JCPS Wants You To Design The First ‘School of Innovation’

If you could design your own school, what would it look like?

That’s the question posed to Jefferson County residents by the school district, which will consider the best idea for creating the first “school of innovation” and help it become a reality as early as the 2015-2016 school year, officials said Tuesday.

“I would like to see classrooms get dumped in general,” says Fred Durham, co-founder of Café Press in Louisville.

Durham—who plans on submitting a proposal—would like to see more project-based learning and a change in the lecture-style learning that takes place in most schools.

The Schools of Innovation Design Competition was born from a 2012 Kentucky law that allowed local school districts to apply and become Districts of Innovation. Earlier this year, the Kentucky Board of Education approved four district applications and various waivers from education department regulations they applied for.

The idea is to get districts to “think outside the box,” a term that you may hear frequently when referring to Districts of Innovation.

“The ideas that we see should make bureaucrats gasp,” says Ted Smith, Louisville’s Director of Economic Growth and Innovation and a member of the review panel that will consider which ideas will become finalists.

In a video played at Tuesday’s announcement a JCPS child says, “I would have a school on top of a dinosaur’s back.” This idea isn’t going to happen, but it shows the range of what Jefferson County Public Schools is asking for.

Superintendent Donna Hargens is encouraging any person or group to submit a letter of intent by Dec. 10, after which they’ll have a month and a half to submit a formal application by Jan. 31.

“This will be a new world of teaching and learning,” Hargens says.

Think big, officials say.

That could include reinventing what a school looks like, how it educates students, where it’s located (think dinosaurs back) and even how it’s assessed—though this part is a little more complicated and involves state and federal approval.

Back to Fred Durham, who has three children in school (one in JCPS) and says from an entrepreneurial perspective education is likely the most impactful, but it’s a complicated area to make a difference.

He says he likes JCPS’ current five-star career themed schools and magnet programs but would like to see that taken further. His proposal may include more project-based learning or flipping the classroom to give students more of a chance to discuss topics instead of being told what to learn.

“Louisville in general, it’s so open to doing things, experimenting and change and just getting things done. The lack of bureaucracy is amazing,” he says.

Individual or team submissions will be challenged by a Schools of Innovation Review Panel on Feb. 5 at a public forum, after which the panel will then select finalists.

“This panel will flip the script,” says Hargens. “They will ask competition participation the same questions KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) ask us when we have an idea.”

These questions include why JCPS needs the school and what research supports it, she says.

JCPS Director of Student Assignment Jonathan Lowe is helping lead the effort and says the number of finalists will depend on the number of applicants and other factors, but he says it’ll likely be narrowed down to a manageable few.

Those finalists will then present ideas to the JCPS school board in late February, at which time board members will question the proposals and offer feedback.

Over the next few months, the finalists will then work with JCPS staff to develop their plans, which will include creating an action plan, budget, operational structure and aligned curriculum for the school, Hargens says.

It may also include direction from JCPS that help ground the ideas with realistic expectations, like explaining how many teachers would be needed in certain classrooms.

Other times, JCPS may turn to outside sources and experts in other states to help the finalists craft their proposals that will then be submitted to the board in June 2014 when one winner will be announced.

Lowe acknowledges it will take time to craft thoughtful applications and he expects there to be obvious front-runners following the due date. 

Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim tells WFPL his group plans to submit an application too.

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama hosts middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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