For the four School of Innovation finalists, the next few months will focus on shaping their concepts into more concrete proposals.
For Jefferson County Public Schools, the work over the next 17 months or so includes helping those teams develop their plans, looking to the board to make a decision and decide on funding, and then working to get the school open in the 2015-16 academic year.
To the point: Opening a School of Innovation will mean an allocation of resources amid parallel reviews of facilities and magnet school programs.
“I think overall, with having our facilities plan and looking at whether or not we’re going to be either closing facilities, or opening facilities, or building new facilities—all that kind of sits outside, probably, of the Districts of Innovation plan at this point,” said Chris Brady, a school board member.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t likely be discussions of limitations. Brady said he doesn’t think a newly constructed building is likely to be approved. Instead, he said, the School of Innovation—whichever one is chosen—would likely go into an existing building. It’s too early to say whether that means a building currently owned by JCPS, or currently owned by another entity.
Brady noted that some board members have expressed interest in making more than a single School of Innovation proposal a reality.
JCPS got 48 submissions for the School of Innovation competition. A panel made up of educators and community members narrowed it to 12, and the submitters gave presentations last week on their ideas. Another panel, with more JCPS officials, narrowed the field to four.
The finalists are:
Project Name: The Catalpa School
Team Leaders: Jessica Forst, Adrienne Moore, Jennifer Nelson, and Abby Terranova (JCPS)
Summary: The Catalpa School will begin as a preschool through grade five with the ability to grow to include grades six through eight. The school will serve as a collaboration of community members and educators who provide an approach that blends Waldorf traditions with Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS). Students will balance art, music, drama, movement, and experiences in nature to promote creativity and critical thinking. Academic lessons and content will be tailored to traditional times of day when students are most cognizant, and teachers will stay with the same group of students as they progress through the school’s grade levels.
Project Name: Louisville Reach Academy
Team Leader: Kristen Thomas (JCPS)
Summary: This year-round school would serve students in P1 (kindergarten) through grade eight and be a hub of services for students, parents/guardians, and the community. The one site would include opportunities for medical and dental services, family therapy, government services, adult education, job shadowing, and family education workshops. Other features include small class size, iPads for each student, and a fully operational greenhouse to promote health and entrepreneurial and educational opportunities.
Project Name: Next-Generation Community School
Project Leader: Haley Hart (EAA of Michigan)
Summary: This school would allow students to have flexible scheduling and learning environments with the opportunity to earn internships at local businesses, media outlets, and community services, which would be housed in the school. Students move to new topics and courses once they master the prerequisite material, and mastery would be evaluated through a combination of written, oral, and performance assessments that are aligned to standards.
Project Name: K–5 Museum Magnet School
Team Leaders: Dr. Madeleine Burnside (Frazier History Museum) and Dr. Joanna Haas (Kentucky Science Center)
Summary: Students in P1 through grade five would participate in a classroom that includes Louisville’s Museum Row. Housed in Museum Row, students could walk to project partners, where they would participate in theme-based projects using authentic objects, experiences, and resources. Signed letters of support have arrived from a collection of 11 community partners and museums.
Here’s details about all the semifinalists.
Haley Hart is a teacher in a Detroit school that is itself trying to turn around academic performance. She said her experience has given her other ideas she thinks could work, which led her to form a team to submit the Next-Generation Community School.
Hart became aware of Louisville public education issues while she was an intern here at WFPL.
“It just seemed like a really great coincidence—two parts of my life kind of coming together and it seemed like a good opportunity. So I got some of my colleagues together and I was like, ‘This is something that I’m interested doing,’” she said.
She added that she applauds the Louisville school district’s efforts to attract ideas from outsiders and its own educators.
“I mean, there’s so many great ideas out there,” Hart said. “To open it up and say, ‘Anyone who’s invested in this. Whether it be student, parent, teacher, community member—anyone who has an idea, we want you to bring it to the table. Working in schools, we all have ideas, but I think we very rarely have a platform to share those ideas.”
Two of the other finalists came from JCPS. The other was a collaboration between Louisville museums. Kentucky Science Center executive director Joanna Haas has told WFPL that she believes their team offers the benefit of their own facilities—the learning that happens through museums.
“We’re all working with the public school system intimately on our own fronts, but the idea of really unleashing all of our resources and energies on this sort of localized school-based concept is really, really, really exciting,” Haas said.
The School of Innovation competition is part of the school district’s designation as a state District of Innovation, which frees it of certain rules and regulations in an effort to foster new thinking. JCPS administrators said it also meets one of their goals—to further its engagement with the community.
Even if only one School of Innovation program is funded, as is the plan, Lowe said the experience has proven valuable for the school district.
He said administrators will hold on to the submissions and may use elements of the 48 proposals in the future.
“I think there’s a lesson learned—that people are hungry to share their ideas,” Lowe said. “Particularly school-level staff that I spoke to were really grateful for the opportunity to kind of put their ideas and dreams forward.”
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