On January 7, 2019, the Somerville Teachers Association (STA) ratified an agreement advancing the authorization of Powderhouse Studios (PHS), a proposed new district Innovation School. The next step in the Innovation School approval process gives the School Committee no more than 60 days to deliberate and vote on the school’s plan. Over the next two months, Somerville School Committee will engage in public deliberation culminating in a vote on March 4, 2019 on whether to authorize PHS as a district school. The following document offers a complete overview of the Powderhouse Studios proposal:
1. How can I learn more about Powderhouse Studios, and how can I share my perspective on whether School Committee should authorize a new district Innovation School?
Please read through the materials on this page and know that we want to hear from you. Over the next two months, School Committee will hold two public hearings, multiple office hours, listen to public comment at the start of each full School Committee meeting, and encourage direct constituent contact as much as possible. Please review the following meeting schedule at which the authorization of Powderhouse Studios will be discussed. We encourage all interested residents to attend and/or reach out directly to School Committee members. Member contact information is available here.
|1/14/2019||7:00pm||Regular School Committee Meeting: Powderhouse Studios Presentation||City Hall Chambers (93 Highland Ave.)|
|1/16/2019||7:00pm||School Committee Long Range Planning Meeting||Edgerly Building Conference Room (8 Bonair St., 2nd floor)|
|1/23/2019||6:00pm||Powderhouse Studios Public Hearing 1||East Somerville Community School (50 Cross St.)|
|1/26-2/10/2019||Varied||School Committee Office Hours - Powderhouse Studios & District Budget||Varies (Office Hours Schedule)|
|1/28/2019||7:00pm||Regular School Committee Meeting: Powderhouse Studios Deliberation||City Hall Chambers (93 Highland Ave.)|
|2/4/2019||7:00pm||Regular School Committee Meeting: Powderhouse Studios Deliberation||City Hall Chambers (93 Highland Ave.)|
|2/6/2019||6:00pm||Powderhouse Studios Public Hearing 2||West Somerville Neighborhood School (177 Powder House Blvd.)|
|2/12/2019||5:30pm||Powderhouse Studios Community Presentation||Winter Hill Community Innovation School (115 Sycamore St.)|
|2/13/2019||7:00pm||School Committee Long Range Planning Meeting||Edgerly Building Conference Room (8 Bonair St.)|
|2/25/2019||7:00pm||Regular School Committee Meeting: Powderhouse Studios Deliberation||City Hall Chambers (93 Highland Ave.)|
|3/4/2019||7:00pm||Regular School Committee Meeting: Powderhouse Studios Deliberation and Vote||City Hall Chambers (93 Highland Ave.)|
2. What is the history of Powderhouse Studios, and how was the school awarded a $10 million grant?
In 2012, the local nonprofit Sprout & Co. put together a prospectus for a district Innovation School called "the Somerville STEAM Academy". Then-Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi, Somerville Teachers Association President Jackie Lawrence, and then-School Committee Chair Paul Bockelman approved the prospectus in 2012. The school’s first Innovation Plan was then approved in 2014.
In 2016, ten winners of the XQ Super School Project from across the United States were announced. Each winning project would receive $10 million over the next 5 years to implement their proposed project. Among the winning projects was Somerville’s Powderhouse Studios, a project that proposes a new district Innovation School that would ultimately serve approximately 160 middle grades/high school students.
The XQ Super School Project was a national competition encouraging teams to “rethink high school” and submit proposals that proposed new and innovative ways in which to engage young adults as the drivers of their educational experience and challenge students to be critical thinkers. The competition was open to anyone interested in rethinking the high school educational experience and willing to contribute thoughts, ideas, and energy to the process. Learn more about the Powderhouse Studios announcement at: https://xqsuperschool.org/xq-schools/powderhouse.
3. Where does the authorization of Powderhouse Studios stand now?
Somerville Public Schools and the Somerville Teachers’ Association (STA) recently reached a tentative agreement about Powderhouse Studios. As a first step in authorizing the school, STA members voted to ratify this agreement on January 7, 2019. The next step in the state-mandated Innovation School approval process gives the School Committee no more than 60 days to deliberate and vote on the plan. Over the next two months, Somerville School Committee will engage in public deliberation before a March 4th vote on whether to authorize the school. If approved by School Committee, Powderhouse Studios plans to open in Fall 2019.
4. How would Powderhouse Studios be designed and where would it be located?
If approved, Powderhouse Studios would open as a year-round district Innovation School in Fall 2019 with a first cohort of up to 40 students (ages 13 to 15). The school would add small cohorts of students each subsequent year. PHS would be located at the old Powderhouse Community School building, and the $10 million award would offset significant startup and design costs of launching the school. Learn more about the proposed site renovation: http://www.markacommunities.com/powderhouse/.
