the SKY Partnership in Texas, a groundbreaking, six-school charter-district collaboration that co-located KIPP and YES Prep charter schools within traditional Spring Branch district school buildings. (Four of the six principals are Teach For America alumni: Sarah Guerrero [Houston ’07], Bryan Reed [G.N.O.-LAD ’03], Jeremy Jones [G.N.O.-LAD ’05], and Eric Schmidt [Houston ’07].) Unlike most co-locations, the SKY schools went beyond space sharing, encouraging faculty to learn from each other and students to come together in activities like band and sports.
Elliott Witney (Houston ’97), who oversaw the launch of the SKY partnership and now serves as an associate superintendent of the Spring Branch district, reports that the collaboration, now in its sixth year, has yielded progress on several fronts. Achievement is up at the two middle schools, with both moving out of the “improvement required” category. Disciplinary infractions are down thanks to joint implementation of restorative justice practices.
The SKY partners also teamed up to deliver joint training for a cohort of more than 20 assistant principals and staff members from all three organizations. And two of the co-located middle schools (Northbrook Middle and YES Prep Northbrook Middle) are among the three schools that won a $1.6 million grant to pilot personalized learning programs. Fostering a unified culture at co-located schools remains a challenge, but Witney says that overall, SKY students see themselves as “we” not “me.”
“The SKY partnership is “opening doors to other charter-district alliances across the state.”
The SKY partnership is also delivering on the long-elusive potential of charter schools to be incubators for district innovations. Two years ago, three Spring Branch principals asked to try out the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment being utilized by their in-house charter partners. MAP is an adaptive computer test in reading and math that instantly provides data on a student’s individual skills and needs. Witney says that “within six weeks we were using it—that’s fast in a huge system like ours,” which launched the assessment in all its K-8 schools this year.
The wins of the SKY partnership may soon expand beyond Spring Branch. In the most recent Texas legislative session, a bill was passed that gives incentives for charters and districts to collaborate. “The proof point was the SKY partnership,” Witney says. “It’s opening doors to other charter-district alliances across the state.”
Still, the true test is post-secondary success. To that end, all three SKY Partnership school networks have committed to tracking not just high school graduation rates but also college completion. They’re doing this by collecting and sharing their data with United For College Success (UFCS), a coalition of eight Texas-based charter school networks and three large independent school districts: Spring Branch, Houston, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo.
Yvonne Eype of UFCS says that 78 percent of all the students in the cohorts that have been tracked, beginning in 2012, are persisting in college. As the data grows, Eype says UFCS will analyze it and share recommendations with schools to help them make evidenced-based decisions on how to strengthen programs and support their alumni in college.