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Seven Syracuse schools enter first year of Innovation Zone

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

The seven worst schools in the Syracuse City School District are joining forces in an attempt to improve the performance of those schools in a short period of time. The district says the Innovation Zone schools, armed with more than $31 million in state grants, can turn things around.

Teachers from the seven schools, wearing brightly colored shirts representing their teams, danced and sang at a rally to prepare for the first year their schools will be in the iZone. Danforth Middle School, Frazer K-8, The Westside Academy at Blodgett, Bellevue, Porter, Seymour and Van Duyn Elementaries have been identified as having some of the worst test scores in the state. Zheadric Barbra is leading the turnaround program, which means more flexible operating conditions at schools and increased autonomy.

"They have now an extended learning day for all students," Barbra said. "And we have built in professional development for teachers that is really, really geared toward helping them develop skills that will help them do this work that they are charged with doing."  

Porter Elementary School fourth grade teacher Catie Sawka says most of her summer was filled with professional development days.

"You're learning how to be a better teacher," Sawka said. "You're learning how to be more in tune with who your kids are, and you're learning what these authors of these programs have to say of what they've dedicated their lives researching, of what's going to work."

Sawka says she is also looking forward to the extended school day at these schools.
"[We can] work with children to work on individual skills because not every child learns the same and not every child struggles the same," Sawka said. "So taking that in mind and having that set time of day I think is going to be crucial to the I-Zone this year."

The other important component of this is there will be communication between schools, so if teachers at one school figure out something that works, they'll pass it on to colleagues at another. Barbra says they'll know it's a success not just from test scores, but other measures including attendance, teacher turnover rates and parental involvement.