Jefferson County Public Schools officials have laid out any early blueprint for what its application for the Kentucky Department of Education’s “District of Innovation” designation may look like. So far, the ideas being tossed around include an online classroom available 24 hours a day, Saturday courses and more teacher collaboration.
Under a law passed last year, Kentucky school districts can seek waiver from certain Kentucky Department of Education regulations in order to improve student achievement.
“We want to abandon business as usual,” says Bob Rodosky, JCPS director of data management, evaluation and planning. “You know the old saying if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Well this is an opportunity to break out of that mold.”
The JCPS school board recently heard from Rodosky and JCPS chief academic officer Dewey Hensley on potential plans for the district’s application.
JCPS is focusing its application on 30 schools that include the district’s 18 priority schools—formerly called persistently low-achieving schools—and those that are teetering on the edge of becoming priority schools, Rodosky says.
JCPS is calling this group the Transformation Zone schools.
Becoming a District of Innovation is also being highlighted in districts like JCPS, which are committed to raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 under a new state law passed this year. The new dropout age doesn’t go into effect until the 2015-2016 school year, but districts will be using that time to prepare their implementation plans, which could include new facilities.
Rodosky says in JCPS, being a District of Innovation means there will be expanded learning opportunities in schools.
“We’re looking at creating flexibility for them, flexibility in their calendar, in their SBDM [School-Based Decision Making councils], in their facilities, funding, job classification, anything where a regulation might be getting in the way,” Rodosky says.
Hensley says three things need to happen to ensure better student outcomes across the district:
- Extend learning and give more opportunities and time to learn
- Must accelerate learning for gifted students
- Enhance learning and put kids in situations and places where they have more opportunities to learn and experience something unique
This means providing environments or schools, “where their learning is enhanced, where it’s relevant, where it’s not so much the time in the seat as it is them experience something unique, something different, that truly challenges them at the highest levels,” Hensley says.
Some state regulations JCPS may seek waiver from would help the district create equal access through teacher collaboration and connect high performing teachers with less experienced teachers. Another waiver JCPS is considering would help the district develop ways to increase partnerships or technology to enhance mentoring and internships where students can get school credit.
Finally, the district may seek to create a fifth option for priority schools. This could include creating a residential school, a 24-hour digital learning classroom, Saturday academies are other ideas.
Next steps include submitting an application to KDE. But the education department can’t approve any application until the legislature approves the new regulation. This is expected to happen soon. JCPS officials intend to develop these ideas with support.
“We’re going to ask community teams to come up and develop innovative schools,” Rodosky says.
Implementation of the district’s final plan could begin in the fall.