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Autonomous District Schools: Lessons From the Field on a Promising Strategy

Mary K. Wells
Tresha Francis Ward
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Title image for Bellwether publication "Autonomous District Schools," October 2019Autonomous district schools (sometimes called “in-district charters”) use some of the same freedoms that public charter schools enjoy while remaining part of the district. Enabled by innovative policies that support school-level autonomy, Springfield, Massachusetts; Indianapolis, Indiana; Denver, Colorado; and San Antonio, Texas, are experimenting with these types of schools. While these efforts are too new to have clear student impact data, autonomous district schools could be a promising strategy to improve districts’ ability to meet families’ and students’ needs and to improve outcomes.

Autonomous District Schools: Lessons From the Field on a Promising Strategy” summarizes Bellwether’s work with San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) over the past 18 months. The district has authorized three networks of autonomous district schools using a law that supports and incentivizes the creation of these schools. Bellwether provided program design support, strategic advice, and capacity building to SAISD’s Network Principal Initiative, and this deck offers an overview of the initiative and the lessons we learned about the launch of autonomous district schools.

This slide deck is accompanied by a tool kit, “Autonomous District Schools: Tools for Planning and Launching,” which offers concrete resources for leaders interested in planning an autonomous school or network. 

Download the full deck here, or read it in the viewer below.