A growing number of school districts from Boston to Western Massachusetts are embracing a new kind of school to pursue educational innovations and compete more aggressively with charter schools.
About a dozen “innovation schools’’ are expected to open this fall, while another dozen should arrive a year later. The movement follows the launch of the state’s first three innovation schools this past school year.
“It’s really catching fire,’’ said Paul Reville, the state’s education secretary. “I would predict innovation schools in a relatively short period of time could surpass the number of charter schools in the state if the growth continues at the rate we’ve seen recently.’’
Innovation schools - a cornerstone of Governor Deval Patrick’s overhaul of public education - are part of the state’s efforts to create schools that operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools.
Innovation schools and the state’s 56 independently run charter schools are similar in that decisions about curriculum, staffing, and budgeting are made by a school-based governing board with the goal of crafting programs that meet the specific needs of their students.
But unlike charter schools, which report directly to the state, innovation schools must negotiate the extent of the freedom to make their own decisions with the superintendent and School Committee, and are bound by most provisions of the district’s teachers union contract.
The schools offer parents another educational option for their children, and the opportunity to help build a new school from the ground up.
The three school districts that tested the concept this past school year were able to create innovation schools with unique focuses.
Taking advantage of a new school building, Revere launched the state’s first innovation school, the Paul Revere Innovation School, where programs cater to the emotional and social well-being of students, most of whom live in poverty.
The Mahar Regional School District used the model to create a college-preparatory high school at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, while Greenfield launched a K-8 school that operates almost entirely in cyberspace.
The flurry of activity has pleased the Patrick administration and some key legislators, who wondered whether districts would allow schools much autonomy after an earlier attempt in the late-1990s fizzled.
Reville and other state education leaders hope the innovation schools will attain similar success as many of the charter schools, which have some of the highest MCAS scores and lengthy waiting lists for students to gain admittance.
School districts also have a big financial stake in making innovation schools work. Should these prove popular among parents, fewer students - and the education aid that supports them - might ultimately leave the districts for a charter school.