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Inter-connected Innovation


October 24th, 2022

The Renton Innovation Zone - foundation supported; community led

The start of the school year is a reminder of just how important community is, and in the Renton Innovation Zone, we’re seeing the power of local community collaboration, especially during a pandemic. As the issues facing public schools are multi-factored and pervasive, the solutions that we explore must also be just as inter-connected and embedded.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is capping off its final year of funding for the Renton Innovation Zone (or RIZ), led by the Renton School District and Community Center for Education Results (CCER). So now is an opportune time to showcase the community-designed and community-driven model that will continue its successes beyond this foundation’s support. Thanks to the hard work of everyone working on the RIZ project and its predecessor programs, the community has seen the following student and family outcomes, with more to come:

  • One Renton School District school saw high attendance rates rise over 20 percentage points over the course of three terms.
  • Another school’s goal was to reduce behavior-related referrals in a two-month window by the end of the year. This school saw a 55 percent reduction in the average number of referrals per student by the end of the year, when compared with the beginning of the year.
  • Another school in the RIZ chose to focus on increasing math effort and math skills. By the end of the year, the percentage of students exceeding expectations in math effort went from 54 to 77 percent, and the percentage of students meeting math standards improved 15 percentage points over 3 terms.
  • When schools closed, Communities in Schools of Renton-Tukwila (CISR-T) worked in partnership with the Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (RIZP). Between March and October, $119,593 of Emergency Fund donations were distributed to 527 local families in the form of grocery store gift cards, rental assistance, utility assistance, and cell phone support. Over the course of 30 weeks, they had 78 volunteers offer over 800 hours to help distribute weekly food and gift cards to families in Renton. CCER also supplemented these RIZP Emergency Funds with additional COVID support for families who were educating their children at home.

The Renton Innovation Zone is unique in that it takes a collective impact approach. That means that a group of important stakeholders commit to working together, using their unique powers and skills to collaboratively solve complex problems together. This is made all the stronger when this group is rooted in the same local community, an essential component. Schools, local community-based organizations, families and counselors are all working together in a tight-knit network, with the child at the center, to bring in insights and identify solutions that will directly benefit students.

“While we clearly did not have all the answers when we started the RIZ, we understood that to truly meet the needs of our students and families, we would have to extend our efforts beyond the school,” writes Damien Pattenaude, Ed.D., Superintendent of Renton School District in Local Improvement Networks: Working together for elementary success. “You have to be in it for the long haul. Our leaders at the district offices and schools are committed for the long term. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes when it comes to meeting the needs of our communities.”

What made these successes possible

Early successes instill trust and momentum

Early successes in Renton and a federal School Improvement Grant at Lakeridge School were important gateways to larger commitments to new approaches to school transformation and continuous improvement. For example, by 2014, the percent of Lakeridge third graders who were proficient in math had more than doubled to 60 percent. Renton School District leadership recognized the potential of Lakeridge’s approach and wanted to apply it to other elementary schools in the Skyway-West Hill and Sunset neighborhoods.

Social and Emotional Learning’s benefits go beyond the classroom

Since social and emotional learning was stated as such a need, leaders created a Social and Emotional Learning Network, as a way to lift up and disseminate the learnings year over year, relying on the expertise of counselors, behavior interventionists, family liaisons and social and learning coaches. When schools closed during the pandemic, Sound Discipline partners worked with schools in Renton and Tukwila and added short, practical social and emotional learning activities to their website (like how to recognize and build good friendships, and how to name and talk about feelings, emotions and moods), started a Virtual Parent Support Network that met weekly online, and YouTube videos that help aid conflicts at home.

Sustainable math gains means teaching students to be sense makers

Improving math fluency isn’t a short-term fix, it means ensuring that students have a strong conceptual understanding of math, and a continued desire to learn. The Math Network, working with coaches and a UW facilitator, focused on improving math outcomes for English language learners and helping teachers adapt teaching strategies based on student learning.

Partnerships are essential for creating an ecosystem of support

Improving math fluency isn’t a short-term fix, it means ensuring that students have a strong conceptual understanding of math, and a continued desire to learn. The Math Network, working with coaches and a UW facilitator, focused on improving math outcomes for English language learners and helping teachers adapt teaching strategies based on student learning.

Data transparency drives change collaboratively

Data on students’ progress can often be stuck in silos, and gathering that data as a partner organization can be difficult and time-consuming. Through an intentional attention to partnership and transparency, formerly disparate organizations made one agreement with the district, allowing them access to the same data to better understand the full picture of student progress and better offer support for students and families.

Work moves at the speed of trust

It is important to build trust and strong relationships before truly collaborative work can begin. Especially due to interruptions to the school community due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families and students’ relationship to place and school has been disrupted as well. The RIZ puts relationship and trust building at the center of its core values, so that families and students can continually count on and place their trust in schools and networks, even in the face of cultural and linguistic differences.

“Relationships were foundational to this work and enabled not only quick action, but also trust-building within families and schools. So when crisis hit, there was an understanding that meeting basic needs and social emotional learning were paramount over simply pushing on academic outcomes. It really centered the whole child,” says Monali Patel of the Community Center for Education Results.

The pandemic has taught us that we are all connected in so many ways, and that means that our systems need to be connected in order to fully serve our students. The RIZ has fully stepped into a collective impact and collective care model in ways that we all benefit from. As math coaches, school counselors, parents and teachers are given a mode to talk to one another, they gather context and learning on what is working, what’s not working. The Renton Innovation Zone has given them time to talk about the work, create relationships, course correct and let go of what’s not working. This continuous improvement model feeds a continuous opportunity for innovation, which is needed in our constantly changing society.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has learned so much from the innovation and continuous work of this project that was derived from, designed by and pushed forward by the local community. We are honored to have provided an infusion of financial support during its mid-stage, and look forward to seeing efforts continue into the future.



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