With New Bedford Middle Schools still seeing little progress, school officials will consider making big changes.

At Monday's School Committee meeting, John D'Auria, a member of a non-profit professional development group called Teachers21, presented his findings on New Bedford's potential benefit to adopting Innovation Zones in middle schools.

The study by Teachers21 was paid for through a grant by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

A major idea behind the zone is giving teachers and principals more freedom over class structures in each school, including how schedules look and how students learn.

D'Auria said the extra freedom teachers receive helps shape classes around student needs.

"And that alignment often leads to excitement, because I am taking responsibility and I'm allowed some freedom to make a choice on how to better serve the students in front of me," D'Auria said.

While committee members supported the idea of giving teachers autonomy over their classes, they questioned a key condition of the Innovation Zone.

D'Auria said Innovation Zones typically have governance boards of elected teachers. This means there would be a group other than the school committee making certain decisions for the middle schools.

Ultimately, the school committee voted to negotiate with the New Bedford Educators Association on possibly redesigning the middle schools, with Innovation Zones being one option.

Only committee member Chris Cotter voted against the motion with concerns over parts of the Innovation Zone concept.

While Cotter supported the idea of giving teachers autonomy, he called the overall Innovation Zone proposal by Teachers21 "a charter school with a different name".

"Everything that was presented tonight is a similar, or is similar to what the charter school concepts are all about," Cotter told WBSM News, " and with a nonprofit organization leading the charge, that's where I become very skeptical."

Superintendent Pia Durkin hopes to present the results of middle school redesign discussions with the NBEA in early spring.