Idaho Press-Tribune — Imagine a student sitting down one-on-one with a teacher to discuss the day’s lesson, except the day’s lesson is what the student has planned out for himself, not what the teacher would traditionally prepare.
Personalized learning driven by the student — that’s one potential aspect of an innovation school.
The Nampa School District is considering applying for two of its schools to be classified as “innovation schools” as defined by legislation signed into law March 30.
The “Local Innovation Schools Act” allows public schools to operate outside some state and district regulations to provide a more innovative learning environment for their students. This could look like a school using technological devices different than the rest of the district, not participating in traditional district assessments and teaching-based, non-traditional curriculum, according to assistant superintendent Nicole MacTavish.
“It’s part of a larger movement in Nampa to really lean into innovation,” MacTavish said.
The Nampa School District, the principal or superintendent and a majority of the teachers at the school applying to be an innovation school has to write up and sign an agreement with the district’s board of trustees and then submit it to the State Board of Education. The earliest the district can apply for one or several of its schools to be innovative schools is July 1.
Only 10 schools can be accepted by the State Board of Education as innovation schools per fiscal year according to the legislation.
While this application process is on a “first-come, first-served basis,” according to Blake Youde, spokesman for the State Board of Education, the board will make sure the district’s submitted agreement meets the legal requirements as described in the legislation.
The two schools the Nampa School District is considering for application to be innovation schools are Union High School, an alternative school, and a brand new school with the working name Empowerment High School.
EMPOWERMENT HIGH SCHOOL LEADS INNOVATION
The Nampa School District has tentatively drawn up plans for a new high school to be focused around leadership-based education where the students will impact their communities through projects. The projects will incorporate service and entrepreneurial elements which will provide the students opportunities to learn leadership skills.
Students will also create and work on their own educational goals throughout their education and their teachers will serve as more of a mentor than a traditional teacher. The school would also be a “blended-learning school,” so students would receive instruction through both a digital device and a teacher.
Because Empowerment High School would be a public school, funded by the state and deviating from traditional curriculum, it needs to be classified as an innovation school.
INNOVATING UNION HIGH SCHOOL
The district is still considering whether or not to move forward in applying to make Union High School an innovation school, but Superintendent David Peterson said the district is thinking it might.
While Union High School already has non-traditional education approaches, Peterson said it faces challenges regarding staffing requirements, defining the amount of time a student spends in their seat learning and how credits are counted. Graduation requirements and a more advisory approach could also be looked into if the school were to become an innovation school.
“It is extremely difficult to do everything that we are trying to get done in that school under current rules,” Peterson said.
The agreements the Nampa School District and other districts create and sign with their schools and trustee boards must be for a minimum of three years and provide a detailed description of how the school and the district will track the academic progress of the students in the innovation school.
Peterson emphasized that if a school wants to be an innovation school it must provide a concrete plan of how and why it plans to be innovative. MacTavish said that while a school will have more autonomy within the district as an innovation school, it will also have increased responsibility and accountability regarding the success of its students. For example, this means a 100 percent graduation rate for Empowerment High School.
Peterson and MacTavish said they anticipate Empowerment and Union high schools to have a “year zero” for preparation where staff will develop curriculum and lesson plans before it is taught to the students. After year zero the first one to two years will be a bit bumpy while the schools get used to their new aspects but academic improvement will still be tracked.
MacTavish and Peterson agreed as long as the schools continually show improvement, their innovation schools agreements will remain in effect. Peterson also said if a school violates part of the agreement there are provisions in the agreement stating it could be discontinued as an innovation school.
There are also parameters in place that if district administration or board trustees were to change and those stepping in did not support the innovation school, the school could not lose its innovation agreement solely on the desire of the new administration or board members.
Peterson and MacTavish emphasized that while these two schools may become innovation schools, they will still be public schools. The schools will be funded through the districts and will reflect the diverse demographics of the city of Nampa. Peterson and MacTavish are looking forward to offering more schools of choice.
“Some of the really successful urban high-needs community schools (like KIPP or Summit schools) have significant philanthropic support on an ongoing basis, and that’s one of the reasons innovation in those circumstances doesn’t find its way into the regular public schools,” Peterson said. “(The schools) are sometimes operating with two or three times the resources of the schools that are next to them. We want to demonstrate that (innovation) can happen in a school district, it can happen on regular funding and for regular kids.”