Powderhouse's weighted enrollment lottery will ensure the school’s population mirrors the socioeconomic, demographic, and academic profile of the overall district. As proposed, PHS staff will work 220 days per year 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and youth will attend school 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Teachers will work in small, cross-functional teams supporting mixed-age cohorts of students throughout their time at the school.
5. What grades will Powderhouse Studios serve?
Powderhouse Studios will not have grade levels, but is expected to serve students that would traditionally fall in upper middle school through high school.
6. What is an in-district Innovation School?
An in-district Innovation School is a district school that has received approval to operate with increased autonomy and flexibility in up to six areas. The idea is that the increased autonomy will provide schools the opportunity to implement creative and inventive strategies to increase student achievement and reduce achievement gaps while keeping school funding within the district. The six areas in which an in-district Innovation School can secure autonomy are: curriculum, budget, school schedule and calendar, staffing (which can include waivers from or exemptions to collective bargaining agreements), professional development, and school district policies. An Innovation School can operate as a new school (as was proposed by Powderhouse Studios), a conversion school (as in the case of the Winter Hill Community Innovation School), or an academy (a school-within-a-school).
7. What is the difference between an Innovation School and a Charter School?
Please see this document for a detailed comparison between an Innovation School, Pilot School, Horace Mann Charter School, and a Commonwealth Charter School.
8. How does a school become an Innovation School?
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has established a four-step authorization process for Innovation Schools.
- An eligible applicant must submit an initial prospectus to the district. Two-thirds approval of the prospectus from a screening committee that includes the superintendent or a designee, a school committee member or a designee, and a representative from the teachers’ union must be obtained in order for the authorization process to move forward.
- An innovation plan committee that includes up to 11 school, district, and community representatives develops the innovation plan.
- Upon completion of the innovation plan, specific steps are required based on the type of Innovation School being proposed. A new school requires negotiations among the applicant, teachers’ union, and superintendent if the plan includes proposed waivers from or modifications to the collective bargaining agreement.
- The innovation plan is submitted to the School Committee for approval. The School Committee must hold at least one public hearing prior to voting on the plan. A majority vote of the school committee is required for approval.
Upon approval, the Innovation School is authorized for a period of up to five years, and can be reauthorized by the school committee at the end of each term. The Superintendent will work with the school committee to evaluate the school in accordance with the annual measurable goals included in the innovation plan. In addition, the Superintendent can work with the operator of the Innovation School and the school committee to revise the plan as necessary. Any revisions that propose changes to the collective bargaining agreement require a two-thirds vote of approval from the teachers in the Innovation School.
9. Will the community have an opportunity to provide input or vote on the new school?
Step 4 of the Innovation Plan Authorization Process, as noted in Question #8 above, includes the School Committee holding at least one public hearing prior to the School Committee voting on the plan. Additionally, the Powderhouse Studios team has conducted numerous community outreach efforts throughout the planning process since their submission of the original prospectus. The community will have various opportunities to provide input to the School Committee, as detailed in #1 above, before the School Committee votes on the proposal.
10. Has the school been approved by the School Committee?
No. Powderhouse Studios is currently at Step 4 of the Innovation Plan Authorization Process outlined in Question #3 above. The school has not yet been formally approved by the School Committee. School Committee will hold two public hearings, multiple office hours, listen to public comment at the start of each full School Committee meeting, and encourage direct constituent contact.
11. When would Powderhouse Studios open?
If approved by School Committee, Powderhouse Studios plans to open in Fall 2019 with up to 40 students (ages 13 to 15) and add a new group of up to 40 Somerville students in each of the following three years.
12. Will Powderhouse Studios be under the oversight of the existing School Committee or will the school have its own board of directors?
The district’s School Committee has oversight authority over an in-district Innovation School. However, an Innovation School can secure a number of autonomies as noted in Question #6 above, including autonomy from School Committee Policies. Powderhouse Studios has requested a number of autonomies including autonomy from some School Committee Policies. Innovation Schools can also establish a Governing Board separate from the School Committee to help guide the school’s day-to-day operations. The Winter Hill Community Innovation School currently operates under a Governing Board school model.
13. Is the old Powder House Community School being re-opened as Powderhouse Studios?
No. The old Powder House Community School site is being renovated into a multi-use facility. Powderhouse Studios would be an entirely new school that would reside within the newly renovated facility.
14. Is the Powderhouse Studios XQ award tied in to the SHS Building Project?
No. The Somerville High School Building Project is an entirely separate project to replace the existing Somerville High School facility with one that will support 21st century learning and that will best prepare students for college and career success. Learn more about the SHS Building Project at www.somervillema.gov/highschool.