Authorizing Schools in the Open System

“Authorizing” is the set of processes by which new schools are evaluated according to standardized criteria and eventually approved or denied by the Board of Education.  (The specifics vary a bit from state to state and authorizer to authorizer, but the process is essentially the same.)  In DPS, the same criteria and evaluation process is used for both charter and district-run schools.

I oversaw this process for three years until June 2017.  Our work was based mostly on a publicly available rubric to establish a standard “Quality Bar”— if an applicant can meet or exceed the quality bar, the theory goes, it will be most likely be a high quality school.

One benefit to having a centrally-determined rubric and rigorous review process for determining school quality, authorizers can be relatively confident that new schools will be high quality options for families once they open.

However, far from creating an Open System, our strategies to engage with community members to see first hand what individuals directly impacted by new schools wanted, often regrettably served a compliance function rather than lead to any shared power.

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3 Truths & Unwinding Our Definition of "Community"

If we are going to build the open system, then we must be grounded in the complexity and challenges of defining community. We need to know how to be open, to whom we should be open, and to be aware of the perils of labeling community as “the other” in hopes of engaging them.

The reality is simply this - if you're an Opener charged with opening some part of a system, you're gonna have to wrestle with these truths and definitional dynamics.  All Openers need to reconcile the system's need for feedback, the dynamic nature of community itself and the imperfections of any process designed to "talk to the community."

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